Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A LIFE IN THE THEATRE: Actor Volier Johnson on his passion for the stage and growing older and wiser

TIME TO REFLECT: For Johnson, 64, the stage is a perpetual playground. Below, with Same Difference costar Maylynne Lowe.

Volier ‘Maffie’ Johnson performed in his first theatrical production, a Trevor Rhone-directed version of A Christmas Carol, way back in 1969. Some forty-seven years later, the devoted actor is still going strong. In fact, Johnson, who recently celebrated birthday number 64, shows no signs of slowing down, and his youthful stamina is one of the many highlights in Dahlia Harris’ latest ensemble dramedy Same Difference (DMH Productions), now playing in Kingston. TALLAWAH caught up with the happily married family man, one of our favourite theatre icons, to talk about chemistry, creative spaces, and celebrating some big milestones.

TALLAWAH: What’s the secret to having a long-lasting career like yours in the theatre?
Volier Johnson: Acting was always my pastime. When everybody was playing football I wanted to be on the stage. It’s a natural love I have for the theatre. I never wanted to be a big star; just to be able to do what I love and live a good life.

TALLAWAH: This month’s Same Difference marks your second consecutive commercial production with writer-director-producer Dahlia Harris. What do you like most about working with Harris?
V.J.: I like Dahlia’s writing. She always picks nice situations to explore in the story, and we always work well together. She’s one of my longtime friends in the theatre, and we always get along. 

TALLAWAH: You’ve played the leading man to a fantastic array of Jamaican actresses, including Audrey Reid, Deon Silvera and Barbara McCalla. With whom did you have the most natural chemistry? 
V.J.: Barbara and I are very good together, but me and Audrey are coming from far, so the bond between us is more natural. As an actor, I don’t look for perfection in my costars. As long as you are professional and can do the job well, I will work with you. And I don’t mind working with younger folk; as long as you have the potential and the respect. I’m not in any competition. I just want to give a good show. 

TALLAWAH: What’s missing from the Jamaican theatre right now? 
V.J.: We need more theatre spaces. Please! At this point we have to call on the government. But in the meantime what we might have to do is identify some more of these school auditoriums and convert them to use as theatre spaces. All we would need is just proper lighting.

TALLAWAH: Reflecting on your career, chock-full of highlights, which role that you’ve brought to life always brings a smile to your face? 
V.J.: The first one is Toy Boy, one of my favourites. And I enjoyed playing Lord Bag and Pan in the pantomime Operation P, and doing Guava Jelly with Audrey and Oliver [Samuels]. 

TALLAWAH: Speaking of pantomime, this year the LTM is observing its 75th anniversary. How do you feel about such a milestone? 
V.J.: I think it’s a wonderful achievement. Before I hang up my gloves I might do another pantomime. I had promised them I would do one more. As long as the script is alright and the character to my liking I’ll seriously think about it. 

TALLAWAH: What is the core principle that guides your life? 
V.J.: I think you should just enjoy every moment of your life and cherish the work that you do. I like to go out there and make people laugh. It’s fun.

TALLAWAH: You turned 64 recently. How did you celebrate? 
V.J.: Rehearsal! (Laughs). But after rehearsal my daughter took me out to dinner, then me and my wife danced up a storm.






STREET SMART: Tulloch’s Bangarang paints realistic, hilarious portrait of downtown life

MIX & MATCH: Ellis (left) and Ramsey, who play vendors struggling to survive. Below, Salmon and Tulloch.

Bangarang (RBT Productions)
Director: B.L. Allen
Cast: Keith ‘Shebada’ Ramsey, Terri Salmon, Patrick Smith, Monique Ellis and Chris McFarlane Venue: Green Gables Theatre, Kingston
Overall rating: B

David Tulloch may be known as the brains behind some of the most insight-rich and compelling domestic dramas to grace the Jamaican stage in recent memory but, by all appearances, the avid playwright is “broadening his range.” His foray into full-throttle roots theatre gets a vivid showcase in this season’s Bangarang, which marks his fifth collaboration with RBT Productions. 

Of course, the play is not as cerebral or subtle as previous entries in his canon (For My Daughter, Wine & Roses), but Bangarang is a superfunny, crowd-pleasing delight that drives home salient points about the harsh socio-economic realities of downtown Kingston and the denizen who know all too well its struggle-and-survival dynamics.

As expected, broad humour figures prominently in this potboiler, and there are enormous doses for the audience, thanks in large part to the ever-reliable Shebada, who regularly sends the crowd into stitches with his latest incarnation – as a Princess Street vendor who has it in for Pearl (Monique Ellis), his down-on-her-luck colleague, who also ekes out a living as a prostitute.

Times are rough for downtown vendors, and everybody is feeling the pinch. And that includes Miss Chin (a terrific Terri Salmon), who has greedily set her sights on expanding her wholesale empire to encompass much of the downtown landscape. So when two-faced MP aspirant Winston Justice (Chris McFarlane) appears with his pauperism-to-prosperity ideas (to win votes!), Miss Chin wastes little time sinking her claws into him.

