Wednesday, 31 December 2014

THINGS FALL APART: Well-acted Divorce Papers examines aging and a marriage on the rocks

I MARRIED YOU FOR HAPPINESS: Samuels and McCalla star as a couple whose relationship has gone wan; (below) more scenes from the play.

The sight of Oliver Samuels caught in a fierce verbal crossfire with Barbara McCalla in Divorce Papers at the Little Little Theatre reminds one compellingly of Philip Seymour Hoffman squaring off against Meryl Streep in Doubt. Two acting heavyweights going at it and giving the audience a lip-smacking lesson in scene dynamics and character work.

The formidable pairing of McCalla and Samuels is one of the play's strongest assets and, coupled with the varied lighting and vivid set design (which lends the show added visual interest), it's consistently appealing.

Of course, Divorce Papers is yet another effort from the prolific pen of Basil Dawkins, which means first-rate storytelling and the candid exploration of human relationship dynamics and sociological subtext - and ample proof that Dawkins' ongoing collaboration with director Douglas Prout is a creative partnership that continues to yield impressive results.

After cohabiting as man and wife for over three decades, Augustus (Samuels) and Grace Goffe (McCalla), an aging upper-middle-class couple, can hardly stand to be in the same room with each other, let alone share a civilized conversation. The opening scene depicts Augustus laying the divorce papers on the living room table. Accusations of infidelity fly left, right and centre, and between Augustus' belligerent temper and Grace's pent-up bitterness over his fling with the maid, their house is no longer a home.
Small wonder that Grace finds solace in the arms of her youthful bodybuilding lover-boy Wayne (a superbuff Dennis Titus), whom she supports financially, while Augustus strikes up a frisky romance with his attorney's gorgeous assistant Stacey (the ever alluring Maylynne Lowe), who offers him a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

But is Stacey secretly expecting a big favour in return? Is Wayne a straight-shooter who genuinely cares for Grace, or just an opportunist looking out for #1? Can Augustus and Grace find common ground amid the chaos to rekindle the passion on which they built their matrimonial home?

In spinning this terrifically acted and captivating yarn of a play about commitment and compromise, age and aging, infidelity and the ties that bind, Dawkins and Prout invite us to consider the institution of marriage as many things, but easy isn't one of them. Tyrone's Verdict: B+

> MORE THEATRE: 'Miss Elsayda' gives Delcita a rollicking send-off




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CULTURE VULTURE: Another Marley musical in the works + The music of Into The Woods + A sassy storyteller returns

BOOK: Sharon Leach's Love It When You Come, Hate It When You Go 
Few contemporary Jamaican writers can cook up a juicy, provocative plot as deftly as veteran short-story scribe Sharon Leach whose absorbing tales of jilted lovers and ambitious go-getters combine the bare-bones honesty and lyrical skill of a Terry McMillan with the wit and wisdom of Olive Senior. Almost seven years after thrilling devoted readers with her debut collection What You Can't Tell Him (Star Apple Press), Leach has returned to bookshelves and night-stands with Love It When (Peepal Tree), which offers us a second helping of her wised-up take on matters of the heart, the modern Jamaican woman, and what truly makes life worth living, among other ideas sure to provoke thought and get the pulse racing.
**

ALBUM: Disney's Into The Woods soundtrack satisfies 
Stephen Sondheim musicals are renowned for their captivating songs bring-them-to-their-feet ballads and deeply moving heart-tuggers. The magic-and-mystery masterpiece Into the Woods is certainly no exception, delivering some of the most popular tunes in not only the Sondheim repertoire but the Great Showtunes Songbook. With mega-talents like Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp doing the honours, the songs take on wondrous new life. Particularly repeat-worthy are Streep's emotional "Stay With Me" and the bombastic "The Last Midnight", Depp's seductive "Hello Little Girl" and, of course, the scene-setting title track that brings together the entire cast for an eargasmic dive into the realm of fairy-tale classics.
**

