Tuesday, 27 September 2016

MAN OF THE MOMENT: 2016 Rising Stars champ Elton Earlington deserves the stamp of approval

BORN TO WIN: Elton giving one of his signature powerful performances that won him the title.

On Sunday night, a high-energy finale inside the Courtleigh Auditorium brought the curtains down on the 2016 season of Digicel Rising Stars, crowning a worthy champion in twenty-something powerhouse singer Elton Earlington, the father of a two-year-old daughter, who says he will be investing in early childhood education.

For his community project, Earlington plans to spearhead a $1.5-million initiative at his alma mater, the Temple Hall-based Evelyn Peterkin Basic School, which urgently needs bathroom facilities among other things. Thanks to funds from the Digicel Foundation, Earlington is looking forward to improving amenities at the 23-year-old institution, which his daughter will be attending next academic year. And it’s a fitting gesture from a young man who clearly wants to give back to his roots in a meaningful way.

That $1.5 million is a separate sum from the cool $1.5 mil he secured as the main prize for winning the competition, turning back a spirited challenge from up-and-coming pop-reggae princess Monifa Goss, an Ardenne High lightning-rod, whose mix of fierce singing talent and living-out-loud personality has her poised to land a place among the Ikayas and Denyques of the local music industry.

But this is Elton Earlington’s moment and, in his own words, his triumph marks the culmination of months and months of “hard work” (in-the-streets campaigning, tonnes of vocal training). The results speak for themselves, and he now joins that growing roster of exciting male vocal talent who’ve used the reality competition to launch viable singing careers.

For many, Earlington (with his lush vocals, sturdy built and darkly handsome features) comes off as a cross between Season One winner Cavan and the competition’s most popular product, Romain Virgo, who’s released a handful of albums, mixtapes and EPs since 2007. Can Elton follow suit?

It’s way too early to predict what kind of career he will have, but Elton has the makings of a formidable presence on the reggae scene, the potential to reach Virgo-type success and go beyond that. The tens of hundreds of fans and well-wishers who voted for him week after week obviously feel the same way, and with their continued support, coupled with the right original material (as Anthony Miller has repeatedly emphasized), he should have little difficulty getting his foot in the door.

YOU SEND ME: Well-made and visually stunning, Moses takes you on an epic journey

GIVE US FREE: A dazzling look, a crisp sound and a powerful story are the show's assets.

For those of you who are yet to see Father HoLung & Friends’ visually stunning and delightfully rhythmic revival of their hit musical Moses, you’ll be awed by the Golden Calf scene and the song-and-dance number that accompanies it. It’ an unforgettable mélange of revelry and rebellion that lands at the heart of what the show is about.

But it’s the parting of the Red Sea that elicits thunderous applause that echoes throughout the National Arena, as special effects, gorgeous lighting and utter resourcefulness combine to create a feast for the senses. Technical Director/Lighting Designer Robin Baston deserves all the major awards coming his way. The contributions of set designer PJ Stewart – towering structures that rotate to alternate as palatial columns and mountains of the great outdoors – reek of innovative cunning.

That said, Moses is a triumph, and we are very impressed with how it stakes its claim as an Old Testament-inspired musical drama heavily infused with Jamaican culture (the dancehall especially) and other contemporary elements that give it a modern sheen.

It’s the age-old story we all know: how the boy-wonder drawn from the water leaves behind his Egyptian heritage to liberate God’s people from Pharaoh’s tyrannical rule. But here it’s elevated into something fresh and vibrant, thanks to Father HoLung’s creative genius and the efforts of the hardworking supporting team – chief among them, director Greg Thames, who weaves it all together into a tight two-and-a-half-hour package.

Working with a large and committed group of talented actors of all ages, he makes you feel, in particular, the pain of the oppressed Israelites – enslaved men, women and children who cry out to God in song. That’s where Moses comes in, emerging as a now fully grown man torn between two identities (Egyptian and Israelite). But he eventually finds his purpose as God’s champion against the hard-hearted Pharaoh (Hugh Douse, compelling) and the Osiris-worshipping Ramses (Leighton Jones, utterly convincing).

Moses is robustly played by Wynton Williams (also the show’s Musical Director), who has the commanding stage presence, charismatic appeal, and powerful singing voice to get us to follow him on this long journey.

