Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and other local venues published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twentieth year of covering these events.

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Location: Fear City, Ca., United States

"My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre - as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field." George Sanders in "All About Eve"

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Jake Shimabukuro November 1, 2014

Jake Shimabukuro Raises up the Ukulele at Cerritos

                 By Glen Creason

     The ukulele has a rather short and simple history since it was developed in the Hawaiian Islands in the late 19th century, inspired by Portuguese instruments and made popular world-wide by the Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. It has since been hugely popular all over the world and used by amateurs and a few professionals to perform small songs with zippy melodies. Enter Jake Shimabukuro, the young Phenom who opened the instrument to unlimited potential and has practically broken YouTube with some of his dazzling performances with the uke.  Apparently, a good portion of those impressed YouTube millions were just waiting for Jake to visit So Cal and the Performing Arts Center was thrillingly packed to the rafters for this Saturday show.  At 36 the guy has already been compared to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis which would make most of us want to stop there. Yet, he plays like he loves the instrument and wants to prove its beauty in every note.  He praised the great hall when he came to the stage and then put his hands on the ukulele, the rest is hall history.

      Shimabukuro did not disappoint, as a matter of fact he took the adoring crowd past their expectations to places none of us knew existed in this kind of music.  He was charming, poised, humble and talented beyond what even his fans could expect. He played fast (Orange World, Uke 5-0, Dragon, Thriller!, Third Stream), he played with soul (Sakura, Ichigo Ichie, 153, Hi ilawe, In My Life) he strummed heart-strings (Blue Roses Falling, Ave Maria, Boy Meets Girl) and throughout he climbed great musical mountains without ever looking anything but exhilarated. It certainly did not hurt that he had his entire repertoire resting on a fine bass platform provided by handsome Nolan Verner who seemed to be having almost as much fun as Shimabukuro. By the end of the nearly two hour banquet of sound Jake Shimabukuro merely had to begin a couple of notes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to a pin-drop silence that ended with his last note, followed by a huge standing ovation.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mary Chapin Carpenter with Tifft Merritt October 12, 2014

Mary Chapin Carpenter at Cerritos: a rare privilege
                                               By Glen Creason

     For at least the last twenty-five years Mary Chapin Carpenter has been one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters but has never gotten the acclaim she deserves in my opinion. As the years go by she keeps making excellent records comprised of very personal and memorable songs without too much fanfare.  Just having her at Cerritos was a coup for the Center but the show she put on made them all look better than good. In a long and satisfying Sunday evening performance she sang touching ballads, made witty banter and got the packed house up on its feet for a heartfelt standing ovation at the conclusion of her encore of “I Feel Lucky” which described all of us in attendance.
     At this show she opted to lean toward the introspective which was fine with most of the house who often had to dab at their eyes in beauties like “Why Walk When You Can Fly,” “This Shirt,” “Rhythm of the Blues” and the truly magnificent “Only a Dream” which seems to have been written to my own brother. Like the seasoned pro that she is there were up-tempo breaks like “Stones in the Road,” “Take My Chances” and a hard rocking “Hard Way” lead by the powerhouse guitar of John Doyle. Still, there were exceptional moments that demonstrated how Ms. Chapin Carpenter rises above good to great.  Few artists can announce a new song and win the crowd but her “Hand on My Back” received standing ovations and the story and song of “John Doe #24” had Kleenex pulled all over the house.  Despite the large hall, there was an intimacy that was palpable and expressed in little gems like “Transcendental Reunion” and “I Have a Need for Solitude” that just made the center sweetly cozy.

