Star Filled Nights (In Both Senses!)

Star Filled Nights (In Both Senses!)

by Vivian Williamson-Bryan

The Cultural Capital of the World! Not quite the descriptive phrase one might associate with St Thomas. Beach capital. Sailing capital. Even cruise ship capital. But cultural capital? I don’t think so. But just wait – we’re working on it.

While not quite up to that lofty designation – yet – we’re not a total cultural backwater either. And you thought you had to go to a big, dirty, smoggy, congested (I could go on forever) city to be entertained on a higher level! Not.

Over the years such show business luminaries as Bill Cosby, Chuck Mangione, Natalie Cole, Lionel Hampton and Tito Puente (this list could also go on forever) have come to entertain the island’s residents and visitors at one of the most beautiful outdoor venues imaginable – Reichhold Center for the Arts.

Reichhold (no one here says any more than that – just like when was the last time you heard someone refer to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts? Human nature likes shortcuts.) is the creme de la creme of outdoor amphitheatre architecture. Its lines follow those of the natural contours of the hillside and the acoustics are as wonderful as those in ancient Roman and Greek amphitheatres. And like those places that have stood since the early days of modern man, Reichhold, too, seems as one with its surroundings. There are no jarring notes in its presence. Other than the smooth concrete beneath your feet (much easier to walk on than the more picturesque natural stone), everything – from the control booth to the proscenium stage to the seating – is wood and stonework (there is a little exception to this – the covered seating near the stage, i.e., the expensive seats, are a leatherlike material – much more comfy than wood. Don’t be put off by the wood though – it’s contoured and pretty comfortable. If you’re the super sensitive type be like a lot of locals – bring a pillow!). Tropical blooms abound, spilling over walls and softening the manmade edges, adding their perfume to the magic of a performance under the stars. Its intimate size – it seats only 1200 (compare that to the average stateside arena with seating for upwards of 50,000) – makes it ideal for actually seeing a performer, up close and personal (none of that jumbo screen monitor stuff for us!), and having a wonderful concert experience.


Isn’t is amazing that a dinky little island like St Thomas has such a terrific showcase for performers? The credit – and I do mean all of it – goes to one man – Henry Reichhold.

The late Henry Reichhold, former owner of St Thomas’s Bluebeard’s Castle Hotel, founder of Reichhold Chemicals (it is as the wearer of this hat that Reichhold impacted most of our lives. He was a paint chemist with a tremendous knowledge of the synthetic resins and pigments used to produce paint – enough so that he impressed Henry Ford. It was due to Reichhold’s work that the ubiquitous black Model T became available in grey, maroon, blue and dark green and, later, pastels. Think how dreary America’s roads would be with nothing but black cars!), humanitarian and lover of the arts. A German immigrant who made his fortune in the United States, who used that fortune to bring music and pleasure to millions. Along with Reichhold Center in St Thomas, a multi-million dollar endeavour which he financed in its entirety, Reichhold was also one of the main movers behind reviving the Detroit Symphony in the 1940s, and funded the construction of Akademie der Kunste, the cultural development center in Berlin, in the 1960s.

St Thomas was an important part of Reichhold’s life – he spent 5 months each year here until his death in the early 1990s – and he had a deep interest in the people of the island. He was an original member of the Board of Overseers at the then College of the Virgin Islands (now University) and as such was deeply involved in the institution’s growth. He foresaw a need for a cultural center at the college where there would be “…an opportunity to advance the cultural development of people of all ages … to inspire creativity in the arts … and in every area which will make a better future for the young people of the islands.” Hence, the birth of Reichhold Center for The Arts.

Since its grand opening in October 1978, the Reichhold has played host to a multitude of talent. And the 1995-96 season is no exception. Look at the list of coming attractions that we’ll be enjoying in the next few months:


  • The Dave Valentin Quintet (7-8 Oct) – a supremely hot jazz flutist and his quintet. This is the type of music that is made for enjoying under the starry sky.


  • “I Don’t Want to Bathe” (27-30 Oct) – a play by St Vincent playwright Cecil Williams and performed by the Caribbean Repertory Theater. Set in a mental institution but with a distinctly West Indian flair.


  • Maya Angelou (11 Nov) – a reading by this famous actress, writer and lecturer who’s now Poet Laureate of the United States.


  • Shakespeare (17-18 Nov) – members of the London National Theatre Company and the Royal Shakespeare Company performing Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet.


  • The National Dance Company of Nigeria (27-28 Jan) – this is going to be a fantastic performance – colourful costumes, pulsating music, exciting and enthralling dance.


  • Itzhak Perlman (17 Feb) – a violin played with flawless technique and irrepressible joy. An evening to close your eyes and let the music flow over you.


  • Virgin Islands Music Awards (2 March) – called by some the “VI Grammy Awards.” If you want to hear lots of calypso, from traditional to modern, this is the place to be.


  • “Einstein: The Practical Bohemian” (23 March) – a one man theatrical interpretation by Ed Metzger (you’ve seen him on Hill St Blues and St Elsewhere). Watch as one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century comes to life.


  • STARfest II (11-12 May) – the Virgin Islands is absolutely packed with talent and this is the night for them to shine. All of the big talent scouts are going to be there and the performances are going to be out of this world.

Besides having a terrific night out enjoying world class entertainment, it’s also a chance to mingle with the locals in a locally oriented environment (if you stick to hotels you’ll still have a good time but all you’re going to meet are other tourists – wouldn’t you like to see us and how we live?). Don’t worry about not having the right clothes – whatever you choose to wear will fit right in with someone – styles seen range from sundresses and dockers to evening gowns and formal suits (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tux but I might be wrong!). Islanders like to dress up.

So, come join us and see our splendid theatre; enjoy an evening of cultural awakening (even see an art exhibit during the intermission – Reichhold’s Gallery features the works of brilliant local artists) in true island style. And, as we do, perhaps reflect a little on the German immigrant who made it all possible. As was said about Mr Reichhold when he was honored with the Louis Pasteur Humanitarian award in 1976:

Henry Reichhold’s international spirit has given him a unique perspective on life. It has given him a deep appreciation for beauty, an exceptional sensitivity to the needs of those around him, and remarkable perception and talent for innovation to shape that which is before him. It is his philosophy that research is the key to growth which has opened new frontiers in science and technology and has provided many of us with new opportunities for the enjoyment of life, of health, of culture and of beauty.

Culture and beauty. Without them life would probably seem pretty empty.