And what an eventful journey it is (the plagues, the burning bush, the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, the Ten Commandments), one that culminates with the Israelites basking in their newfound freedom as they head into the Promised Land.

Our only complaint about the show is that it deserves a much stronger finish. It’s not the bring-them-to-their-feet climax we were anticipating, given the heft of the lead-up events.

The final moments are a bit of a letdown, yes, but thankfully they take nothing away from the enormous pleasures that the overall journey provides – from the bombastic musical numbers (the dancehall-spiked “Shame On Me”, “the kaleidoscopic “I Am Who I Am”) to the vivid exploration of a born leader’s internal struggles and the forces he has to vanquish to do the work of the one who sent him. Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

Saturday, 24 September 2016

CALL MY NUMBER: The Magnificent Seven cuts loose with non-stop action, intriguing story

WAR & PEACE: Washington leads the troops in a fight for justice.

There’s a scene in the action-packed western thriller The Magnificent Seven, where Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisholm and Ethan Hawke’s Midnight are reuniting after what feels like many years. The big bear hug and megawatt smiles speak volumes of the bromance and respect between the long-time buddies. The real-life parallels are unmistakable: Training Day costars Washington and Hawke re-teaming on a project helmed by their director Antoine Fuqua, with whom Washington also collaborated on 2014’s The Equalizer.

In other words, here are three Hollywood vets joining forces once more, while refreshing their cinematic mojo to bring to life a western shoot-em-up about a small rural town named Rose Creek being terrorized by a ruthless bully (Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue), who is driving the residents from their homes (by brutal force if necessary) so he can mine the land for gold.

When a courageous widow played by Haley Bennett (her rebellious husband shot dead in the street) pleadingly asks Chisholm (a warrant officer and peace officer from Kansas) for help, he’s reluctant at first but eventually shows some heart and determination to right a terrible wrong.

Rounding up a motley crew of fighters, each with ‘unique’ capabilities, Chisholm heads to Rose Creek to turn the tables and restore to the people what’s rightfully theirs. But, of course, such a life-and death mission can’t be accomplished without sacrifice, strategy and hails upon hails of bullets, as the battle for Rose Creek crescendos to a fever pitch.
Working with screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, Fuqua manages to transform this intriguing tale into a parable of selfless heroism, justice and the eternal battle between good and evil.

As ever, Washington’s charisma and actor’s actor brilliance form the lion’s share of the film’s appeal and forces the rest of the cast to raise their game. Hawke aside, the film’s solid supporting framework is anchored by the likes of Chris Pratt, Luke Grimes and Bennett.

In short, The Magnificent Seven may not make an arc-altering contribution to the world of westerns, but with its mix of captivating storytelling, James Horner’s apt music, Sharen Davis’ exquisite costumes, among other elements, it soars and marks a triumphant return to form for the Washington-Fuqua-Hawke dream team. Tyrone’s Verdict: A-

ON THE SCENE: Highlights from Bolt’s NYC jaunt, Spirit of Independence Awards, PM Holness at the UN, and more

DELIGHTFUL DIPLOMACY: Sep. 23, United States. PM Andrew Holness (right) and Costa Rican President H.E. Luis Guillermo Solis find common ground and ample humour as they hold bilateral talks inside the UN headquarters in New York on Friday. Jamaica’s foreign affairs and foreign trade minister, Kamina Johnson-Smith, was also in attendance. (Photo: Jamaica House)

THE CHAMP IS HERE: Sep. 22, United States. Enthusiastic fans came out in their numbers on Thursday to have a one-on-one with Olympic sprinting legend Usain Bolt, who put in a surprise appearance at the PUMA Lab, powered by Foot Locker on 34th Street, in the Big Apple. Earlier in the week, the Jamaican speedster was a guest on NBC’s The Today Show, where he confirmed his participation at next summer’s IAAF World Championships in London and revealed such post-retirement plans as the establishment of a sports clinic in his native Jamaica. (Photo: Zimbio.com)

CIVIC PRIDE: Sep. 20, Kingston. For the second straight year, the JCDC hosted a national Spirit of Independence Awards ceremony, recognizing outstanding displays of pride and patriotism across the island. This year, the award for Best Parish Town Square went to the St. Catherine Parish Council, represented by secretary manager Michael Morris, who collected the award from Allison McLean (Permanent Secretary in the Culture ministry) and the JCDC’s Director of Community Cultural Development Services, Dr. Marjorie Leyden-Vernon. (Photo: JCDC)

