ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER: UNMASKED

 

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One of the most successful and distinguished artists of our time, Andrew Lloyd Webber has reigned over the musical theatre world for nearly five decades. Winning numerous awards including multiple Tonys, Oliviers and an Oscar, Lloyd Webber has enchanted millions worldwide with his music and his shows.

In Unmasked, written in his own inimitable, quirky voice, he takes stock of his achievements, the twists of fate and circumstances that brought him success and disappointment, and the passions that inspire and sustain him.

Although the musical in its original 22 minute form first took to the stage in 1968 at Colet Court School in London, the Lloyd Webber name was most likely first heard of here in South Africa in 1974 with the first production here of his and Tim Rice’s iconic Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour.

In his Prologue to Unmasked, Lloyd Webber reveals: “I have long resisted writing an autobiography. Autobiographies are by definition self-serving and mine is no exception. It is the result of my nearest and dearest, aided and abetted by the late great literary agent Ed Victor, moaning at me “to tell your story your way.” I meekly agreed, primarily to shut them up. Consequently this tome is not my fault.”

With this introduction, Andrew Lloyd Webber reveals a glorious sense of humour which he unleashes throughout this remarkable memoir.

“This medium sized doorstop judders to a halt at the first night of Phantom of the Opera. Quite how I have been able to be so verbose about the most boring person I have ever written about eludes me. So here is part one of my saga. If you are a glutton for this sort of thing, dive in, at least for a bit.”

Covering several exciting and turbulent decades of musical theatre and the transformation of music itself, the book is a chronicle of artistic creation. Lloyd Webber reflects on some of his most famous productions and his collaborations with luminaries such as Tim Rice, Robert Stigwood, Harold Prince, Cameron Mackintosh and Trevor Nunn. Taking us behind the scenes, he reveals fascinating details about each show, the rich cast of characters involved with making them, and the creative and logistical challenges and artistic political battles that ensued.

The narrative takes one to both sides of the Atlantic and the subtle differences between their audiences are most interestingly detailed.

Much like when enjoying a glass of wine, and acknowledging its grape variety, area of origin, winemaker etc., gaining an appreciation of the challenges involved in conceiving and staging a stage musical, as one does in this book, is a tremendous value add for lovers of musical theatre and audiences alike.

Having seen and thoroughly enjoyed the original London productions of both Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats, I found the chapters on their gestation fascinating.

Cats in particular was a production that I will never forget. Remembering the production as a whole and its unique and spectacular stage setting still sends shivers of excitement down my spine after all these years.

The last few chapters of Unmasked, as seems far too common with many autobiographies, seem a little hurried. Maybe Lloyd Webber was aboard the Starlight Express, or had a submission deadline looming from his publisher? There are other parts in the book that too suffer from an overdose of “speed”, but this is not a criticism merely a frustration.

The three big discoveries for me from this book were his oft self- deprecating wit (I find what I’ve seen of him on television ’terribly’ serious), his passion for architecture and that he is a foodie. All three subjects add further interest to an already full and rewarding “showbiz” memoir.

Andrew Lloyd Webber was knighted in 1992 and received a peerage in 1997. His work has garnered amongst others, six Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, seven Olivier Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and a 2006 Kennedy Center Award. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is an inductee into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame and is a Fellow of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

With a remarkable career like Andrew Lloyd Webber has enjoyed, Unmasked cannot but be an excellent read. Add to that his erudition and superb sense of humour and you are in for an entertaining and informative ride. Some might find too much space and detail being given to the business side of his work and to some of the technicalities of mounting a production, but they are a necessary and valuable part of the whole. Unmasked is nearly 500 pages, and I found every page of it totally absorbing.

There is so much more to the Andrew Lloyd Webber story waiting to be told. And his creative juices are not lying dormant: He deserves the highest appreciation not for his ouevre alone, but also for his herculean efforts to keep theatre and musical theatre alive and well. As at theatre lover, I for one doff my hat to him.