THEATRE: 'Marley' musical set for spring opening in Baltimore 
It's long been established that foreigners are as intrigued by Bob Marley's music and origin story as the rest of us. And the global theatre community is bringing his humble beginnings-to-global superstardom tale to audiences with increasing regularity. Most recently, the kiddie smash Three Little Birds delighted crowds in the Big Apple last year, and the Jamaica Junior Theatre Company is gearing up to unveil Nesta's Rock at the Philip Sherlock Centre in January. Now, news arrives that Marley, a brand-new show centred on the evolution of the late reggae superstar's life, is scheduled to open at a Baltimore theatre house in early 2015. But that's not the best part. Three young Jamaican actors plying their trade in the States namely David Heron, Ano Okera and Shayne Powell are rumoured to be attached to the cast. What's more, the production has reportedly secured the endorsement of Island Records' Chris Blackwell. "It is currently being workshopped," an impeccable theatre source informs TALLAWAH. "The Jamaican community is very excited about it." 




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ACTION TIME: The 10 Best Movies We Watched in 2014

Though we haven't had the good fortune of seeing the top awards contenders of the season (Birdman, Boyhood, Selma.....) we are happy to dive into the archives and reminisce on the films (a mix of biopics, intense dramas, musicals, popcorn blockbusters) that impressed us most in the past year. Roll the tape!

1. TOP FIVE: Buoyed by a winning chemistry between its lead stars Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson, this spirited, hilarious portrait of a deepening bond between a veteran screen and stand-up comic (Rock) and a resilient reporter (Dawson) easily ranks among the best offerings out of Black Hollywood this year.

2. NOAH: Working with a preposterously fine cast, including Russell Crowe (as the titular patriarch), Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson, director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) delivered a stirringly told and stylistically daring epic of Biblical proportions.

3. GONE GIRL: Who wasn't blown away by this astonishing adaptation of Gillian Flynn's deliciously twisty bestseller? Full of intrigue and riveting suspense, the year's most engrossing thriller boasted top-class performances by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and found director David Fincher in characteristically fine form.

4. INTO THE WOODS: Rob Marshall's magical film version of the Sondheim/Lapine musical classic delivered the goods: stunning art direction, sumptuous costumes, wondrous singing and polished-to-perfection performances from an all-star cast led by the ever award-worthy Meryl Streep.

5. THE EQUALIZER: For us, anything starring the magnificently talented Denzel Washington is worth the price of admission. In this action-heavy tour-de-force, the two-time Oscar winner turned it out as a silent-but-deadly agent who comes out of "retirement" to defend the honour of a troubled young woman (Chloe Grace Moretz) desperate for a new lease on life.

6. BEYOND THE LIGHTS: With hits like The Secret Life of Bees and Love & Basketball, Gina Prince-Bythewood offered bold explorations of family dynamics and the Black experience. Embracing similar themes, she crafts a heartfelt look at a young music superstar (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and a conflicted young cop (Nate Parker) who embark on a journey of self-discovery with bittersweet results.

7. GET ON UP: Though a tad overlong, this hugely entertaining and strongly acted James Brown biopic from director Tate Taylor (The Help) showed us the man behind the legend and why the Godfather of Soul (a terrific Chadwick Boseman) was rightly dubbed the hardest working man in show business.

8. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES: Talking apes rule! This action-packed, Matt Reeves-directed prequel found its anchor in a combustible mix of tension and survival strategy and fierce depictions of how family protects its own.

9. JOHN WICK: We always knew we hadn't seen the last of Keanu Reeves. Sure enough, the film icon (who can forget Speed?) is in blazing form in this shoot-em-up spectacle that delivers the timeless reminder: you just never mess with a man's dog.

10. DESTINY: Home is where the heart is. Or so learns the well-drawn characters in this sure-footed debut from Jamaican-born filmmaker Jeremy Whittaker about a good-natured young woman (Karian Sang) who, upon returning to the island of her birth, rediscovers what it means to have roots. Grace 'Spice' Hamilton, Chris Martin and Munair Zacca costar.