DYNAMIC DUO: Sep. 17, Kingston. Tourism minister Edmund Bartlett and radio disc jock ZJ Sparks laugh it up as they show support for the clean-up work along the Palisadoes Coastal Strip last Saturday, chiefly organized by the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), to coincide with the globally-spanning International Coastal Clean-up. Dozens of volunteers, including reps from corporate Jamaica, grabbed their rakes, gloves and plastic bags to get in on the action. (Photo: Stush)

THE FIRST LADIES: Sep. 17, Kingston. Fly girls Terri-Karelle Reid, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Kamila McDonald lent some star power to last weekend’s Colour Me Happy grand after party at the Hope Gardens, where a massive crowd gathered for the merriment, music and non-stop partying in a sea of painted bodies and wild abandon.(Photo: Sleek)

Friday, 23 September 2016

CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK: 5 productions that could go all the way this awards season

ALL IN THE FAMILY: The Leonie Forbes-led Not My Child had strong acting and solid writing.

Last time we shone the spotlight on the actors and actresses we feel are the strongest candidates (so far) for nominations when the Thespy and Actor Boy nods are announced early next year. This week we highlight five productions that could be in the running:

It is always noteworthy when a group of strong actresses join forces in a production. Such was the case with Woman Tongue. Thanks to layered writing from Tanya Batson-Savage (Eugene Williams directed), the show’s six fine ladies were able to deliver consistently appealing stage work.

With its very accomplished cast, this tour-de-force drama, which mixed historical context with fictional narrative, won over audiences with robust performances (Nadean Rawlins and Paul Issa especially) and a storyline that took some intriguing twists and turns.

On the local scene, few playwrights can spin a thrilling kitchen-sink drama like David Tulloch, who continued his impressive track record with this deeply-felt, edge-of-your-seat exploration of relationships dynamics, power and greed.

In this creatively staged show, the Pantomime Company paid tribute, with rousing songs and dramatization, to iconic Jamaican women who paved the way for the present and future generations. Overall, a wholesome production that appeals to a wide cross-section of theatre-goers.

Theatre’s women continued their dominance of the season with this winning blend of poetry, monologues and character study. Zoning in on touchy but pertinent subject matter, the Julene Robinson-led cast explored everything from identity and sexuality to peer pressure and what it means to have family.

> The top actors and actresses generating buzz

DELIVERING ‘MOSES’: Director Greg Thames on the power of team work, his artistic roots, and conquering creative challenges

PLAY ON: "I think Father has grown to trust the group; he knows us very well," says Thames, pictured with PJ Stewart, who has also worked on successive HoLung productions. (Below): Thames, HoLung and Bully.

It’s minutes after two in the morning inside the National Arena, and Greg Thames wants nothing more than a warm drink and a comfy chair to rest his aching feet. The ace director, who is masterminding this month’s remount of Father HoLung & Friends’ Old Testament-inspired mega-musical Moses, has been on for the past seven hours at least, leading the final dress rehearsal and getting things right for the highly anticipated production that begins previews this weekend, ahead of its big dates set for Oct. 1 and 2.

The mammoth cast and creative team (including choreographer Paula Shaw, lighting maestro Robin Baston and creative consultant Alwyn Bully) couldn’t want a more committed and competent leader than Thames, a three-time Actor Boy winner who brings intellect and razor-sharp directorial brio to every project he helms. That’s why he’s been HoLung’s go-to guy for so many years no, bringing us musicals like Acts of the Apostles and last year’s big hit King David.

Now comes the Moses remount, with its juggernaut set design and high-wire score that represents a fun but tough creative challenge for the 52-year-old Thames, who’s been a self-admitted ‘theatre baby’ since he ruled the roost at Campion College, alongside colleagues like Cathy Levy, who’ve also gone on to accomplish great things.

Here, TALLAWAH talks with Thames about embarking on this latest creative odyssey, why writing is not his strong suit, and how the HoLung team achieves such grand successes year after year. 

TALLAWAH: Father HoLung has branded this remount as ‘Moses – the Magnificent.’ What say you? 
Greg Thames: I think Moses is definitely one of the most epic shows we have ever done. The scope of it is large; there are a lot of things going on. So the only word I can think of is epic.

