Tuesday, August 26, 2014

JOKE'S ON YOU: Laff It Off is a rollicking blend of satire and social commentary

COMEDY GOLD: Cast members enacting a scene from the 23-sketch production.

Oliver Mair's new musical revue Laff If Off owes a debt to such forerunners as Aston Cooke's Jamaica 2 Rahtid formula, but it's a hugely entertaining production that fuses boldly original insight and up-to-the-minute social commentary with laugh-out-loud satire and unbridled energy. It stands proudly on its own.

Divided into two acts, these 20-odd sketches, products of the writer-actor's sly sense of humour and impressively keen observations of our island way of life and overall human nature, tackle everything from Jamaica's unique brand of politics to religion to even online dating.

No one is spared, and that includes dancehall entertainers like Mr. Vegas (Russhaine 'Dutty' Berry), who comes in for a fine roasting in "Cutting Edge," a bull's-eye sketch featuring a no-nonsense Mutabaruka (Rodney Campbell, superb); Gordon House parliamentarians, who get mean caricatures in the sarcastically witty "Jamaica's Finest"; and the World's Fastest Man, amusingly personified by Akeem Mignott, who certainly put in 110 percent in his multiple-character performance. As such, Mignott is undoubtedly an asset to a 10-member cast also made up of Mair himself, Lime Tree Lane's Mark 'Bones' Martin, Dalton Spence, Christina Starz and popular TV wonder-women Patria-Kae Aarons and Simone Clarke-Cooper, who both clearly have a blast reconnecting with their performing-arts roots.

Laff It off is powered by manic camaraderie and subversive wit. Not all of it comes off though: the show's handful of musical numbers are tepid at best and such solid Act 1 sketches as "Prime Ministers" and "1 Accord" would have worked better as Act 2 nears its climax. But even so, the adrenaline and resultingly spirited performance that we witness seem to make up for any shortcomings that threaten to dampen the show's overall thrill - an ideal end-of-summer present for a friend or relative.

After all, as Mair and his gang so cheekily impart to the Little Little Theatre audience, when life is working your last nerve, sometimes the best solution is to let out a hearty, full-throated laugh. Tyrone's Verdict: B+

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Monday, August 25, 2014

MAKING A SCENE: Trailing our favourite stars from city Kingston to Rio de Janeiro

THE RIGHT NOTE: August 20, St. Andrew. Headlining the benefit edition of Live in the City at CRU Kitchen and Bar last week, dancehall hotshot Konshens, who graced the stage alongside his SubKonshus crew, poured his all into a performance that featured a round of hits, old and new, from his diverse rep. The deejay's next album, Hotel Room, drops later this year. (Photo: Skkan Media)  

ALL OF US: August 20, St. Andrew. On a rare break from their globe-trotting ways, Morgan Heritage's Peeta Morgan, Gramps Morgan and Una Morgan also put in appearances in support of Live in the City, sharing the frame here with radiant Miss Jamaica Universe contestant Kaci Fennell. (Photo: Skkan Media)

BY YOUR SIDE: August 20, Kingston. It was a real family affair inside the Knutsford Boulevard hotspot Triple Century last Wednesday night, as dancehall disciple Wayne Marshall launched his latest album, Tru Colours. Here, the man of the hour hangs tight with a certain supersongstress (and sister-in-law) who goes by Tessanne Chin. (Photo: Skkan Media)

FOR MOSIAH: August 17, Kingston. Commemorating the 127th anniversary of Marcus Garvey's birth, Youth and Culture minister Lisa Hanna places a wreath on the national hero's tombstone during a floral tribute at National Heroes' Park. In her message to mark the occasion, Hanna hailed the late UNIA stalwart as "the quintessential pioneer" and "a great Jamaican." (Photo: OPM)

WILD AT HEART: August 17, Brazil. More often than not, work and play goes hand in hand for the world's greatest living sprinter, Usain Bolt, seen here goofing around with pal and American rival Wallace Spearmon at the Rio de Janeiro-hosted Copacabana sea-side meet last week. (Photo: Zimbio.com)

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GAME, SET, MATCH: A wave of exciting talents hold court at All-Jamaica Tennis Champs Finale

THE CHAMP: Johnson greeting young fans following his triumph at the Liguanea Club on Saturday night.