Throw into the mix Winston’s pursuit of Pearl, much to the chagrin of Officer Shellaz (a dim-witted road cop played by Patrick Smith), who wants Pearl all to himself – and the appearance of a Rastafarian weirdo, who goes by Preacher (played by Tulloch), who also wants a piece of the Pearl action.

Everybody is up to something. Nothing can be taken at face value. And, as the story progresses, the sobering lesson becomes clear: always watch your back.

Bangarang, directed by B.L. Allen, is not without its shortcomings – there are occasional technical glitches and the set design is mediocre at best. But it’s a worthwhile theatrical production that reaffirms Tulloch’s knack for spinning a balanced story with twists and turns you never saw coming. 

Ellis remains a rising star to watch. Salmon, Smith and McFarlane are far from flawless but they are expressive and appealing actors. The same goes for Shebada, who deserves his own TV sitcom. Audiences would tune in by the thousands just for the punchlines.

Flaws aside, Tulloch’s Bangarang delivers on the promise of its title, offering a very convincing and laugh-out-loud funny slice of Jamaican life. Tyrone's Verdict: B






Tuesday, 29 December 2015

GIRL OF THE MOMENT: From Bad Apple to Same Difference, actress Shantol Jackson is making serious strides

ACT LIKE YOU KNOW: Jackson, with co-star Volier Johnson in a scene from Same Difference.

Away from the spotlight, actress Shantol Jackson is a soft-spoken, painfully shy young lady. But she positively roars to life once she slips into character. Just check out her megawatt performance as Deon Silvera’s bratty teen daughter Candy-Bar in this season’s ensemble laughfest Same Difference (from DMH Productions), a role that showcases her blossoming range.

In case you are wondering where you’ve seen her before, Jackson has been on the radar as one of theatre’s rising stars to watch ever since she appeared in plays like Bad Apple (2014) and this year’s Hurricane Honeymoon, impressing us with her conviction and emotional intelligence. These days, Miss Jackson is busy banking time on the small screen as well, co-starring in TV J’s brand-new teen series Real Friends, while pursuing studies in business at the University College of the Caribbean. 

For this 22-year-old Ardenne High alum and Broadway aspirant, keeping eyes on the prize and taking notes from the greats are permanent entries on her to-do list. Here, she chats with TALLAWAH about ambition, acting up a storm, and having the right attitude.

TALLAWAH: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received since embarking on a career in the performing arts?
Shantol Jackson: As an actor, you have to feel because you shouldn’t go on the stage and act. Be the character. It has been an amazing experience. I’m always observing and learning. Sometimes the process is challenging because every director I’ve worked with is different; they like different techniques. But I always enjoy the outcome.

TALLAWAH: When did you know that you wanted to become a serious actress?
S.J.: I think it was right after I left Ardenne. I started UWI, but then I realized that I wanted to continue performing. So I joined Tableaux, and I started growing from there. Different directors saw me and invited me to work with them on their productions. Being in theatre is something I’m really enjoying, and after a while I realized this is something I want to be doing for a very long time. 

TALLAWAH: What have you been learning about yourself?
S.J.: That I need to control my nerves (Laughs). I need to have patience. Success is not something I can rush; it’s a process and I have to take my time to get there. Everytime I do a new show or give a great performance it’s like I’m proving to myself that this is what I was born to do.

TALLAWAH: You starred in a touching TV commercial (opposite Bertina McCaulay) for Jamaica National earlier this year and followed that up with a starring role on TV J’s high-energy new series Real Friends. What’s it been like bringing your talent before the cameras?
S.J.: It’s so different. On stage, everything is louder, while on camera you can be a bit more subtle. Doing TV, the transformation is a lot different but I love it, and I’m learning a lot from the experience. On Real Friends, we have a great cast that’s easy to work with. Most of us were friends from before so that makes it even better. We are all young. We have a young director and a young crew, so it’s a learning experience for all of us.

TALLAWAH: Who and what inspires you?
S.J.: I’m inspired by people who I want to be like. So I admire women like Leonie Forbes, Meryl Streep. I appreciate working with Patrick Brown and Dahlia Harris. But I have to give a lot of credit to Suzanne Beadle. She’s the first person to recognize my talent, from first form, and started moulding it, teaching me the basic things.

TALLAWAH: Ten years from now, Shantol Jackson will be…
S.J.: Hopefully I will still be acting but on a bigger level. I hope by that time I will have a performing-arts degree. I’d love to do Broadway and more film work.

TALLAWAH: If you could have a conversation with Apple today, what would you say to her?
S.J.: I would tell her to make school-work her number-one priority, graduate and go to university. I hope she learnt from ‘that’ experience. You can never judge a book by its cover, and I hope she learnt that.