> HONORABLE MENTION: The Maze Runner, Captain America: The Winter's Soldier, and X-Men: Days of Future Past

> FLASHBACK 2014: The Top 10 Entertainers of the Year 




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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

FOR BETTER OR WORSE: Fun, feisty 'Elsayda' gives Delcita a rollicking send-off

OFFICE POLITICS: Wright (left), Holness (centre) and Johnson share a scene.

Is this the end for Delcita? The comedy queenpin may be on her last lap in Jamaican theatre, by her own admission, but she's bringing the curtains down on a stellar career with Miss Elsayda, a production brimming with her signature blend of hilarity, thought-provoking takes on parenthood and marital strife, and a bold riff on the socio-economic status quo in Jamaica. 

It's a solid show overall, though the lighting and set design leave a lot to be desired and the sound emerging from the speakers (at least at Stephanie Hall where we did our review) is occasionally jarring. Still, Miss Elsayda packs enough punchlines, funny dialogue and sobering truth-telling to make up for these minor shortcomings. 

Last time (in University of Delcita), we followed Miss Coldwater (Andrea Wright) as she pursued her Bachelor's in Guidance and Counselling. Much has changed since then, as the ambitious single mother and colourful dresser tells it, "Did my Bachelor's, now doing my Masters with a little Law on the side." 

So we catch up with her on campus, where she's also seeking a part-time office job, much to the chagrin of secretary Shelly Wisdom (Joanna Johnson), the apple of the unseen Professor's eye and the sweetheart of a US-based thug, and Elsayda Josephs (Melisha Holness), the office manager grappling with a rocky marriage and work pressure that pushes her to the brink and eventually lands her in divorce court. 

That's when Delcita gets to put her little legal knowledge to the test, acting as Elsayda's attorney-in-training. To the benefit of the audience, that's when the show truly picks up steam and delivers its finest comedic moments. But that's not all. Romance is in the air for Delcita, whose blossoming relationship with hunky paramour David (Robert Hanchard) reaches blissful new heights. Can a proposal be far behind? 

Written and directed by Wright herself, Miss Elsayda finds the actor-writer-producer doing what she does best: using a relatable and very Jamaican story to show her fans a good ole time while telling it like it is. At times insightful, occasionally provocative and never less than amusing, Miss Elsayda is a crowd-pleasing success. Tyrone's Verdict:

> Interview: Andrea Wright talks motherhood, life lessons and Delcita's last hurrah




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A TOUCH OF FANTASY: Magical Into the Woods is a splendid song-and-dance affair

LET'S MAKE A DEAL: The witch (Streep) makes the baker and his wife (Corden and Blunt) an offer they can't refuse.

For decades Hollywood has owed us a film version of Into the Woods, but show creators Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, while open to the idea, were adamant that it not be treated as just another Broadway sensation making its eventual leap from stage to screen. Fast forward to 2012 and news arrives that director Rob Marshall, the genius behind 2002's Oscar-winning masterpiece Chicago, had signed on with Disney Pictures to give the whimsical production the cinematic rendering it so richly deserves. 

Still, Woods purists were skeptical: Could Marshall orchestrate an adaptation faithful to the creators' original vision while providing audiences with an escapist fantasy that would knock their socks off? 

The answer is a resounding yes. In a nutshell, Marshall's Into the Woods is a well-made and spellbinding triumph that's gorgeously filmed and splendidly acted. Undoubtedly, it's one of the most entertaining films you'll see this season (it opened worldwide on Christmas Day), with its fascinating and interweaving storylines, stunning art direction and wondrous singing (it's a musical, after all) that nicely complements the spoken dialogue. 

As fans of Into the Woods will tell you, the story more or less is a mash-up of the popular fairy-tales we grew up on, shaken and stirred, and laced with beautifully penned showtunes. It's a magical package. 