      The show was opened by one of music’s best kept secrets, the amazing singer-songwriter Tifft Merritt who in an economical half hour gave those new to her great talents something to think about. Songs like “Feel of the World,” “Feeling of Beauty” and the achingly beautiful “Travelling Alone” showed the power of her gifts. Her covers of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” and Tom Waits “Train Song” never sounded better by anybody, even the originals.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jay Leno September 28, 2014

                   Jay Leno Opens Cerritos Season

                                               By Glen Creason

     Has success spoiled Jay Leno? That was the question for the many who crowded the Performing Arts Center over the weekend to hear the comedian hold court in his first visit to Cerritos. It has been said that Leno banks his salary from hosting “the Tonight Show” and lives off his busy stand-up schedule which truly seems to be his passion. Then again, the Center would have to go a long way to offer numbers of compensation impressive to a guy who is worth more than many counties in California and who owns more fine automobiles than most of us own articles of clothing. The two-hundred cars in his “garage” demonstrate that he certainly does not need Cerritos money but on Saturday night he gave everyone in the packed hall their money’s worth. For over an hour and a half Leno hardly took a breath and his rapid-fire observations on current events and the foibles of modern society kept the place rocking with laughter from the upper balcony to the sometimes foils in the front of the orchestra. While many just remember Jay Leno as the host who has sat alongside the greatest stars and celebrities in the entertainment world, he is also one fantastic comedian!
     My favorite new big word is paraprosdokian which describes the turn of humor in which there is a twist on the logical punchline. Jay Leno is a real master of paraprosdokian comedy where he begins with a pedestrian subject like local laws and makes it hilarious in his slant on the truth of the matter. On this night that may have included gay people in Salt Lake City, flip-phones, thieving monkeys, Thai nomenclature, Hugh Hefner’s opinions on sexual mores, side-effects of medicines, over-eating, Catholics, Mormons, Anthony Wiener, car accessories, alternative fuels, cats, dogs, airports and families. While that might seem like a catalog of the mundane, in the quicksilver mind of Jay Leno those topics left tears of laughter dampening audience faces and kept a steady flow of roars echoing across the great hall. Yet, the best of all was the closest to Leno’s heart as in the descriptions of his parents that rose above even the constant laughter to the kind of gut-laughs that almost hurt.  You have to tip your hat to the craft of the man: as a dyslexic he has overcome a lot and rose to great heights. This makes his ability to keep thousands laughing for over ninety minutes without even a note card to guide him all the more impressive.

      The show was opened by the fine and mellow “Street Corner Renaissance”, five very cool gents who demonstrated the fine art of a Capella singing. I would say the SCR took Doo-Wop above the street corner and made it concert worthy while igniting some old fuses of memory with winners like “Sh-Boom, This Magic Moment, Cloud 9, Come and Go With Me, Why Do Fools Fall in Love and the gorgeous “Up on the Roof.” Appearing before a crowd anxious to hear their hero Jay Leno, the gentlemen won over Cerritos by the second song. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lyons Laughs Last at Mother Nature

                         The Resurrection of Song at Lyons

     There were stars shining down on the Rocky Mountains Folks Festival, plenty of musical stars that made this year’s edition something truly remarkable. Beyond all the talent of the polished and passionate musicians, however were the sun and moon of Planet Bluegrass and the resolute people of Lyons, Colorado.  Each and every artist who stood on the mostly dry festival stages marveled at the amazing transformation of a sea of debris and mud into the best outdoor venue in America. Killer floods broke hearts all across Colorado and all over the musical world seeming to end the possibility of sweet sounds in the red rocks being heard here ever again. Undaunted, folks rolled up their sleeves and performed a herculean labor of love. Hats were tipped and songs were sung by the hundreds this year but the greatest compliment to this work was the many festivarians who showed up with a joy and appreciation that bordered on spiritual devotion. 

  My nephew sent me a video last September that turned my stomach as I viewed the murky waters surge past where my family and I had sat in years past. So, the feeling of crunching down the main path toward the big stage on August 15th and finding the meadow filled with tarps and the folks who spread them was like seeing a long lost and dear friend. While the St. Vrain River is still fenced off in parts and uphill toward Estes Park looks like a Breughels painting of hell, the big stage stands high, dry and proud. Save one hell of a cloudburst on Friday afternoon it was a typical Folks Festival with a corn flower blue sky overhead, punctuated by puffy clouds and a good, strong Colorado sun illuminating the young, the grizzled and the in-between. Organization was so smooth that it gave cause to wish Planet Bluegrass might take on Congress and get that mess straightened out.