TALLAWAH: Parting the Red Sea, that pivotal 10 Commandments scene. What’s the biggest creative challenge you guys faced this time around?
Greg Thames: It’s a remount but there have been changes to the script. There have been changes to some of the music because we have made it more current. We’ve also updated the costuming; the set is very different from the original. And we’ve made Moses’ journey much more interactive and a lot more arduous. We portray that to the audience more than we did before.

TALLAWAH: There are some new songs in this version as well, like “Shame on Me.” Is the music the strongest asset?
Greg Thames: I think with every Father HoLung show, the music tends to stand out. Father has a style that’s very different. He mixes in very Jamaican themes, and there’s a kind of dancehall deejaying mixed into [Moses] now that we never had in the older version of the show. So it makes it more current.
TALLAWAH: You’ve been HoLung’s go-to director for several years now. What makes the creative partnership work so well?
Greg Thames: I think it’s because we’ve worked together for so many years. Robin Baston has been the technical director, PJ Stewart has been on set, Wynton [Williams] has been the Musical Director, and I’ve been directing. So the team knows each other’s strengths, weaknesses and how they work. It’s now at that point where we literally can anticipate what each person will bring, which makes it a really good partnership. I think Father has grown to trust the group; he knows us very well. So when we make changes or we suggest different things, he trusts us that we have the vision to take it through and not lose what he’s trying to impart. Because at the bottom of every show is evangelism, and it’s about reaching the people with a message.

TALLAWAH: Do you have plans to write and stage a theatrical hit of your own sometime in the future?
Greg Thames: Me? I don’t think writing is my strong point. I know my own strengths and weaknesses, and I don’t think writing is one of [the strengths], and I’m good with that.

TALLAWAH: Take us down memory lane. What drew you to the world of theatre and stage directing? How did you get your start?
Greg Thames: I started in theatre from I was in high school [Campion College], and one of my classmates, Cathy Levy, and I put on a production. And since then I’ve worked with the Little People and Teen Players for many years when they were around. I’ve worked with the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company as well. And I’ve been in pretty much every aspect of theatre, I’ve done set designs, costume design and makeup. All of the Actor Boy that I’ve won [three in total] are more for creative design than for directing.

TALLAWAH: Artistic or otherwise, what does Greg Thames consider his greatest achievement to date?
Greg Thames: I think that would be to mount one of these shows (Laughs). These shows are bigger than any of the shows you’ll typically see in Jamaica, and we do one like this every year. So the fact that we keep doing it year after year is a miracle in itself.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

ORIENTAL ORIGINS: Olympia Gallery’s “Conveying the Heart” blends traditional Chinese art, philosophy and history

MADE IN CHINA: Shaowen's work is a classic example of brush and ink making poetry on the canvas.

Li Shaowen’s “Nine Songs” series is best described as a visceral and provocative response to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ – a powerful artistic statement steeped in history and folkloric artistry.

Thanks to the UWI Mona-based Confucius Institute, seven pieces from this remarkable work are currently on view (through the end of September) at Hope Road’s Olympia Gallery (across the street from the UTech campus), and serve as the main highlight in a show dubbed “Conveying the Heart.” 

But don’t be fooled by the show’s mysterious title, the exhibition is a glorious fusion of traditional Chinese art and modern concepts that come together to create a spellbinding whole. You are simply awed by Shaowen’s expert hand and the details with which he imbues every single piece in the collection. Brush and ink making poetry on the canvas, while reflecting profound, lighthearted and simply fascinating aspects of the Chinese experience – the customs, the flora, the fauna and the people.

From the subtly Cubist realism of “The Lovers” to the lush palette that brings to life pieces like “Plum Blossom” (ink on xuan paper), Shaowen’s meticulous style consistently earns praise. But even so, it’s the Danté depictions you can’t forget – nightmarish scenes emblazoned on silk with the kind of haunting visual power that characterizes the finest artworks anywhere.

“His hands are like magic wands,” someone quips while perusing the pieces on opening night, referring, of course, to Shaowen’s masterful strokes. And you can’t help but agree. Above all, though, there’s rich historical and cultural significance in these works that transcend eras and geographical boundaries. In other words, they’re expressive and enlightening meditations on art and life, passion and pride of place.

> “Conveying the Heart”, a celebration of Li Shaowen’s mastery, remains on view at the Olympia Gallery, through September. Telephone: 927-1608.