When a reproductively challenged baker (James Corden) and his devoted wife (Emily Blunt) get an offer they can't refuse from the neighbouring witch (the always welcome Meryl Streep), they embark on a mission that takes them into the treacherous woods to fetch for her four items before the next blue moon. In exchange for the items, the witch promises to lift the curse she'd placed on the baker's family resulting in their childless state. 

The desperately aspiring parents manage to find all four things, but they belong to other people a golden show they try to snatch from an on-the-run Cinderalla (Anna Kendrick); the red cape of Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) on her way to Grandma's house; a cow as white as milk they try to bribe from Jack (Daniel Huttlestone as the beanstalk lad) heading to the market; and some sunshine-yellow hair courtesy of Miss Rapunzel. With the hours slipping away and the witch's frustration ballooning by the minute, what plays out is an edge-of-your-seat race against time that's both fun to watch and musically blissful. 

As with any Sondheim musical, the tunes are brilliantly conceived, emotionally honest and at times full of enthralling power. Among the highlights: the moving "No One is Alone", the reflective "Children Will Listen", the stirring title track, and the witch's one-two punch of "Stay with Me" and "The Last Midnight." 

Equally appealing? The very accomplished cast which, in addition to the aforementioned names, features the elastic talents of Christine Baranski as Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Chris Pine as the pompous prince determined to make the evasive servant girl his bride, and Johnny Depp as the Wolf, who cuts a dashing figure in a clean-cut suit almost as sharp as his razor-edged teeth. Tyrone's Verdict: B+




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Monday, 29 December 2014

ON THE SCENE: Usain Bolt visits hometown; Actors promote new shows; Stephanie strikes a chord at Redbones

HIGH SEAT: Dec. 24, St. Andrew. Slowing down the tempo during her enthralling Christmas-themed concert at the Redbones Blues Cafe last Wednesday night, singer Stephanie Wallace-Maxwell interpreted soothing holiday standards, pop hits and reggae classics much to the delight of her attentive audience. 

THREE'S COMPANY: Dec. 24, St. Andrew. Cool friends like music educator Michael Sean Harris and actress Shawna-Kae Burns were in attendance to watch their girl bring the house down at Redbones on Christmas Eve. 

CHILD'S PLAY: Dec. 26, Trelawny. Sherwood Content was all abuzz on Boxing Day, as the community's most famous export, Usain Bolt, and the Usain Bolt Foundation brought holiday cheer to the kids with a treat featuring free rides and Christmas presents galore. Here, the World's Fastest Man and future dad surprises one of the tots with a photo-op. 

MAMA MIA: Dec. 26, Kingston. Pictured here with teenage daughter Dreanna, actress Andrea 'Delcita' Wright unwinds backstage at Stephanie Hall after a performance of her latest ensemble comedy, Miss Elsayda which, as we recently reported, is Delcita's last hurrah. Miss Elsayda also features performances by up-and-comers Melisha Holness, Joanna Johnson and Robert Hanchard

PLAY MATES: Dec. 28, Kingston. Ageless actress Barbara McCalla and fast-rising leading man Dennis Titus enjoy a light moment outside their dressing room at the Little Little Theatre following a sold-out performance of Basil Dawkins' Divorce Papers, one of the hottest tickets in town. The intense marital drama, directed by Douglas Prout, costars Oliver Samuels and Maylynne Lowe.




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BODY OF WORK: The 2014 Jamaica Biennial overflows with kaleidoscopic visuals and boundary-pushing concepts

PRIMARY COLOURS: This year's engrossing exhibit includes hypervivid artworks like "Freedom of Expression" by Andre Woolery and (below) Cosmo Whyte's "Head Boy."

To anyone making the trip down to the National Gallery of Jamaica on Ocean Boulevard to view the works on display at the Jamaica Biennial, "Otherness," Olivia McGilchrist's curiously titled video installation is a must-see. Clocking in at seven months, the clip stars renowned actress-playwright Jean Small and the artist herself exploring a fascinating older woman-younger woman dynamic in non-speaking roles.