FLASHBACK 2015: The 1st Annual TALLAWAH POP CULTURE AWARDS (Part 1)

What a year! Jamaican pop culture had the best year ever – reflecting the changes and challenges, yes, but also a dynamic entertainment landscape that remains the pride of the Caribbean and fertile ground for stories ideal for Hollywood. Looking back on the past 12 months, the highlights are legion. Still, we put our game faces on and whittled them down to a top 17 (in no particular order) that we felt are memorable in more ways that one.

1. BRAND JAMAICA MOMENT: Barack Obama visits the Bob Marley Museum
When the Leader of the Free World paid us a visit earlier this year, it was only natural that the local chaperones organize a trip to the Hope Road landmark, where Obama was photographed taking in the treasure trove of iconography and memorabilia that form part of the tangible legacy of the late great reggae superstar. The photos went viral – and not just for posterity but in recognition of one history-maker saluting another. 

2. SURPISE ACT OF THE YEAR: Omi
Omi’s original, Sly & Robbie-produced track “Cheerleader” struck a chord with young listeners who grooved to its catchy melody and straight-from-the-heart lyrics. But when German producer Felix Jaehn hopped on the remix, the song blew up, subsequently topping the Billboard Hot 100 and winning the reggae-pop star a whole new galaxy of fans, including Taylor Swift, and set the pace for his debut album, Me 4 U, released in October.

3. ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: Kevin Downswell
From the concert stage to radio playlists to the pulpit to bookstore shelves, Downswell’s creative influence was solidly felt throughout the past year, confirming his versatility and penchant for serving up musical fare that not only entertains but provides his audience with stirring food for thought. With another book and a new album in the works, we can’t wait to see what he delivers in 2016.

4. BEST THEATRE PRODUCTION: The Baby Scam
Patrick Brown’s storytelling skills were in top-flight when he penned this characteristically witty, dramatic and superfunny potboiler about liars and cheaters getting their comeuppance. As ever, the actors (especially Camille Davis and Glen Campbell) were dynamite, delivering some of the best work of their careers.

5. FAVE TV COMMERCIAL: Pepsi’s ‘Live for Now’
As crisp and sparkling as the refreshing beverage itself, this beautifully filmed clip (featuring a bunch of attractive young people enjoying the picturesque outdoors) had everything a great TV spot should: brevity, a quality product being showcased and a sense of adventure.

6. THE CONCERT EXPERIENCE: Reggae Sumfest
With showstopping performances by Jennifer Hudson, Common and T.I. and career-defining moments for Lady Saw and many others, the 21st renewal of Catherine Hall’s summertime jamfest was one for the record books – in terms of crowd size, yes, but mainly for the extraordinary calibre of the entertainment package.

7. OUTSTANDING BAND: Raging Fyah
Highly innovative and committed to taking roots-rockin’ reggae to all the continents, this five-member troupe delivered genre-defying sounds that celebrate cerebral artistry and craftsmanship, mixed with good old-fashioned melody-making. We consider them the Third World of their generation.

8. COMEBACK KID OF THE YEAR: Junior Tucker
A brand-new solo album (Jesus Famous) and his own church ministry, True Word & Worship (based in New Kingston) helped distinguish the entertainment vet from his peers in the gospel industry this year. Embodying the art of reinvention, while staying true to his family-man roots, Tucker continues to craft a legacy bolstered by staying power.

9. BREAKTHOUGH ARTISTE: Vershon
If there’s one thing to be said for this newbie (above), it’s that for an up-and-comer he punches way above his weight. As a result, within a year he racked up consecutive heatseekers-turned-radio hits (most memorably “Inna Real Life”), amassed a large following and is on everybodys’ list of the Best New Artistes of 2015 and the Ones to Watch in 2016.

>> Check out Part 2






FLASHBACK 2015: The 1st Annual TALLAWAH POP CULTURE AWARDS (Part 2)

What a year! Jamaican pop culture had the best year ever – reflecting the changes and challenges, yes, but also a dynamic entertainment landscape that remains the pride of the Caribbean and fertile ground for stories ideal for Hollywood. Looking back on the past 12 months, the highlights are legion. Still, we put our game faces on and whittled them down to a top 17 (in no particular order) that we felt are memorable in more ways that one.

10. TOP FEMALE ARTISTE: Alaine
Whether she was dishing her unique brand of tough love to Rising Stars contestants, gracing concert stages from Kingston to Kenya, or shooting videos for tracks off her smash CD Ten of Hearts, the irie songbird brought a touch of class and impressive artistry to her work. Judging by her track record and obvious commitment to excellence, it isn’t hard to picture Alaine rising, eventually, to the status of a Marcia Griffiths. 

11. TOP MALE ARTISTE: Jah Cure
We admire how this phenomenal singer-songwriter refused to let pesky rumours about his personal life (divorce gossip included) steal his shine. Having a career high as he approaches his early 40s, the dreadlocked crooner let his music do all the talking, delivering the kind of sublime, simplistically gorgeous songs that have become his signature.