“I haven’t found a subject for a new show. But I’ll find it. I am having dire withdrawal symptoms. Even if I haven’t got near to writing “Some Enchanted Evening”, I hope I have given a few people some reasonably okay ones. I’d like to give them some more.”

Luckily, there is an allusion that this Phantom of the Opera-ending volume will have a second tome. Yes please Baron Lloyd-Webber, please raise the curtain soon, your reading audience is waiting.

Encore, encore.

 

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SOUTH AFRICAN MOONSHINE? YES SIREE!

And now for something refreshingly different ….. Moonshine.

A bottle of Silver Creek Margarita Moonshine has arrived for me to try. Packaged in a 750ml jug with a nifty finger loop.

 

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What exactly is moonshine I asked myself? And how did it come to be made in Jozi?

Distilled in the traditional way, moonshine got its name during America’s Prohibition era when fiercely independent distillers could only ply their art under the cover of darkness, by the light of the moon. These days however, moonshine is not illegal if it is produced by a licensed distillery.

Margarita Moonshine is the latest innovation in Silver Creek’s Southern Moonshine range of unaged, small-batch American-style moonshines.

“In making the Margarita Moonshine, we wanted to create something laid-back and fun-loving. The classic Margarita, said to have first originated in a 1930s bar in Tijuana, was the inspiration,” says Silver Creek Craft Distillery founder and chief distiller Mark Taverner.

The Margarita Moonshine is lime-green in colour, with fresh lime zing. Although it is suggested to drink it over ice, with the cold weather here in Cape Town, I first tried it neat without any ice. It reminded me of my favourite childhood drink – Hubbly Bubbly Lemon-Lime, but with 24% alcohol, this is definitely adult territory. It was absolutely delicious and enjoyed a full glass of it.

I will definitely pour some more on a warmer day and I think Silver Creek Margarita Moonshine is destined to be our Summer stoep sundowner…

 

 

 

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You can find out more about Silver Creek Craft Distillery by visiting their website:

http://www.silvercreekdistillery.co.za

WINNING CAPE BLENDS FOR 2018

The 2018 Perold / Absa Cape Blend winners were announced at the end of last week.

In the rules of the competition, at least 30% of the final blend – but not more than 70% – has to be Pinotage.

We were able to taste all the finalist wines before the announcement. I loved their diversity. I was familiar with all the wineries, but Leipzig Winery was new to me and I really enjoyed their award winning wine.

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The winners are:

KWV Abraham Perold Tributum 2014

WO Coastal: Shiraz, Pinotage, Malbec , Cabernet Sauvignon ,  Petit Sirah

Winemaker Louwritz Louw.

Leipzig Master Blend 2017

WO Western Cape: Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot . Winemaker: Vian Bester.

Lyngrove Platinum Latitude 2016

WO Stellenbosch: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Shiraz.

Winemaker: Danie van Tonder .

Pulpit Rock Louisa Reserve 2014

WO Swartland: Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Petit Verdot.

Winemaker: Dewald Huisamen .

Wildekrans Cape Blend Barrel Select Reserve 2015

WO Botrivier: Pinotage, Shiraz , Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir .

Winemaker: Braam Gericke

 

A CHERISHED CHILDHOOD MEMORY ON A BOTTLE

Durbanville Hills recently launched their premium collection of wines, the Collectors Reserve.

Since the establishment of Wines of Origin Cape Town last year, I have been waiting for a wine producer to “come out of the blocks” with a concept that fully advantages their Cape Town identity. With the recent launch of their premium range, the Collectors Reserve Durbanville Hills have done just that…… and then some.

To complement each of the wines, they commissioned Cape Town artist, Theo Vorster to create a hand-coloured linocut to pair each wine with a prominent landmark in Cape Town.

The Durbanville Hills Collectors Reserve range consists of: The Cape Mist Sauvignon Blanc, The Cape Gardens Chenin Blanc, The Cableway Chardonnay, The Lighthouse Merlot, The Castle of Good Hope Cabernet Sauvignon, The High Noon Shiraz and The Promenade Pinotage. Each sports a striking linocut label by Vorster.