The two women, clad in theatrical black, employ graceful gestures as they interact, make eye contact and attempt to deepen what appears to be a freshly developing bond. It's an affecting, stylishly executed piece that dually reflects a spirit of existentialism and ideas ranging from longing and forbidden love to race and womanhood.

"Otherness" is just one of numerous highlights in the blockbuster showcase that's a visual spectacle and a feast for the senses. To say the least, this year's Biennial bounty brims with delightful surprises, edgy eye-openers and provocative statement works that stop you in your tracks. To wit, Philip Thomas' oil on canvas "IMF (u***d)" is an arresting wall piece, emblazoned with dozens of Jamaican one thousand dollar bills and striking human figures, that speaks to the country's precarious dealings with the international money-lending agency.

Then there's Omari Ra's imposing "Woman A Come: The Ascent of Biology and the First Woman"; Trinidadian Richard Mark Rawlins' ingenious acrylic/graphite/chalk piece #DidYouHearYourself; Ramone Johnson's stunning mixed-media glass installation; and Camille Chedda's 'scandalous' "Wholesale Biodegradables" all terrific pieces that find common ground in their near-seamless blend of technique and poignant commentary.
What has always set the Jamaica Biennial apart from other local exhibitions is not just the sizeable scale of the show but the incredible range of works, the eclectic styles and distinctively Jamaican voices that it captures. And this year's presentation is just as deeply engrossing as the ones in years past. 

Visceral wall art, attention-grabbing sculpture, avant-garde photography and hypervivid paintings all vie for your precious minutes, each contributing something meaningful to a conversation spanning religion, sexuality, politics, race, class and history. 

> The Biennial exhibition, rated PG-16, is on view at the National Gallery, Downtown Kingston, through March 15, 2015, with complementary shows running simultaneously at Hope Road's Devon House and the National Gallery West in Montego Bay.




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Saturday, 27 December 2014

HOME AND AWAY: Kim-Marie Spence reflects on life in Australia and enjoying a change of pace

CATCHING UP: Home on holiday, Spence reconnected with colleagues Everaldo Creary and Carlette DeLeon at Tarrus Riley and Friends.

Since January of this year Kim-Marie Spence has been on an Australian odyssey that's been nothing short of life-changing, opening up her mind to bold new ideas about the creative industries and solutions to weighty problems that are not unique to any particular geographical zone. Enrolled in a PhD fellowship at the Australian National University, based in Canberra, she's practically completed a full year of study already with another two to go at least. And though she's "far away from family" in a remote island-country that's like 13 hours ahead of us here in Jamaica, she welcomes the oceanic change of scenery and the opportunity to dive into an expansive culture almost as opulent as our own, while getting a first-class education. 

"I really like Australia for a number of different reasons," she shares, as we have a chat at the recent Tarrus Riley and Friends concert inside Emancipation Park. (Kim is home on holiday, returning to Aussieland in early January.) "The accessibility to expertise is great and the learning environment is just amazing. You get to see the research and the policy-making strategies and the policies being put into place. It's a very inspiring place to be right now," she reports with wide-eyed fervour. 

Given Spence's history with Jampro and her commendable efforts as Jamaica's immediate former film commissioner, it seems only natural that she would gravitate towards that particular area of study. "I'm very happy about the things we've been looking at so far, like the evolution of the creative industries, the state of the global economy and how they can create opportunities for a country like Jamaica," reflects the former Jamaica Rhodes Scholar, presently in her 30s. 

Of course, all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl, so Kim has made a point of delving into other (lighter) aspects of the Aussie experience — "the running, the hiking and other parts of the culture," which she describes as a melting pot of Pan-Asian and Pacific Island nationalities — which have been doing her some good. 

Reflecting on her time at Jampro, Kim makes it clear that while those years do represent a fulfilling growth period in her life career-wise, it's a chapter she's ready to move on from. But turning the page doesn't mean her contribution to nation-building is now a thing of the past. "I liked my job, but I'm happy where I am now," she explains, with a hint of seriousness in her voice. "In terms of what I wanted to get done, I fought for a lot of stuff. I busted my a$$. I did the best, and I'm happy with what I was able to accomplish for the film industry, especially." 