12. FAVOURITE GOSPEL SONG: “One Day” by Kevin Downswell
His flawless vocal dynamics alone are worth the price of admission, but Downswell achieved something mildly spectacular with this track, extolling the heart and mind concerns he has for his fellow man, coupled with the state of affairs in the world today. Like his previous efforts, it’s a melodic gem to put on repeat.

13. TV PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR: Saudicka Diaram
Viewers who fell for herb blend of quick wit, professionalism, and thoroughness as the face of CVM’s D’Wrap, couldn’t have been happier to dive into the first season of The Saudicka Diaram Show, which brought a breath of fresh air to TV J’s usual Saturday lineup. And, according to inside sources, Season 2 will make Season 1 look like child’s play.

14. BEST MUSIC VIDEO: “Ghetto Boy” by Stephen Marley and Bounty Killer
Given the stadium status of the collaborators, the MTV-ready quality of this well-made clip is no surprise. With cinematic flair, it convincingly depicts the harsh realities of the violence-prone ghetto in Jamaica, anchored by strong performances from a largely young all-
Jamaican cast that more than makes the acting grade.

15. BEST REGGAE SONG: “Fade Away” by Romain Virgo
Virgo’s October EP Lifted was one of the sleeper hits of the year and included this powerful tune about friendships and loyalty. In the tradition of Marley and Tosh, it’s a modern classic that fuses soulful reggae groves with hard-hitting lyrics, earning a place among the former Rising Star’s finest cuts.

16. BEST DANCEHALL SONG: “Dance Hall” by Vybz Kartel
Love him or loathe him, few of today’s in-the-streets entertainers can craft a winning (read: tuneful and unshakeable) track like Mr. Palmer. And in spite of his incarcerated status, his creative influence felt more powerful than ever. The witty deejay ignited dancefloors and radio playlists with this addictive smash that effortlessly brings out the party animal in you.

17. ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Cure by Jah Cure
The nod for Best Reggae Album for the upcoming 58th Grammy Awards brought a well-deserved coda for the prolific hitmaker whose memorable year yielded such highlights as landing atop Billboard’s Reggae Album chart, earning critical huzzahs from the Associated Press and Vibe and the continued devotion of diehard fans who helped turn songs like “That Girl,” “Life We Live” and “Show Love” into megahits.

>> Check out Part 1







Monday, 28 December 2015

REAL TALK: Of Billboard, the Joss Stone controversy, and reggae to the world

'STONE' LOVE: The 28-year-old British singer-songwriter in performance.

Billboard Magazine recently named British songstress Joss Stone as its top reggae artiste of 2015. As expected, the news has sparked controversy, meeting with strong reactions locally and in the online universe, where folks have described the announcement as “laughable” and an insult to lifelong reggae musicians, particularly the veterans who’ve been in the trenches for years. They have a solid point.

But what one has to consider, first of all, is the criteria that led to Billboard’s announcement. What’s become clear is that Stone was cited largely based on the chart performance of her latest album, Water for your Soul, which outsold records by Bob Marley & the Wailers, Jah Cure and Morgan Heritage.

Still, one can’t help but wonder: does releasing a reggae-influenced album make you a reggae artiste? Did Joss make an announcement that she’s now pursuing reggae? I can’t recall.

Music lovers, yours truly included, who are familiar with her work, know Joss Stone as one of the most soulful white women in the world, with a fusion of R&B, funk and neo-soul that touches your core. (To put it nicely, she’s the female Robin Thicke.) She’s that good, and her vocals are impeccable too. Over the years, she’s collaborated with the likes of Lauryn Hill, Common and Raphael Saadiq, among others, and her albums like Introducing Joss Stone and The Soul Sessions Volume 1 make for pleasurable listening experiences.

For me, she’s up there with fellow Brits like Amy Winehouse and Adele. She’s that talented. But Joss Stone is a soul singer, who likes to dabble in other genres, reggae included. She’s not a reggae artiste. Come to think of it, she’s not alone. Snoop Dogg (Reincarnated), Rihanna, Melanie Fiona, Nas, countless rock ‘n roll icons and troubadours and even Beyoncé have all dabbled in dancehall and reggae, but we know what lane they answer to. We don’t categorize them as reggae artistes.

There’s another issue to consider where ‘dabblers’ are concerned. Sometimes ‘dabblers’ catch a vibe and head to the studio. In a reggae mood. They might record a song or two that have reggae beat, melody and flair. In some cases, over a period of time they might record enough reggae-influenced tracks to put out an EP or fill a whole album. In rare cases, the label gives the green-light and a new “reggae album” is born. Voila!

It’s not the same thing with a pure-bred reggae artiste, so one can understand the “outrage” when a foreigner ‘steals’ the shine – even if said foreigner has better marketing, a wider reach and ultimately sells more records. Yes, reggae has been embraced globally, but it still belongs to Jamaica. Everybody knows that.

