Wednesday, 28 January 2015

TIME WELL SPENT: NCB and ProCare team up to promote men's health with inaugural festival

WAY UP THERE: The day's series of rigorous activities were designed to test endurance and push one to the limit.

Studies has long shown that when it comes to matters concerning wellness, women tend to give greater consideration to such matters than men - and the Caribbean scenario is certainly no exception. All that needs to change. So argues NCB's Roland Henry, the chief organizer behind the NCB/ProCare Men's Health Fitness Festival held this past Saturday inside the Emancipation Park.

A large number of men from across the capital, including quite a few college-age chaps and budding fitness junkies, responded to the call to participate, taking on the multiple challenges in the mix, attending the discussion segments and flocking to the booth displays mounted by the Jamaica Cancer Society, the Diabetes Association of Jamaica, and eye-care specialists.

"For NCB, this festival represents an opportunity for us, as corporate citizens, to encourage Jamaican men to pay greater attention to their health and mortality," says Henry, a senior marketing officer. "It's more than just doing regular check-ups and exercising; there are other things to consider like preventative medicine. And a lot of Jamaican men don't want to get into all that. But considering the modern times we are living in, we don't have a choice anymore."

Saturday's festival also had the benefit of wellness experts and fitness pros (Train Fit Club members and ProCare staffers, among them) putting the participants, including a handful of women, through their paces and introducing them to an exciting range of products and services. "A festival like this is ideal for us to spread our message of good health and to attract new clients," Train Fit Club's Joseph Russell points out.

In 2014, NCB staged a similar event but Saturday's own marked the inaugural festival, which will evolve, they hope, into a calendar must-do that will grow leaps and bounds. "We're pleased with the turnout but we plan to team up with some of our corporate partners, like Wisynco, to further engage the public and grow the festival," Henry says. "For us, it's about adding value to somebody's life."

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MAN OF THE MOMENT: Entertainment whiz Chris Daley talks fitness, success, and the thrill of Ole Fyah Stick

DO IT FOR ME: Being seduced by Harris in Ole Fyah Stick; (below) working the scene at the NCB/ProCare festival.

Dressed in an eye-popping yellow shirt, dark pants and shades, Christopher 'Johnny' Daley is the picture of sporty good health as he works the microphone, moderating the proceedings at Saturday's well-attended health and fitness festival for men inside the Emancipation Park, put on by NCB Insurance in partnership with ProCare. Daley is surrounded by fitness buffs, gym bunnies and a few regular folks who've signed up to participate in the multiple workout challenges (obstacle courses, push-ups, long-distance runs, etc) sure to put their stamina to the test.

By his own admission, Daley gives great consideration to his overall well-being, but, in a nutshell, he considers himself naturally fit. "As an actor, my job involves a lot of physical activity, so that helps me maintain some level of fitness," he reflects, standing mere feet away from a gigantic rubber tyre that participants have to roll over as they traverse the challenging obstacle course. "Everytime I'm on stage I get physical, so my body gets a proper workout."

He can say that again. Consider his nimble work in this season's ensemble drama-comedy Ole Fyah Stick, in which his fleet-footed and very light-tongued character Delroy brings the laughs and stays light on his tippy-toes as he keeps pace with fellow acting heavyweights Deon Silvera, Volier Johnson and Dahlia Harris. For Daley, the experience of collaborating with these veteran colleagues to create theatrical magic offers the emotional high he practically lives for as an artist. "It's just been fantastic. I haven't been in a show with a fine cast like this in a while," the actor and ace comic admits. "I mean, these are actors I've known for years, so the chemistry is not something we had to force; it came easy."

Effortless camaraderie aside, Daley says the show's success amounts to a number of key factors blending harmoniously — not least among them solid writing and unwavering respect for the craft. "I think the show is so successful, first and foremost, because we respect the script," he says. "Dahlia has written a good script and we wanted to honour that." As for the play's inner workings and thematic framework, he notes, "There are lots of dynamics in [Ole Fyah Stick], but the overarching message is that we might be from different socioeconomic backgrounds and different class levels, but when all is said and done, we are all one people."

A multifaceted brother whose well-known talents span groundbreaking television (Lime Tree Lane), the airwaves (SunCity Radio), movie (Kingston Paradise), stand-up comedy and, of course, the theatre, Daley remains a much sought-after Jamaican entertainer who simply appeals across the board. That perfectly explains how he ended up at Emancipation Park on Saturday pumping up the crowd as the afternoon sun blazed brightly overhead. "We've used him on a number of occasions," says NCB's Roland Henry, "because he's proven himself to be versatile and very flexible."