As for her career ambitions once she returns home from Australia, Kim spies nothing report-worthy on the horizon as yet. But you just know she'll figure something out. "I can't say what I'll do when I come back to Jamaica, but I know that I want to continue contributing positively to the development of the country," she says, emphasizing the supreme importance of taking the long view, adopting a universal outlook, when it comes to matters of advancement, national and otherwise. "You have to think global. If we say we want to move the country to the next level, we have to look at the bigger picture, link and talk to other key policy-makers." 

Asked to sum up her 2014 in a single sentence, Kim-Marie Spence pauses then takes a deep breath. "It's been a year of challenge and change," she says finally, "but I can't complain."




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THE GOODBYE GIRL: Andrea 'Delcita' Wright on life lessons, motherhood, and why she's leaving the theatre behind

MOTHER COURAGE: Early exposure to acting, Wright says, boosted daughter Dreanna's confidence; Below, in character as Delcita.

A couple of weeks ago when we heard that Andrea 'Delcita' Wright was packing her bags as she gets ready to exit the theatre spotlight for good, the news caught us by surprise. But we always knew there was more to the story. "I can't get the rights to Delcita," Wright confessed to TALLAWAH this past Friday evening, seated in her dressing-room at Holy Childhood's Stephanie Hall following a presentation of her latest show, Miss Elsayda, which she wrote and directed - and is reportedly Delcita's swan song.

As Wright went on to explain, she's been locked in a tussle with the character's original conceptualizer/writer over "royalty" money, and the stress has been taking its toll. "It's been going on for a while now, and the long and short of it is we can't amicably resolve the situation, so it makes sense that I just shelve it," explains the actress-producer, who shot to stardom with Stages Productions back in the 2000s before striking out on her own with Big Stage Entertainment, her very own production outfit. "So that's the main reason why I have decided to put the Delcita character on pause."

Even so, the Clarendon-based entertainer says she's not entirely counting out the possibility of a comeback in the future, but more than likely as Wright in search of meaty and challenging parts that will let her show some range. After all, Delcita hardly represents the be all and end all of the actress' gifts. "I might try it," says the mother of one, whose day job draws on her skill as a trained and certified counsellor. "Anything is possible, but for now I have to give thanks to all who made it possible."

TALLAWAH: How have fans been reacting to the news of your imminent departure from the theatre scene? 
Andrea Wright: A lot of them don't necessarily believe that this is my final run as Delcita. If you go on my Facebook page, you will see some of the reactions. Some of them understand where I am coming from, and some feel that I will eventually come back, but I have to move on.

TALLAWAH: When all is said and done, how do you want Delcita's legacy to be viewed by Jamaicans? 
A.W.: (Laughs). To be honest, I have so many unreleased DVDs that I wish they could see. But otherwise I hope Jamaicans will never forget the type of humour she brought to the stage and her empowerment of women, her originality of content and style and, of course, the whole image. I feel that even if other characters pop up as time goes by it won't be the same. The brain power and mental energy that Delcita has puts her in a class by herself.

TALLAWAH: Your teen daughter Dreanna co-starred with you in last year's University of Delcita. Are you encouraging her to seriously pursue the craft of acting?
A.W.: She likes it, but I don't want it for her, not right now. The ideal time for her was when she was in Grade Six and she did University of Delcita with me, but she's in high school now, and that's what I want her to be focussing on. To have gotten her on stage I had to go through a lawyer and get approval from the Ministry of Education. That was very pricey, but it did a lot for her. I wanted to boost her confidence and it worked.