I don’t believe Billboard intended to diss the bonafide reggae musicians who graced their Reggae Album Chart this year. Still, as it turns out, the act of singling out Joss Stone as the Reggae Artiste of the Year, by a publication held in such high esteem as Billboard, sends the wrong message.




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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR: For Kevin Downswell, 2015 delivered memorable moments to last a lifetime

HIGHLIGHT THIS: The gospel star and author with members of his band in Grand Cayman. Below, at the 2013 YVAs (left), and sharing the stage with Omari.

If you ask Kevin Downswell to describe the past 12 months, his adjective of choice is “indescribable.” While we would be more inclined to describe his 2015 as “triumphant” and “ovation-worthy”, we know exactly what he means. While a number of his industry peers connected with their fans on the usual level, Downswell was simply off the chain, captivating us (and widening his fanbase) with a powerful music ministry that came via electrifying concert performances, an artistry that’s as classy as it is compelling, and a genuineness that makes him intriguingly relatable and his offerings all the more appealing.

Never was this more obvious than at the recent KSAC Christmas Tree Lighting concert at the St. William Grant Park, where the gospel star, fashionably on-point as always, transformed the show into a raise-the-roof praise party, bringing the crowd to its feet and into the stratosphere. Kevin seems to accomplish this feat everywhere he goes these days, whether he’s headlining a sold-out event like Keesing Live or sharing the spotlight with other hitmakers (sacred and secular) at shows across the island.

This crowd-pleaser, blessed with a ferocious tenor, appeals across the board. And his fans can’t get enough. You couldn’t go anywhere this year and not hear hits like “Stronger”, “If It’s Not You” or the Papa San collabo “Calling Me” (to name a few of his popular hits), which ruled the airwaves and playlists at a wide range of events.

As the demand for his music skyrockets, Kevin Downswell Ministries is experiencing phenomenal growth. “The impact locally has obviously increased, but we also did a lot of travelling this year, visiting different places across the region. So we ended up achieving a whole lot,” Downswell tells us over the phone a few days after the KSAC concert. His creative juices, he says, went into overdrive this year, spawning numerous tracks that will be featured on his upcoming album (his third solo effort), due out in 2016.

Unsurprisingly, releasing the motivational tome The Search Continues was another high point for this multitalented 34-year-old. “I’m already working on the next book,” he confesses, without missing a beat. “The launch was truly special, and because this one was so warmly received, it challenged me to keep at it.”

There’s no telling what 2016 will bring for King Kevin, but with new frontiers to conquer, a solid management team taking care of business (wife Marsha and manager Wendell are towers of strength), and a public yearning for more, he has no choice but to deliver. He has a few surprises in store, especially when it comes to creative partnerships. “Let’s keep that a secret for now, but I’m working on some good collaborations for the album,” he hints, laughing. “Putting together the album is the main focus right now.” 

For this singer-songwriter, who will grace the stage at the well-anticipated January 2nd renewal of Shaggy & Friends at Jamaica House, nothing compares to putting your sweet success in proper perspective. “When you’re a child, you dream of reaching a certain point in life and making a difference,” he reflects. “But being at this stage has well surpassed what I always dreamed. I am truly grateful.”




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FLASHBACK 2015: TALLAWAH spotlights Jamaica’s top 5 Men of the Year

They thrilled us with their talents and ovation-worthy achievements. Playing to their strengths, they made their presence felt on the local and international stage. But, above all, their examples served to remind Jamaicans everywhere of what can be had by raising standards in these rapidly evolving times. For our inaugural Men of the Year salute, we chose the five stalwarts below (along with five runners-up) for exemplifying what it means to stand out from the crowd.

MARLON JAMES: The Storyteller
So many critics couldn’t be wrong. By the time James’ fictional juggernaut A Brief History of Seven Killings hit bookstores and web outlets earlier this year, it had appeared on enough Editors’ Choice lists to make your head spin. Add to that the word-of-mouth reviews that sent readers scurrying to claim their copies. By September, the novel (inspired by the ’70s assassination attempt on Bob Marley’s life) had achieved the status of an international bestseller, was named one of Amazon’s best books of the year and appeared on countless Top 10 lists. Winning the highly coveted Man Booker Prize in October, becoming the first Jamaican to do so, solidified James’ status as one of the most important West Indian storytellers of this modern generation.

OMI: The Chart-topper
We never saw it coming but what an awesome surprise: the smash success of the reggae-pop rising star’s “Cheerleader” (remixed by German producer Felix Jaehn), which took on a life of its own, dominating charts across the globe. After spending consecutive weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100, the hypnotic track landed Omi everywhere, from the recent BBC Awards in the UK to Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour – and served as the lead-off track for his funky solo-album debut, Me 4 U. Like Sean Paul and Junior Gong before him, Omi has tapped into that winning mix of crossover appeal and intriguing origin story that the pop world can’t get enough of. It goes without saying that this Jamaican kid is on everybody’s list of the Ones to Watch in 2016.