One linocut in particular struck a chord with me, it was The Promenade Pinotage. Depicted on it are penguins strolling along the Sea Point promenade with the Table Mountain range in the background.

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As a child in the middle-to-late 1950s living in Sea Point, I remember occasionally encountering penguins walking along the promenade. Even at that young age, I appreciated these sightings. I have shared this memory with a many a Sea Pointer, the youngsters I asked dismiss that memory as being nonsense. But the older people, after a while undergo a facial expression change and a smile that signals that memory rekindled for them too.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of the Durbanville Hills Collectors Range wines, each of which is affordably priced.

Initially, four varietals in the range (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinotage) will be available at select retail stores and the other three (Chenin Blanc, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon) available to purchase at Durbanville Hills itself.

Congratulations Durbanville Hills your new range of wines has made this Capetonian happy and proud.

 

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PALETTE/PALATE BOTH APPLY TO BOSMAN FAMILY VINEYARD WINES

As a lover of wine, for me, nothing beats a visit to an estate. But sometimes one has a visit that delivers so much more than the pleasure of a tasting.

From attending wine trade shows, I have met Bosman Family Vineyard’s winemaker, Corlea Fourie and tasted some of her wines. But I recently had a rather special wine-related experience, a visit to their estate in Wellington.

My host for the visit was Neil Buchner, their Brand Consultant.

From the moment I drove through the gates, I was enchanted by the look and the feel of the Bosman Estate, peppered as it is with exquisite Cape Dutch buildings dating back to the early 1700s and thanks to winter rains, lots of lovely greenery.

 

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Neil drove me around the vineyards and the neighbouring community projects supported by Bosman Family Vineyards. I must say I was totally spellbound by what I saw, especially from their Bosman Adama arm.

 

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Bosman Adama graft more than eight million vines – and that makes them the biggest vine nursery in Africa. They grow all Vitis species: Wine grapes, Table grapes, and Raisin grapes and also graft all possible combinations of vines. Currently more than 350 different combinations are grafted every season. Clients choose the rootstocks that best suit their soil types and growing requirements.

It was most impressive to see their grafting shed full of staff working with rootstock, there was a palpable air of pride in what they were doing. This first sighting of rootstock has left added an indelible mark on my appreciation of wine.

 

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After the tour we went to their absolutely exquisite and atmospheric Tasting Room, one of the most impressive I’ve seen anywhere.

I tried to taste those Bosman wines I hadn’t tried before. Of their chenins, I was already familiar with their iconic Optenhorst Chenin Blanc, so I tasted instead the Generation 8 Chenin Blanc. It gave off lovely stone fruit and a crisp aftertaste. It reaffirmed why of whites, I like chenin the most.

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Also special was the Fides Grenache Blanc. An ‘orange’ white wine – orange wines are left to macerate on their skins for longer than usual. It had a citrusy nose with some aromatic gentle spiciness. I’m fairly new to grenache blanc, but I really liked the Fides and think it would do well paired with some full-flavoured dishes. Note to wife of self….let’s try it out.

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On to some of the reds I tried. The first one was the Generation Shiraz. Medium-bodied, with the spicy tobacconess I enjoy.

 

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After that I tasted, DRUM ROLL…..

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The Twyfeling Cinsault. I’m not going to detail its nose and palate, but let me say just this one thing, it is my favourite wine of 2018. Please if you can, give it a try and let me know what you thought of it.

Recently, there was discussion on social media about the sometimes misspelling of the word palate on wine back labels. Palate is a taste term, palate relates to art.

In the case of the Twyfeling Cinsault, both words apply. Under the creative talents of winemaker Corlea Fourie, this wine is unquestionably a work of art and also adds much colour to the taste-buds as well. I’m going to keep an eye on this wine, it could (and should) start a cinsualt revival in this country.

All in all, I enjoyed everything about my visit and Neil was a charming and “good company’ host. I can’t guarantee Neil if you visit, but you will definitely be hospitably looked after.