Soon to turn 38, Daley tells TALLAWAH he couldn't be happier with his life. For him, savouring his continued and evolving success means living in the moment, while looking ahead to what's next. "I want to do more of everything. More movies, better plays. There's still a lot left for Chris Daley to accomplish," he says, before offering some specifics. "I did a movie, my first movie called Kingston Paradise, with no budget. Next time I want to star in a movie with a massive budget." 

> Catch Chris Daley and his costars heating up the stage in Ole Fyah Stick at the Theatre Place in New Kingston! Tickets: 352-6180.

> Review: Sparks fly in Harris' sharp, funny latest

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THE REAL THING: Sharp, superfunny Ole Fyah Stick hits the mark

NOW OR NEVER: (From left) Johnson, Silvera, Daley and Harris; (below) more scenes from the play.

Ole Fyah Stick (DMH Productions)
Director: Dahlia Harris
Cast: Deon Silvera, Volier Johnson, Chris Daley, and Dahlia Harris
Venue: Theatre Place, New Kingston

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family. One is sharply reminded of this while watching the action unfold in Ole Fyah Stick, Dahlia Harris' latest theatrical offering that is both brilliantly acted and rip-roaring fun to watch. A follow-up to Harris' bruising 2014 kitchen-sink drama Her Last Cry, the ensemble production is an engrossing meditation on the ties that bind and relationship dynamics and is populated by four well-drawn and very Jamaican people who will remind you of someone you know.

Take, for instance, the show's centrepiece character Betty (the excellent Deon Silvera), a longsuffering, modestly educated housekeeper who's been in the employ of one Joe Moore (Volier Johnson) since the creation of dirt. Plus, they've known each other since they were kids running wild in the country. Over time, as is the case in so many households here and elsewhere, their bond evolved into something tighter than a boss-employee relationship, and it is this deeply personal aspect that doesn't sit well with Joe's fresh-from-overseas adult daughter Maggie (Harris).

One evening while Joe is outdoors picking mangoes, Maggie aggressively confronts Betty , reads her the riot act and all but convinces her that her security-guard 'friend' Delroy (Chris Daley), who happens to frequent the Moore residence, is more her speed. A woman on a mission, Maggie then pulls Delroy into her web.

There is hardly a false note in the production that pulses with the energy of an edge-of-your-seat soap opera. (Perhaps Days of Our Lives, as Delroy exclaims at one point.) Harris, who pulls quadruple duty as writer, costar, director and producer, knows her actors well and elicits strong performances from them all. While Harris is beguiling as the feral Maggie the bulldozer (and her questionable American accent!) who will stop at nothing to "protect" her dad, Johnson totally gets Joe Moore, presenting him as an aging soul deseperate to hold on to a good thing, in spite of the fear and cowardice that stymie his actions.

As for Daley, the role of Delroy seems tailor-made for him, and he brings that signature mix of alacrity and brio to the stage. Silvera, meanwhile, is the show's biggest revelation, and her portrayal of Betty is an award-worthy portrait of humility, ambition and a diamond in the rough.

To say the least, Ole Fyah Stick, boasting an appealing living-room set design, is full of sparks that eventually explode into fireworks. The intensity, on occasion, reaches fever pitch. But it's the show's spot-on reflection on universal themes ranging from social class and convention to loyalty and prejudice that leaves the most lingering impression.

Can two "unequally yoked" people in love ever find lasting happiness with the harbingers of doom and gloom nipping at their heels? What's the cost incurred for failing to follow your heart? Harris' impressive storytelling not only entertains and challenges our basic notions of romance and self-worth but succeeds in reaffirming that there are no easy answers when it comes to the game of love. Tyrone's Verdict: A- 

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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

ALMOST FAMOUS: For versatile rising actor Junior Williams, conviction is key

CENTRE STAGE: Williams (centre) shares a scene with Keith 'Shebada' Ramsey and Monique Ellis in Bashment Granny 3.

In spite of his nearly two decades working in Jamaican theatre, Junior Williams' presence on the arts scene feels like that of a relative newcomer. But his below-the-radar status has been given a boon thanks to the success of the Bashment Granny juggernaut, which introduced him to modern theatregoers as the ruthless kingpin Half-A-Dog, a role that clearly plays to his strengths as an individual who never shies away from going after what he wants and commanding respect along the way.

"He is like Dudus; he's a product of his environment," Williams says of his conflicted character, standing backstage at the Green Gables Theatre, where Bashment Granny 3 is still playing to large crowds ahead of a national and overseas tour commencing in February. "Deep down he's a decent person, a good guy. Just don't cross him or you will see his violent side."

In the years that Williams has been using his God-given gifts to earn an honest living as an actor, he has played everything from violent men to an effeminate shopkeeper to the eccentric Rastafarian I-Man-I on the CVM sitcom Joint Tenants, written, produced and directed by Paul O. Beale, who Williams credit with getting his career off the ground.