REV. RONALD THWAITES: Man on a Mission
Undoubtedly one of the top-performing ministers in the Simpson-Miller cabinet, the Education minister was everywhere this year, putting out fires and challenging policymakers, teachers and students alike, in his usual eloquent manner, to raise their standards. And he consistently made sense. Consequently, he’s earned the ire of some but the abiding admiration of key industry players like Nadine Molloy and Esther Tyson, two of his most outspoken supporters. At the same time, we admire how this family man, in spite of his massive workload, has maintained close ties with the Roman Catholic Church, which he’s been serving in the capacity of deacon for decades now. And even as he advances in age, Ronnie Thwaites doesn’t look a day older than 50.

ADAM STEWART: His Father’s Son
Sandals International continued its dominance of the regional hotel industry, thanks in large part to the visionary leadership of CEO Stewart, under whose hand the tourist-friendly hotel chain is flourishing leaps and bounds. No surprise that in addition to racking up multiple trophies with his team at the World Travel Awards this year, Stewart was recognized as Hotelier of the Year and Caribbean Personality of the Year by his peers who make up the Caribbean Hoteliers Association. On the auto scene, the ATL Group, which Stewart also leads, recently announced that they’ve landed the regional dealership for BMW and mini brands in what many have hailed as a prospective ‘game-changer.’ For us, there’s no word more ideal to describe the kind of trailblazing businessman Stewart is morphing into.

USAIN BOLT: Heart of a Champion
In a year filled with tests and trials, the World’s Fastest Man reminded us all that when it comes to performing on the global stage, nothing beats focus and consistency. The lanky sprinter, ever the model of sportsmanship and determination, fended off spirited challenges from titanic rivals like Justin Gatlin secure three gold medals for Team Jamaica at this summer’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, further cementing his legacy and legendary status. He got into the charity spirit again, with his UB Foundation teaming up with the JN Foundation for their Heroes in Action 5K, which impacted the lives of several Jamaican young ladies in need of a helping hand. The athletics powerhouse, who turns 30 next year, deserves all the awards, great and small, coming his way this season, as preparations heat up for the highly anticipated Summer Olympics spectacle in Rio de Janeiro. 2016 could be Bolt’s most crucial year yet.

> RUNNERS-UP: Religious icon Father Richard HoLung; Jamaica National’s Earl Jarrett; JLP Leader Andrew Holness; rising sportsman Alex Marshall; and GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby.




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CLASSICS AT CHRISTMAS: Kingston College Choir thrills at Mona with splendid musical showcase

GOLDEN NOTES: The choir brought traditional carols, holiday-themed tunes, and much more.

The Kingston College community is observing too major milestones this year: the 90th anniversary of the North Street-based all-boys institution and the 68th anniversary of their internationally acclaimed chapel choir, which puts on an annual concert season at this time of year. A shining symbol of tradition and continuity, the 50-voice group, under the baton of choirmaster Audley Davidson, was tasked with putting on a celebratory recital befitting such a momentous occasion. A tall order but mission accomplished.

What greeted patrons who packed the University Chapel at the Mona Campus on Sunday, full from Sunday dinner, was musical dessert that called for hefty servings. Equal parts exhilarating and reflective of the significance of the Yuletide season, the two-hour concert reaffirmed the choir’s place among the most outstanding choral groups in the island and the wider Caribbean.

Famed Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s master opus Gloria, the main event, provided a firm challenge for the young choristers, who responded with appropriate relish to the work’s complexities – unearthing sparkling notes from the plethora of moods and textures. With guest soloist Jodi HoLung (a sprightly soprano) as collaborator and mercurial musician Livingston Burnett accompanying them on keys, they achieved laudable results with their interpretations of the work’s “Laudamus Te”, “Et in Terra Pax” and the powerful “Gloria in Excelsis”, before climaxing with the fanfare-worthy “Cum Sancto Spiritu”, an exuberant showcase for the tenors and trebles in particular, voices in pitch-perfect harmony.

There was also much to applaud in the second half, which delivered traditional carols and several Christmas-themed tunes full of Caribbean flavour. Among the highlights: a brassy take on “Carol of the Bells”; a robust “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (with the audience singing along); and the joyful Spanish carol “Esta Noche”, featuring crisp coloratura vocals from HoLung. 

Overall, some pieces in the repertoire fared better than others, a clear winner being “Oh Holy Night” (given a very masculine polish with altos, tenors and basses only). But, best of all, were Davidson’s arrangement of Ernie Smith’s “All for Jesus” and the delightful show-closing rendition of “Jesus, Oh What A Wonderful Child,” commendably led by talented teen soloist Warren Coy and the very effective Kingston College Band, which we are hoping is planning a concert of their own for the New Year. 

> Those who missed the choir’s Mona performance can catch the next show, scheduled for Sunday, January 3 at the St. Andrew Parish Church, Half-Way-Tree.