Being number one is hard work. Just ask Damion Johnson, the court veteran who has held the distinction of being the top-ranked tennis player in the country for the past ten years. "It keeps you focussed because you have to be a role model for the younger generation. They look up to me, and I take that very seriously," the 29-year-old Johnson says, having just wrapped up yet another championship triumph: the Hi-Pro All-Jamaica senior Men's Open title at the Liguanea Club on Saturday night.

Johnson, who is no stranger to putting in stellar performances and reaping the fruits of his labour (he has the multiple trophies to prove it), has every intention of continuing his winning ways. "Everyone wants the top spot, so that keeps me motivated," he tells TALLAWAH. "I have to stay on my A-game."

Attributing his swift ascent in the sport to dedication and countless hours of training and fine-tuning, Johnson has fashioned a side career for himself as a coach who has worked with rapidly emerging stars of the game like Blaise Bicknell. "My aim is to add to the number of top junior players that already exists in the country," the sportsman explains. For his own future ambition, the sky is the limit. "I'm looking forward to staying on top of local tennis," he says. "I'm still young so I have several more years to look forward to as a player."

That's a masterpiece of an understatement, considering that the just-concluded All-Jamaica tournament also drew participation from old pros of the game competing in the Junior Veterans league (35 years and over) and Senior Veterans (45 and over). The women, though few in numbers, also made their presence felt, with 13-year-old sensation Selena Blythe scooping up the junior women's crown and Phaedra Kepple dominating among the seniors. "We had a great tournament," Tennis Jamaica prez John Bailey conceded in his address at the trophy presentation. "I do hope this is a first in a series of well-supported tournaments to come."

In spite of the torrential downpour that preceded the finale, the tournament's most engrossing delight was the show-closing Men's Doubles Final that saw Johnson and singles rival Daniel Harris teaming up against the fiercely competitive (and much younger) Martin brothers, Kyle and Christopher. A white-hot battle of wills ensued much to the excitement of the large turnout that packed the stands. In the end, Johnson and Harris proved better on the day, but the Martins (who are destined for greatness in the sport) certainly put them through the ringer.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

CHAT 'BOUT: Lisa Hanna bats for ALS research; Garnett Roper addresses bus fare-hike; Usain Bolt anticipates superb indoor run, and more

"I've never run indoors; I was always too tall. When I heard there was going to be a roof, I was looking forward to that." Sprint superstar Usain Bolt (during a press conference in Warsaw on Wednesday) on setting the scene for a superb performance at the 5th Annual Skolimowska Memorial meet in Poland. A day earlier Bolt marked his 28th birthday.

"I look at myself as the Batman of track a vigilante. You may not like me but I'm needed." Bolt's nemesis and embattled sprinter Justin Gatlin in a recent interview with the Associated Press

"We are writing a $10 million cheque each day to the commuting public..... We can't support the welfare from the state company. It is a foolish argument to suggest that we shouldn't increase bus fares because if we don't then we would have to find the revenue to pay the cost of fuel." JUTC Chairman, Dr. Garnett Roper, addressing the bust fare-hike backlash in a Gleaner interview

"Entertainers and others who plan to travel to affected areas of West Africa should reconsider as they would potentially be putting themselves at risk of contracting the Ebola virus and spreading it to other persons on their return to Jamaica. The ministry continues to warn against non-essential travel to reduce the risk of their health and the health of their families. Persons who have to travel to these areas are advised not to handle dead animals and not to have any direct contact with persons who may be infected or could have been in contact with an infected person." Minister of Health, Dr. Fenton Ferguson, issuing an advisory aimed at those who may be flying off to the Ebola-affected areas of Africa

"We live in a world where strong images have become important. If they are not unique or somewhat exciting, then people don't stop to pay attention. ALS is an awful disease and has been around for a long time. I know two people suffering from it. More time, research and awareness need to be given to finding a cure." Youth and culture minister, Lisa Hanna, on why she joined the scores of influential global figures taking the Ice Bucket Challenge 

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TRUE CHARACTERS: Five sharp performances generating early awards-season momentum

LET THE BUZZ BEGIN: Salmon (left) and Forbes court acting honours with grade-A performances.