Later this year, the Ardenne High old boy could be heading back to the small screen in another Beale vehicle, My Business, in which he plays Mr. Searcher, an entrepreneur with his eyes squarely on the prize. With four episodes already filmed, My Business is, at its core, a story about struggle and independence, twin concepts that the 44-year-old is all too familiar with. "I have been on my own since I was about seven," reveals the lanky actor whose ramshackle, Rastafarian-influenced childhood in Kingston's Washington Gardens didn't prepare him for stardom but toughened him up to face life's hard blows. "I had it very rough growing up, and I used to run away from home a lot and get into all kinda trouble," he confesses.

Even so, there was a higher power guiding him, leading him towards a future in which the arts would figure heavily. While at Ardenne, for instance, he excelled in his drama classes (skulling a few) taught by the man who would become Michael 'Stringbeans' Nicholson.

By 1997, Williams was being encouraged by close friend Antoinette Robinson Fagan to audition for Beale, who was making waves at the time with shows like Pastor Houdini and Granny Rule. Fast-forward a few years, and Williams is off to the UK to work with the renowned Blue Mountain Theatre Company, where he first met his Bashment Granny 3 costar Terri Salmon, and went on to play fun, challenging parts, chief among them a slippery transvestite in 2006's Love Him Then Bun Him, a far cry from the brutish Half-A-Dog.

Not one to toot his own horn, Williams (admittedly eager to land some big-screen work) is pleased with what he has accomplished in his acting life so far but, not surprisingly, he is far from satisfied. "I consider myself very talented," the father of three tells TALLAWAH. "With every role I play, I try to be believable, and I think I pull that off every time."

> REVIEW: Bashment Granny 3 earns a solid B
> IT GIRL: Actress Monique Ellis in the spotlight

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Monday, 26 January 2015

LADIES FIRST: Women's lifestyle conference delivers inspiring mix of empowerment and sister-girl fellowship

TAKING THE LEAD: Event conceptualizer Kiki Thombs at Eden Gardens; a glimpse inside the conference's teen room; (below) speakers Kenrese Carter and Deane Good having a chat.

She had only three weeks to put together a tight package, but when Kerie-Ann 'Kiki' Thombs and her team sat down to plan this year's Lifestyle Change Conference for Women, she knew she wanted to create a memorable experience for Jamaican women that would offer life-changing advice about career, spirituality, money, men, self-empowerment and much more. Mission accomplished. 

Saturday's wonderfully refreshing and insight-rich event, hosted by Eden Gardens, took the form of a day-long conference, complete with booth displays and fun, interactive activities (not to mention giveaways) for participants, with an impressive range of dynamic speakers whose presentations provoked thought, stirred emotions and, more often than not, elicited resounding applause. By and large, these lifestyle pros, life coaches and certified professionals imparted meaningful messages that struck a chord and inspired non-stop note-taking. 

The palpable spirit of sisterhood that we witnessed inside the large white tent, as speaker after speaker took the floor, is precisely what Kiki, as conceptualizer, had in mind from the outset. "As women we go through so much, and we need to show support for each other. That's what this conference is about," Thombs told TALLAWAH during a rare break from her emceeing duties. "More than ever, women across Jamaica need empowerment as they go about fulfilling their purpose. So, for me, this event is about getting the ladies to understand that as women we may face a lot of obstacles on a daily basis, but we have to find a way to navigate our lives powerfully." 

As it happened, several of the day's speakers sought to hammer home that very point to the scores of women in attendance. From Kenrese Carter's rousing 25-minute talk about how to commit to lasting lifestyle changes and Dr. Sandra Knight's tried-and-proven tips for healthier living to Dr. Herbert Gayle's laugh-out-loud session on the female brain and a no-holds-barred discussion on female sexuality moderated by Dr. Carla Dunbar, there was more than enough for the women to absorb. The conference's programme also featured a who's who of inspirational and well-known Jamaican personalities who've walked the walk — Joan Good, Ambassador Audrey Marks, Kamila McDonald and Pastor Ryan Mark, to name only a few. 

Spurred on by the success of the Kingston event, particularly the large turnout, Kiki is gearing up to take the show on the road, with similar conferences being planned for Mandeville and Montego Bay. "We haven't set the dates yet, but they'll definitely be held later this year," she says. "We want to take this message of empowerment across the island." She adds, "We all have our struggles, but at the end of the day we can come together and hep each other improve our lives."

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Saturday, 24 January 2015

SURVEILLANCE STATE: Hemsworth, Davis bring the heat in Michael Mann's Blackhat

IN STEP: Hemsworth and his love interest are on the run in this scene from the film.