TALLAWAH: I can imagine. The glare of the spotlight can provide a powerful cure for shyness.
A.W.: She was very, very shy, and I was a lot like that when I was her age, and it took a while for me to get over it. It was a lot like putting her in a camp. Her confidence is up now, and when kids tease her at school she can now stoutly defend herself.
TALLAWAH: What's the single most important thing being an actress/playwright/producer has taught you about life?
A.W.: Being in theatre all these years has taught me a whole lot because not everybody who is around you means you well. And it's also hard to know that there is so much talent in Jamaica that is not being utilized. That's something that needs to be addressed urgently.

TALLAWAH: We know you're about to give greater attention to your work in the area of Guidance and Counselling. But, looking ahead, in what other ways will the Andrea Wright story continue to unfold?
A.W.: I have a book that I'm working on, which I hope to finish next year. And I want to better facilitate my clients as a counsellor. I already have a first degree from NCU, and I might just do a Masters. I put away the Delcita costume for the final time in May 2015.

TALLAWAH: Does that month hold some special significance for you?
A.W.: Every year I do a show on Mother's Day it's always special because the mothers and their families come out in their numbers to see Delcita. I'm always looking forward to the Mother's Day performance.

TALLAWAH: At present you're in your mid-40s. Are you content with where life has taken you up to this point?
A.W.: I feel good. I really have accomplished a lot, and I've gained quite a bit of experience in different areas of life. I have to be thankful. 




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A TOUCH OF CLASS: Stephanie and friends sizzle at the Redbones-hosted This Christmas

BETWEEN US: Stephanie and Rudy connect as they perform a winning duet.

As a singer one of the most valuable assets you can possess is a versatility that makes your performances both memorable and appealing. No doubt about it, classy singer-songwriter Stephanie Wallace-Maxwell has that down pat, and as a result we are consistently drawn to her like bees to honey. She fills her live shows usually hosted at Redbones with tunes that reel you in with their emotional resonance and a spirited delivery equal parts sugar and spice. That's why her latest gig, This Christmas, her final live performance for the year, worked so well.

Drawing a fair-sized crowd to the popular Argyle Road venue on Wednesday's Christmas Eve, the pint-sized belter expertly combined vibrant interpretations of holiday classics with several songs from her pool of favourites into a mix that satisfied and attracted regular shouts of encore. The competent backing band's rousing musicianship was another huge plus - not to mention the welcome boost she got from her Ashé peeps who lent their boundless energy and stylish harmonies to cuts like "Carol of the Bells," which gave the show a strong opening.

In December of 2013, Stephanie released The Christmas Collection, a fine CD featuring her take on some of the season's most beloved and well-known staples. A year later, they sound as fresh and creamy as ever, especially "The Little Drummer Boy", "Oh Holy Night" and "Mary, Did You Know?" The amazingly talented Rudy Tomlinson joined her for a duet of "Every Year, Every Christmas" a stunning vocal pas de deux that revealed a gorgeous dynamic between the two.

Sporting a long-sleeved white top, a black mini, red platforms, and a fluffy Cool-Aid-red mini-afro, Stephanie made no bones about shaking up the traditional formula with some non-Christmas numbers as well, including a few off her Real Woman EP, like "Say My Name", "Your Love" and the supersexy title track. 

And then, as if to punch up the flavour Jamaican style, we were treated to commanding renditions of Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved?" and Jimmy Cliff's "Rebel" (alongside Michael Sean Harris and Ashé) to send us off into the night with the apt reminder that, in addition to the food, the gifts, and friend-and-family moments, Christmas simply must be about the music.




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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

FACES IN THE CROWD: Star-studded Tarrus Riley and Friends light up Emancipation Park

FOR MY PEOPLE: By the time Grammy nominee Sean Paul hit centrestage at around 11:30pm on Tuesday night, Emancipation Park was awash with the kind of electric euphoria one usually experiences at Reggae Sumfest. It's a measure of Tarrus Riley's influence and the level of respect he commands from his peers that his annual free-to-the-public mega production Tarrus Riley and Friends continues to attract the best in reggae and dancehall to bring holiday cheer and high-energy performances to music lovers hailing from across the capital. Headliners Ninja Man, Cherine, D-Major, Prodi, Raging Fyah and Duane Stephenson shared top billing with Jah Vinci, McKeehan, Jah Bouks, Ikaya and Busy Signal, among several others, treating the massive crowd to their most popular and beloved tunes and end-of-year messages. As such, the WATA-sponsored event co-emceed by Isis, Debbie Bissoon and Riley himself proved a thrilling success as much for its appealingly diverse lineup as for its richly cathartic blend of live music and holiday spirit. 