   Oh yes, there was music in unforgettable sets that may have strained the Folks Festival Hall of Fame. It was truly a year for the women who rose above even some genuine living legends during this wonderful weekend. Each act seemed to feed off of the spirited performances before them and gave it their all…even the first acts to hit the stage. Women, as different as the sweet powder snowflakes of Colorado gave inspired performances that begged for encores in other times and places. Early on, Sarah Jarosz was superb, with clean, confident folk, spiced by covers from rock and pop legends like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Cat Stevens. Ani DiFranco, the ageless role model and resident sage provided powerhouse impossible to define pop filled with thoughtful, socially conscious lyrics and fiery arrangements brought to the center by her guitar playing.  Alynda Lee Segarra of "Hurray for the Riff Raff" spoke out for the people in the rapidly growing fringes of society in smart, insightful and passionately done songs. Imelda May was more like the pure musical Id rocking hard with no apologies for her rockabilly roots. In the pre-prandial performance of Saturday Ms. May and her scintillating guitar-playing husband raised temperatures in the already warm Lyons sun. Brandi Carlile was not to be outdone and finished the evening with an energetic and at times sensitive set that showed versatility and a connection with the audience that was very strong. Her songs were colorful, high-octane pop that made you forget the walls people seem to put up between themselves. When she sang “Keep Your Heart Young” my old blood felt revitalized. Last of the big-time ladies was the rookie of the year: Rachael Price of “Lake Street Dive” whose huge voice belies her petite beauty. Not exactly an overnight sensation, Lake Street Dive seems to be building a momentum that will give rise to folks bragging in the future of seeing them back in 2014. Price has versatility, charm and a voice as big as the Flatiron mountains smiling down on her Sunday set.

Ladies aside, there were so many other indelible memories in this year of the rebirth.  There were expert songwriter gentlemen like John Fullbright and Josh Ritter. Fulbright’s beautiful love songs “When You Are Here” and “She Knows” show that there are young people who can teach us a thing or two. Ritter’s “Joy to You Baby” was worth a day in the sun alone. As for ensembles the very young and very good “Stray Birds” were the embodiment of the beauty of traditional music, playing clean and pristine lines that go back a long, long way.  Again, without straining to define the style or influences of “Elephant Revival” this quintet created a mid-afternoon concert of such grace and inspired playing that it was terribly sad to see it end. Where else could you see washboard playing that is downright erotic. What gives “Elephant Revival” such a compelling charm is their utter synchronicity that blends to make a big, versatile sound with places for individual expression. You would also have to say that Ron Poltz was the embodiment of the spirit of Lyons when he soldiered on, sharing his set with a cloudburst that challenged artist and audience to stay and be moved, which they were in most part despite getting soaked.  

There were impressive newcomers like Antje Duvekot and a song called “Dandelion” that defined the beauty of confidence and rocking Ron Pope who played the rock guitar like legends of 45 years ago, then crooned a sweet love song that won over the festivarians. Yes and the veteran Peter Himmelman who once again made an entire audience get up and laugh and dance. Brave young Ben Sollee began Sunday in the tough curtain raiser slot with just his nice baritone and a cello but won the morning.

 Lastly, there were the two towering old professionals, two guys who can be called genius without any argument.  Festival favorite Greg Brown gave one more inspired effort filled with musical wisdom, laughs and the occasional wiping of tears. Is there a better song on planet earth than “Tender Hearted Child?” I don’t think so. Appropriately, since Brown performed later in the day he also described a few in my family “I gotta get up and move around/ It’s been a long way up and a short way down/ I got bones, bones, old bones, still bones/ I’m creaking and groaning like an oak tree bent/ that strong old fellow, what happened to him?” The finale was perfect with the great Randy Newman just sitting at his 88’s, pounding out one gem after another, interspersed by self-effacing humor that mixed a false arrogance with a celebration of the stages of life. He sang beauties like “Marie” and the so, so appropriate “Louisiana 1927” but he finished with a truly magnificent flourish, saving “Feels Like Home” from his brilliant opera Faust for the very wonderful last. It had been three days of brilliance, a weekend of inspiration, a trio of days to remember and a lot of Boulder ice cream.