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SCENE & HEARD: Highlights from Red Stripe Big Vibes, the Cherine Experience, Miss World finale, and more

THE GRACES: Dec. 19, China. Saturday’s glitzy Miss World coronation in Sanya, China, drew a global audience of millions, who tuned in to see gorgeous Miss Spain walk away with the title after a closely contested battle royale climaxed, with Top 5 spots going to Jamaica’s Dr. Sanneta Myrie and the ambassadors representing Lebanon, Russia, and Indonesia. Jamaicans across the planet joined PM Portia Simpson Miller in congratulating Myrie on her epic achievement. Taking to social media to thank everyone for the support, Myrie wrote, “While I may not have won the title, my heart is still smiling.” (Photo: Myrie/Facebook)

REACHING OUT: Dec. 19, St. Catherine. Ever the dapper gent on an off the stage, veteran crooner Sanchez put in a crowd-pleasing performance at Rock the Soul Live, which attracted a hefty turnout to the Portmore-based Famous nightclub on Saturday. Reggae icon Half Pint also shared the bill. The event was produced by popular disc jock and show promoter Richie Dee Martin, pictured at inset with Sanchez. (Photo: Live Stush)

DREAM TEAM: Dec. 18, Kingston. The sprawling Red Stripe Oval provided the setting for Friday night’s Red Stripe Big Vibes bash, which featured performances by dancehall heavyweights Bounty Killer and Cham, seen here thrilling the enormous crowd with selections from their vast catalogues. (Photo: Skkan Media)

GRRL POWER: Dec. 18, St. Andrew. Cherine’s fans got more than their money’s worth when they flocked to Argyle Road’s Redbones Blues Café on Friday night to witness The Cherine Experience, a bombastic blend of live music, candid reflections, fun interaction with concertgoers (especially the lovers in the house) and artistic experimentation. A swell time was had by all. (Photo: Cherine/Facebook)

MAKING AN ENTRANCE: Dec. 10, United Kingdom. One of the music world’s biggest surprises of 2015, Jamaican chart-topper Omi makes his own fashion statement on the red carpet, as he makes his entrance at the BBC Music Awards, at the Genting Arena in Birmingham recently. Deservedly one of TALLAWAH’s Men of the Year honorees, the reggae-pop rising star made his major-label solo-album debut in October with Me 4 U, which spawned the hits “Hula Hoop” and fan favourite “Cheerleader” (the Felix Jaehn remix). (Photo: Zimbio.com)




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FLICK OF THE WEEK: Vivid storytelling anchors suspenseful epic ‘Heart of the Sea’

BIG FISH: Man versus nature is a central theme in the Ron Howard-directed film.

Many classic novels have their origins in the incredible circumstances of a real-life scenario. Apparently, Moby Dick is among them. In The Heart of the Sea, the epic new film from Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, chronicles the adventurous saga that reportedly provided the source material for Herman Melville’s literary juggernaut. In fact, Melville himself makes a cameo in the film, appearing, true to form as an avid young writer who seeks out the retired ship hand (Brendan Gleeson), who can give him the story like no other. And what a tale it is, laced with edge-of-your-seat thrills and suspense, seafaring spectacle and the kind of historical detail that distinguishes the best period films.

Set in 1820, the film introduces us to a team of crewmen onboard the New England vessel The Essex, who’ve set sail from Nantucket in search of whale oil. Leading the team is Captain George Pollitt (Benjamin Walker), an aristocratic sort who clashes with his first mate Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a chap from more humble beginnings who has ambitions of becoming a captain. But with rough seas and bunch of men (some inexperienced) looking to them for leadership, Pollitt and Chase must put aside their differences for the sake of the Essex.

The peace is short-lived, however, when the Essex become the target of a massive 12-fot white whale who hounds them into eternity, battering the ship mercilessly. Before long, the crewmen find themselves locked in a fierce battle for survival against this deadly enemy, who will stop at nothing to destroy them.

Howard may be the auteur behind such screen gems as A Beautiful Mind, but here he reveals a spiky gift for heart-pounding action and visual power that combines stunning cinematography and eye-popping art direction. All of his actors – an accomplished team that also includes Cillian Murphy and Tom Holland – deliver solid work but the versatile Hemsworth (Thor) is a cut above the rest, and the role makes for a fine addition to his growing body of work.

In The Heart of the Sea, a fitting title, is the film adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction effort of the same name, released in 2000. As the inspiration for Moby Dick, the events that it chronicles reaffirm the notion that the ocean of full of unfathomable secrets and mysteries we’ll never understand.




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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

BOLD TYPE: The Cherine Experience delivers showstopping music, keeping-it-real reflections

IN THE MOOD: The singer strums her trusty guitar during her well-supported Redbones concert.

When it comes to a headline performance by the songstress who goes by Cherine, we never forget to expect the unexpected. So when the dancehall-soul queen appeared centrestage at the Redbones Blues Café last Friday night, clad in a supersexy black lace ensemble, to kick off our holiday-season entertainment roster with The Cherine Experience, we knew we were in for the royal treatment.