Today's global and relentless generation of computer-hacking savants may think they are top-shelf stuff when it comes to what they do, but their talents probably pale in comparison to that of Nick Hathaway, whose skills are so superlative that they more or less become his get-out-of-jail-free card. 

Doing time in a maximum-security institution for his cyber-related crimes, Hathaway becomes a prime asset of the US government when a series of power-plant bombings rock China and threaten US relations with the Asian territory. As it turns out, the perpetrator behind these unprecedented cyber-generated attacks is a maverick who expertly manages to avoid leaving a trail for investigators to follow. 

So begins a hunt that spans Chicago, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Tokyo to track down this mastermind before another attack claims hundreds of lives and further cripples diplomatic relations. That's basically the premise of Blackhat, the latest effort by director Michael Mann, and while it doesn't rank among his finest work, like, say, the excellent Tom Cruise/Jamie Foxx thriller Collateral, it has intrigue, fascinating accounts of international espionage, and an ideally cast leading man in Thor's Chris Hemsworth. 

Having worked his way up the Hollywood ladder to household-name status and action-packed blockbusters like Thor and The Avengers, Hemsworth practically has his pick of parts these days. So while it's a surprise to see him tackling the angular role of Hathaway, he plays the part impeccably, with a mix of manly-man bravado and the cunning typical of career cybercriminals. 

But, as the actor's portrayal suggests, Hathaway is at heart a decent guy who's made some bad choices and is paying the price for his misdeeds. That said, Blackhat can also be viewed as a film about second chances, and it vividly explores Hathaway's redemptive qualities. So while the movie (which also gets strong turns from Viola Davis as a lead investigator and a couple of Asian actors) is largely a hit-and-miss affair, thanks to his compelling story coupled with his amazing cyber skills on full display, the film is never less than watchable. Tyrone's Verdict:

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Thursday, 22 January 2015

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour seduces and satisfies

HIGH NOTE: The talented British crooner gives us something to sing about.

Let's just get this out of the way: Sam Smith is, without doubt, the male version of Adele. Given the striking parallels in their work and origin stories, there is no other way to put it. Extravagantly gifted as songwriters and vocalists, they both exude a very exquisite (and very British) kind of artistic brilliance, which effortlessly comes across in their music, equal parts soulful and angsty, enlightening and evocative. 

At the same time, they chart similar territory when it comes to the themes they choose to explore in song passion, pleasure, life's bittersweet moments, lovers done wrong and their legions of fans can't get enough. That's why they've sold millions of records and their names are on everyone's lips. 

Did I neglect to mention that they're also a hit with Grammy voters? While Adele scooped up two trophies for her astonishing debut 19 and six for 21 (her sophomore release), Smith's In The Lonely Hour has racked up six nominations for next months awards, specifically bids for Best New Artist, Pop Vocal Album, Pop Solo Performance, Record, Song and Album of the Year. Listening to the songs on the album, it isn't hard to see why. 

Smith, who wrote or co-wrote all ten tracks (an additional four appear on the deluxe version) certainly knows how to craft and deliver a memorable lyric and work his way around a gorgeous melody. As such, the album is laden with moments that give you pause. Put another way, the artistry and maturity he displays belies his tender 22 years. Again, in Adele's case, that's something observers have always remarked on. (Case in point: witness her splendid writing and vocal performance of the Oscar-winning smash "Skyfall".) 

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year of so, you've heard "Stay With Me," Smith's haunting petition to an indifferent lover that has spawned countless cover versions. Then there's "I'm Not The Only One," a sublime jewel all the more noteworthy for its sincerity and slow-burning sensibilities. And you can't deny the between-the-sheets appeal of a track like "Leave Your Lover," which, thanks to its sly and subtle innuendoes, wouldn't be out of place on an album by, say, James Blunt of Michael BublĂ©. 

In The Lonely Hour is a record of iPod-worthy highlights that draw attention to Smith's knack for bringing together the key ingredients that make up a successful tune: meaningful words, unforgettable melodies and the vocal talent to guarantee a pleasurable listening experience. In the end, the album is a seductive and satisfying effort, in spite of its brisk 40-minute running time. Whether you're vibing to the playful, moody "Money On My Mind" or entranced by the evocative, vivid "Lay Me Down", Sam Smith never fails to connect with you on some level. 

Overall, the album is a triumph, hugely enjoyable and featuring songs that dually warm the heart and challenge the mind. Adele should unequivocally approve. And, needless to say, we expect Sam to fare well at the upcoming Grammy Awards. Tyrone's Verdict: A- 

> BEST TRACKS: "I'm Not the Only One," "Life Support," "Good Thing" and "Stay With Me" 

> GRAMMY JUKEBOX: TALLAWAH plays and rates 2015's Record and Song of the Year hopefuls

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