What's the skinny on theatre's awards season race so far? It's way too early for any definitive pronouncements, but TALLAWAH is keeping an eye on these five outstanding actors who have emerged as early favourites with their fantastic performances. Boasting spark and emotional heft in equal measure, they have a strong shot at being remembered at the end of the year:

Camille Davis in Funny Kind 'A Love
The brash and boozy Josephine, a loose-tongued sister who tells it like it is, is not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed, but in Davis' knowing hands you'd be hard-pressed to find a more wise-to-the-world soul. Reeling off the Patrick Brown-penned lines with relish and sharp comedic timing, Davis turns what could have been a caricature into one of the year's most indelible creations. Brava!

Leonie Forbes in For My Daughter
Has Miss Lee ever turned in a bad performance? I seriously doubt that. The legendary drama queen is at her imperious best as a matriarch of a certain age - and three-generation household - grappling with everyday family matters and harbouring a shameful secret that could ruin everything. David Tulloch's play is a tour-de-force, and that's an apt description, too, for Forbes' turn, equal parts intense and incandescent.

Dorraine Reid in Anancy Chaptaz: Monkey Bizniz
A relatively unknown talent, Reid had her work cut out for her to convince as primate leader Baboon in the IAM's most recent Anancy Chaptaz instalment. TALLAWAH highly commended her performance earlier this year, as she managed to pull of something fascinating (down to the very body language), which suggests in no uncertain terms that this is a talented actress who deserves to be better known. 

Terri Salmon in For My Daughter 
Last year's Thespy winner for supporting actress (Jamaica Sweet), Salmon could be in the running for the second consecutive year, thanks to her robust (and incredibly humorous) transformation into the pompous doyenne and pha-ma-cist Vera LuChen, a role suited to the actress' elastic charm and utter commitment to character building. 

Courtney Wilson in Funny Kind 'A Love 
A steady stream of meaty Jambiz roles has made Wilson one of the most consistent stage actors of this Jamaican generation. He further solidified that rep with an ovation-worthy portrayal of his most challenging character yet, Carlyle, a decent middle-class fellow who makes a jolting confession to his older brother (played by Glen Campbell). It's a moment realized with a commanding blend of guilt-ridden intensity and surprising restraint. 

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Friday, August 22, 2014

MEASURE OF A MAN: The James Brown story roars to life in Get On Up

SHOW STOPPER: Brown, centre, giving one of his famously electrifying stage performances.

From its 1980s opening sequence, the James Brown biopic, Get On Up grabs hold of you with a pull of seductive and irresistible you know right away you came to the right place for a funky good time. No surprise then that by the final credits you do, emerging from the experience with a newfound respect for the entertainment legend who was rightly dubbed the hardest working man in show business. 

If as they say, directing is 90 percent casting, then Tate Taylor (The Help) couldn't have asked for a more competent and committed leading man than Chadwick Boseman, who solidly anchors the film by mustering the requisite conviction (the vigour, the feistiness, the perm) to nail the portrayal. I feel Boseman's knockout performance is due a few noms this coming awards season and highly likely Best Actor honours at next year's NAACP Image Awards. 

For those who saw the actor's indelible turn as Jackie Robinson in 42, this uncanny transformation into yet another pioneering Black figure will make you marvel anew. Playing Brown, Boseman gets a stellar supporting framework through the efforts of costars like Dan Ackroyd, as a golf-playing show promoter; Jill Scott, as his love interest; and Nelsan Ellis (True Blood), as Brown's longsuffering backup vocalist and faithful right-hand man Jimmy, who bravely endures the temper and the tantrums. We feel for him. 

Cameos by Viola Davis (Brown's wayward mother who steps out on his father) and Octavia Spencer (the brothel-running aunt who takes him in) powers up the movie's star wattage with appearances memorable in spite of their brevity. 

In the end, Taylor's film paints a riveting, unforgettable portrait of a musician who was truly in a league all his own. As the movie attests, not only did James Brown define an era and inspire legions with his chart-topping tunes and electrifying stagecraft - he brought an untiring spirit to the African-American community (and to the entertainment world at large) at the height of the Civil Rights movement and the dawn of the conflict in Vietnam. 

To wit, a scene depicting Brown and his singers aboard a US army plane (under a hail of gunfire) heading to a performance for the troops is one of the film's most visceral moments. 