 DREAM TEAM: After a show-stopping performance featuring "Rebel," "Eagles and Doves" and "Haffi Come Back" songstress Cherine was spotted hanging with duet partners Natel (left) and Stratdon. A high-school tour and tonnes of new music, Cherine says, are in the works for 2015.

 UP CLOSE: D-Major had reason to smile given the year he's had chart-topping singles, a warmly received debut album capping it off with vocally sharp renditions of his most well-known tracks at Tuesday's concert and posing for pics with pretty ladies like songbird Kaye.

TRUE COLOURS: Delivering one of the best sets of the night and one of the best reggae albums of the year, Dangerously Roots Duane Stephenson caught up with soulful sistah Shuga while hanging backstage.

FLYING SOLO: Reggae icon Richie Spice, whose next as-yet-untitled album drops in 2015, also stepped out in support of the star-packed concert.

LONG TIME NO SEE: Former Jamaica  film commissioner Kim-Marie Spence (right, now based in Australia!) was a ball of energy backstage as she reconnected with long-time pals like publicist Carlette DeLeon. "I really like Australia for a number of different reasons," Spence told TALLAWAH. More anon.




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ALL OR NOTHING: Outrageous humour, explosive action give Bashment Granny 3 its kicks

 FORTUNE HUNTERS: Scenes from a play exploring ideas of greed, revenge and loyalty.

The best sequels tend to deliver vast improvements on the original, be it a box-office smash, a best-selling book or a hit stage play. The recently debuted Bashment Granny 3 is no superlative, but it certainly represents a solid addition to the groundbreaking roots series.

Bashment Granny and Bashment Granny 2 came off as rollicking and fast-paced crowd-pleasers laced with social commentary, intrigue and punchline-heavy dialogue. Number 3 is a similar kind of beast that finds its strongest asset in a combustible mix of laugh-a-line comedy and daring action sequences (some featuring moments of dramatic gunplay). Add to that themes ranging from greed and vengeance to family dysfunction and loyalties tested. And though the expected hiccups do manifest at intervals and the climax needs more work, the show flies sky-high in entertainment value.

When Jamaicans shell out their big bucks in support of comedies like these they expect non-stop laughter. In this case, that's where Keith 'Shebada' Ramsey comes in. Whether he's unwittingly causing a scene at Bashy's funeral (which opens the show), engaging in heated verbal exchanges with anyone within earshot, dancing up a storm to the latest dancehall tunes or scheming to get his hands on the millions everyone seems to be after, the actor makes no bones about riding it till the wheels come off.

Written by Paul O. Beale and directed by Bunny Allen, the story picks up where the last instalment left off. Fresh from prison, Trevor (Garfield Reid), armed and dangerous, is at his most ruthless hunting for his dead father's millions and other assets. But, in addition to Shebada, he'll have to get past the equally vindictive Half-A-Dog (Junior Williams) and his headstrong ride-or-die chick Simone (Monique Ellis), Bashy's former leading lady Pretty P (a terrific Terri Salmon) and a conniving lawyer (Luke Ellington) whose gift for gab can't mask his moral bankruptcy.

The head-scratching goings-on and shady characters (some more fully drawn than others) are one thing, but what truly sells Bashment Granny 3 are the often outrageous (read: funny-perverse) things these people have to say. So though it's thin on the meat, the play more than makes up for its shortcomings with a real gift of laughter to help us lighten the blues this holiday season. Tyrone's Verdict: B




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