 

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PEAKING PINOTAGES HERALDED

I love a good pinotage!

Every year, thanks to the ABSA Top Ten Pinotages, my palate’s bucket list gets refreshed

Congratulations to my  winning friends (and future friends) for 2018, taste you soon:

Allée Bleue Black Series Old Vine Pinotage 2016

Beyerskloof Diesel Pinotage 2015

Diemersdal Pinotage Reserve 2017

Fairview Primo Pinotage 2016

Flagstone Writer’s Block Pinotage 2016

Kaapzicht Steytler Pinotage 2015

Kanonkop Pinotage 2013

Lyngrove Platinum Pinotage 2016

Môreson The Widow Maker Pinotage 2015

Rijk’s Reserve Pinotage 2014

A BREATH OF FRENCH FLAIR

Looking for a red to go with our dinner beef dish, I cast my eyes over my wine collection…my eyes stopped at a rather pretty label with a pink centre – the wine was the Marianne Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.

French-owned, Marianne Estate is a boutique wine estate situated off the R44 between Simondium and Stellenbosch.

My wife and I run many trail runs in the area and I had noticed the sign to Marianne but had never visited it nor tasted their wines. So recently on the way back from a run, we popped in for a brief look around.

Tasting wines after an 11Km run is not the most sensible thing to do (believe me, I’ve tried), so taking a bottle home to try was our sober decision…..

So instead of erring, we took home a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.

 

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Dark ruby red, its nose was of dark stone fruit with some almost eastern spice as well. To me the pink label suggested some delicacy and the first sip confirmed that. Gentle and silky, and despite its relatively low % alcohol (13.5%) for me, it is full-flavoured and sophisticated. Although it went well with our meat, I much preferred drinking it on its own and slowly….aaah, I liked it!

 

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Phone: 021 875 5040

 

THERE’S MORE TO DARLING THAN EVITA, SWEETHEART

Wine, yes, food yes, but toffees? I never ever expected that the latter would be a savourite, but here we are.

I recently had the pleasure and indulgence of tasting some of the range of toffees from Darling Sweet and they were absolutely divine, darling.

Darling Sweet started a little over four years ago, and has become the town’s second icon.

Its founders and confectioners are Hentie van der Merwe and Frits van Ryneveld . at the time, Hentie was working at Stellenbosch University and Frits had an antique shop in Darling and was also a medical rep.

It all started when Frits mentioned that he wanted to find someone to provide him with toffee to sell in his  shop. Hentie (being a foodie and loving to cook) created a toffee recipe for Frits – Darling Sweet was born.

 

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In my beautiful box of Darling Sweet Assorted Toffee were six different flavours: Tannie Evita’s Classic, Liquorice, Honey & Salt (my favourite, by far!), and my Runner-up is Bird’s Eye Chili. I really liked the fact that the toffees were firm rather than hard.

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And if that wasn’t enough yumminess, my breakfasts enjoyed dollops of their Honey and Salt Spread and Tannie Evita’s Classic Toffee Spread on toast.

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Thanks to you Frits and Hentie, I had to work harder at gym…but it was worth it!

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AN INTIMATE MEMOIR FROM INSIDE THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE

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The dictionary defines a stenographer as a person whose job is to transcribe speech in shorthand.

A book about a stenographer does not exactly scream the word riveting. But, From the Corner of the Oval Office by Beck Dorey-Stein defies that perception and then some.

In 2012, Beck was just scraping by in Washington DC when a posting on Craigslist landed her, improbably, in the White House as one of President Barack Obama’s stenographers.

She joined the elite team who accompanied the President wherever he went, recorder in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones (including to South Africa), Beck forged friendships with a tight group of fellow travellers – young men and women who, like her, left their real lives to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the President. But as she learned the ropes of protocol, Beck became romantically entangled with a colleague, and suddenly the political became all too personal.