In short, Get On Up, though excessively lengthy, is a well-wrought and very well-acted look at James Brown the man, the musician - and the dawn of funk. It's sprinkled with moments so outrageous, they have to be seen to be believed. Tyrone's Verdict: B+ 

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ON THE DOWNLOAD: A round-up of fresh tracks from reggae and dancehall's finest

KONSHENS - Watch Your Back (Platinum Camp/ Siv Records)
Few hitmakers in the modern dancehall approach the craft with the fierce lyricism, wide-ranging topical diversity and creative risk-taking like Konshens, whose fearlessness in addressing potentially controversial matters defines his best work. On this new single, the ace deejay posits some sage and life-saving advice about due diligence and street smarts in the face of backstabbing friends. In the end, he effortlessly reacquaints us with his assured delivery and deft handling of a brisk beat.

STEPHANIE - Real Woman (Havatio Music)
"Good girls are nice, but bad girls entice," coos fast-rising chateuse Stephanie on this steamy standout from her 2013 EP of the same name, which makes a compelling case for her mean skills with the pen and knack for producing vocals with a fab balance of flair and piercing quality. Think the song packs heat? You should see the piping-hot video.

CHRIS MARTIN - Prayer (Tweety Bird Riddim)
Marking one of the meekest releases of still-young career, Martin's reflective jam announces a modest departure from his regular themes of girls and the good life, opting instead to spotlight that all-important meditational relationship with the Most High, and the art of rising above trying circumstances for want of a better life.

Also bubbling on the playlist:
> Nickeisha Barnes makes a heartfelt petition on "Reach Out," the first single off her November-due EP, Layers of my Soul. A spare, soul-searching gem.
> Dancehall soulstress Cherine, who last year heated up dancefloors with "Haffi Come Back," returns to form on the brash "Wah Dat Fah," a summer sizzler as notable for its in-your-face contours as for its sheer cockiness.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

CULTURE VULTURE: Hamlet heads to Kingston + Wayne Marshall's winning streak + Jamaica Youth Theatre nabs global title

TALENT: Kudos to the Jamaica Youth Theatre on nabbing first place in the Global Dialogues Sexual Violence Video Challenge, for their short film "Stop Violence Against Women" directed by Akeem Mignott (from a concept by Danar Royal) and featuring the strong acting talents of Petrina Williams, Brian Johnson, Kellesia Ebanks and Mignott. "JYT joins in the chorus of voices calling for an end to the violence that affects every one in three women," Mignott says. "Violence against women must not be tolerated in any form, in any context, in any circumstance." To watch the JYT's winning clip, visit YouTube.

THEATRE: There was no way the UK's legendary Globe Theatre was going to embark on a worldwide tour of the Bard's classic tragedy Hamlet and not include Jamaica on its year-long itinerary of over 200 stops. Sure enough, next Tuesday night, August 26, the Little Theatre in Kingston will make room for the large British contingent (an accomplished cast and crew featuring some of the UK's finest) as they present what one can only predict will be pure theatrical viagra. The staging is being made possible thanks to the Arts Foundation of the Edna Manley College, in partnership with First Global Bank, and under the distinguished patronage of British High Commissioner, His Excellency David Fitton. Showtime 7pm.

TELEVISION: "Get ready!" she said. TALLAWAH bumped into the preternaturally gorgeous Keneea Linton-George (rocking a sizzling black-and-white ensemble and a bold red lip) at the NDTC's dance recital on Sunday evening at the Little Theatre, where she confided that the sparkling new season of Mission Catwalk (fantastic number four) is all set to bring another round of fierce fashion frenzy to living rooms via Television Jamaica. The runway opens Sep. 20.

FESTIVAL: Jamaica doesn't lack for exciting outdoor festivals, but since its 2012 inception, Gungo Walk has managed to set itself apart with a refreshing and outside-the-box spin on the live music, spoken award and great outdoors triple threat. The formula is coming back to delight loyal patrons on September 6, when the fest returns to the grounds of the Edna Manley College, with a spirited organizing team, led by Michael Sean Harris, Michael Holgate and Stephanie Wallace-Maxwell a triple threat in their own right.

ICON: On April 27, as part of 106 & Park's first-ever Caribbean Carnival takeover episode, Wayne Marshall will make his debut appearance on the BET network's flagship entertainment programme, further proof that his international star is on the rise. Marshall, who was on tour earlier this summer with Stephen Marley, is also set to unveil his latest vid, Go Harder, which features contributions by Cham, Wacka Flocka Flame and Ace Hood. But before then, a sizeable crowd is expected to be in the house when Wayne officially launches his album Tru Colours inside Chris Gayle's Triple Century sports bar on Wednesday, August 20. 

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