The jam-packed Redbones courtyard was not to be disappointed. Whether she was remixing Drake’s latest smash “Hotline Bling” or getting up close and nosy with a pair of lovers plucked from the front row, the petite chanteuse had her audience transfixed and regularly echoing her command “Say gwaan Cherine.”

The show’s many highlights confirmed that when it comes to stagecraft and putting on a stellar live performance, Cherine is a total class act. She had us grooving to sultry tunes like her breakout hit “Good Love” and “Comin’ Over Tonite” but wasted little time bringing the heat with brassy cuts like “Rebel” and “Weh Di Money Deh?” during the young, hot and independent segment.

In many respects, The Cherine Experience afforded her loyalists in the crowd a nice little career retrospective, spotlighting her expanding and diverse repertoire that, of course, includes the fan favourites “Talk If Yuh Talking” and “You and Me against the World.”

Empowerment, a timeless theme that the singer consistently champions in her work, dominated the second half, as she rapped with the audience, urging the youngsters in particular to hold fast to their passions in the pursuit of happiness and their dreams. Keeping it real, she even addressed her chameleonic image, which some have criticized as “too racy” in recent years. In her defence, Cherine makes it clear that she’s vowed to stay true to the real Cherine as opposed to being a version of something she’s not.

It was the ideal moment to segue into some spirit-lifting gospel (via Whitney Houston’s “I Love the Lord” and Kevin Downswell’s “Stronger”) and the classic motivational wisdom of “Try” and “Shine on Jamaica.” 

If nothing else, The Cherine Experience (featuring opening acts Chase, Nina Karle and Peter Gee) proves that the singer knows how to deliver a first-class production worth your time and dollars. And, when all is said and done, her remarkable evolution as woman and artist continues.




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FAMILY MATTERS: Domestic drama, solid acting fuel marital saga Saving Grace

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Castmates appearing in a promotional ad for the play, which has a limited run this month.

Saving Grace (Barracks Entertainment)
Director: Fabian Barracks
Cast: Nicholas Amore, Renae Williams, Dawnette Hinds-Furzer and Rosie Murray
Venue: The Vibes Theatre, Kingston
Overall rating: B

What’s a long-suffering wife to do after discovering her husband’s scandalous indiscretions? She lays down the law, of course. That’s the basic premise of Saving Grace, the latest theatrical offering from talented scribe Fabian Barracks (pulling triple duty as writer, director and producer).

For the most part, the production, which opened at Ashe’s Vibes Theatre last Friday night, is solidly written and strongly acted by a stellar cast led by stage veteran Rosie Murray and on-the-rise leading man Nicholas Amore. Alongside rising star Renae Williams and relative newcomer Dawnette Hinds-Furzer, the foursome brings the fireworks as they heat up the stage with their secrets, lies and alibis.

The melodrama is thankfully kept to a minimum, but the dialogue occasionally falls flat in this intense exploration of how the foundation of marriage is easily threatened and the sacrifices it often takes to save a marriage on the rocks – and forgive.

We are introduced to police superintendent Jeffrey Johnson (Amore) and preening housewife Vivian Johnson (Murray), an aging upper St. Andrew couple who are constantly at loggerheads. As it turns out, after 12 years the cracks in their union have begun to show. “It’s like I don’t even know him anymore,” Viv complains one evening after yet another squabble. But she is about to get the shock of her life upon learning that Jeff is so bored in the relationship that he’s embarked on an affair with one Grace Tyndale (Williams), a ghetto-fabulous prima donna living in a freshly furnished apartment.

Things heat up when Grace drops a bombshell on Jeff that she may be carrying his child. When he starts putting distance between them, Grace makes it clear, Fatal Attraction style, that she will not be ignored – setting the stage for an epic showdown between wife and woman on the side.

All the usual Barracks ingredients are here: humour, high drama and a whiff of scandal straight out of Jack’s Hill. The cast does a superb job, bringing the show to life with rousing action and assured delivery that keeps you intrigued. While Murray is convincing as the put-upon, if a tad self-absorbed Vivian, Amore (though inconsistent) plays Jeff by channeling a young Marlon Brando type, with a blend of machismo and charisma. Williams, meanwhile, has little difficulty disappearing into the role of the dancehall-loving mistress with a tendency to give people a piece of her mind. And that includes her protective, God-fearing mother Miss G (Hinds, strong but overbearing at times), who never met a Bible scripture she didn’t like to quote.

All in all, Saving Grace continues Barracks’ track record of spinning tales that commandingly delve into timely and touchy subjects that hit close to home for Jamaicans. The subtle yet stylish set design scores high marks as does the lighting design, which varies as the show’s temperature rises and falls.

Overall, theatregoers will find much to laugh about and ponder while taking in Saving Grace, an entertaining mix of hubris and human relationships.




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