An insiders account about working in the intense travelling bubble of a White House job, would in itself make for interesting reading. But Dorey-Stein’s considerable talent as a writer, coupled with her acute powers of observation and introspection add considerable human texture to this outstanding memoir.

“One a night like this, I wait for the Voice of God.”

“Any minute now, President Obama will deliver remarks in the East Room of the White House.”

“Across one parking lot, down three hallways, and up five flights of stairs in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, I lie on the couch in my little office as the setting sun drenches the room in flammable orange. The Voice of God is the anonymous person who announces the president. “

“I’ve become so good at waiting. Finally I hear the Voice and walk over to the closed-circuit television to turn up the volume.”

“A minute later, the president appears on the screen, cracks jokes, and takes his characteristic pauses before addressing the topic of the evening.”

It is no surprise that the White House working lifestyle was an extremely demanding one, but Dorey-Stein and her colleagues worked hard and also played hard.

The reader who enjoys reading about those Obama ‘moments’ (and who doesn’t? Well the incumbent POTUS obviously doesn’t) will be well fed by this book. Yes, From the Corner of the Oval Office is about politics, and working at the White House, but it is also about life and is enriched by the sometimes dramatic personal journey of its young author.

She ends the book thanking President and Mrs Obama: “for the tireless work you did and continue to do. You demonstrate what grace and leadership look like, especially when the cameras are off and the crowds are elsewhere. You are simply the best, and the funniest, and the coolest. It was the honour and the privilege of a lifetime. Thank you.” Amen.

Beck Dorey-Stein has certainly ‘slam dunked’ her debut book. It is a really superb and entertaining read.

 

MARVELLOUS ROBIN WILLIAMS BIOGRAPHY

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Even in an age of instantaneous information, the news of Robin William’s death was absorbed and circulated with bewildering speed. The example of a public figure who was recognised in every part of the globe and whose reputation for joyfulness and humour stood in stark opposition to the shocking and solitary manner in which his life came to an end.

Robin by Dave Itzkoff is the definitive biography of one of the world’s most loved comedic talents, Robin Williams. His career highlights are well known, but the person behind the many voices and characters may be less familiar.

From his rapid-fire stand-up comedy to his breakthrough television role in Mork and Mindy and his powerful Academy Award winning performance in Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams was a singularly innovative actor and comedian. He often came across as a man possessed holding forth on culture, politics and personal revelation – all with mercurial, tongue-twisting intensity as he inhabited and shed one character after another.

But as Itzkoff shows, Williams’s brilliance masked a deep well of conflicting emotions and self-doubt. In his comedy and in celebrated films such as Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam, The Fisher King, Aladdin and Mrs Doubtfire he showcased his limitless gift for improvisation, bringing his characters to life and using humour to seek deeper truths. Williams also struggled mightily with addiction and depression and with a debilitating condition at the end of his life that affected him in ways his fans never new.

With his own particular torment, Williams suffered greatly. The final blow was his being diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, it broke the camel’s back. Robin could take no more and alone behind a closed bedroom door, he hung himself.

“Everyone felt as if they knew him, even if they did not always admire the work he did. Millions of people loved him for his generosity of spirit, his quickness of mind, and the hopefulness he inspired. Some lost their affection for him in later years, as the quality of his work declined, even as they held out hope that he’d find the thing – the project, the character, the spark – that had made him great before, as great as he was when he first burst into the cultural consciousness. And when he was gone, we all wished we’d had him just a little bit longer.”

“People expected too much of him,” his longtime friend Billy Crystal explains. “They wanted him to plug that burst, that comet, into every movie, and it just wasn’t fair. Then, when he would do a more sentimental piece, they would just crucify him as sappy, and it would crush him.”

Robin is an honest but sensitive biography of a comedic genius. Not all his fans will be comfortable reading about the Williams “behind the laughter” curtain. But Itzkoff’s sensitive and perceptive portrayal of his subject’s inner torment and gradual decline of his powers, provide a harrowing but necessary climactic detailing of the complex and complicated Robin Williams whole.

Robin is a superbly nuanced, highly absorbing biography.