 So, with another birthday looming in just weeks I found that I gained understanding from the young people on the stage and around me on the tarps. When Greg Brown sings “I love to watch you learning/ I love to watch you grow/ I love to try to learn/ Some of what you know” it went directly through the ears and into the soul. Sometimes you win by taking the next hard step. Sometimes you find victory in endurance.  Sometimes you learn that your own personal family drama begins and ends in your own heart. Lyons is a lesson for everyone not to quit when the situation seems overwhelmingly hopeless. From those dire days in September when Mother Nature showed us who was boss, Colorado folks showed plenty of what makes us a worthy foe. What better way to demonstrate the best of human nature than in celebrating life with music, the language of the human heart. What better way to show our best side than by gathering together on that dear meadow at Lyons.  

photos: 1. festivarians, Sarah Jarosz, the stage, Greg Brown, Ani DiFranco, Sky, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Imelda May, Josh Ritter, Brandi Carlile, Drepung Loseling Monks, Elephant Revival, Peter Himmelman, Festivarians, Ron Pope, Rachael Price, Randy Newman... 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Frank Ferrante in An Afternoon with Groucho April 13, 2014

An Afternoon With Groucho in Cerritos

    By Glen Creason

       Many folks in the very-full Sunday matinee performance of “An Afternoon with Groucho” were looking forward to re-connecting to their favorite comedian and re-living many of his funniest moments in a seven decade career that left him in a small handful of greats of American comedy.  Most of us hardly knew just how close that comedian would come to us, including making the audience very much a part of the act. Certainly part of the genius of the television era Groucho was his sharp-witted winning of the people watching from the seats in studio and at home.  The very entertaining show that came to our Cerritos was crafted by the extremely capable and polished hands and feet of Frank Ferrante who has been perfecting this performance piece since the 80’s when he was a drama student at USC. While folks were hungry to hear the old Groucho wit brought back to life, this afternoon show was actually far better than advertised.  This may be the last time I refer to Ferrante as his goal is to make you believe Groucho is back on stage again and the actor does the old and young man proud without being at all sentimental or sappy. Not only does he tell the story of the rise of the Marx brothers in small, colorful vignettes and dialogue from their shows in vaudeville and on the silver screen but he, like his mentor, is a master of ad-libbing.  The Groucho that came to Cerritos on this afternoon was very much in the 90703 and made the city a part of the celebration with hilarious results.  As a matter of fact he made the audience very important participants in the fun that included scolding a reviewer for taking such pathetic notes. Guilty as charged Julius.

     Fans did get to enjoy the great bon-mots from the films and heard the songs every Marx brothers aficionado know by heart like “Hello I Must Be Going,” “Everyone Says I Love You,” “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” “Tit-willow” “Omaha Nebraska” and “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” which “Groucho” crooned in his very strong voice. Ferrante also used his physical comedy gifts to set up gags and make the Performing Arts stage like another scene from one of the classic Marx Brothers films. Yet, the very best bits in the show came from the superb timing and asides that were so essentially Groucho. It made you long to see this Groucho back at the mike of “You Bet Your Life” and when he bantered with the folks in the front row and a kid named Quentin you got a glimpse of the very true genius of one of America’s national treasures. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Norman Brown and Gerald Albright March 15, 2014

Norman Brown and Gerald Albright Fill It Up at Cerritos

               Glen Creason

     A full house in a festive mood greeted two master musicians on Saturday night and it might be a good thing they did not pay the men by the note because there were many, many thousands that ricocheted around the Performing Arts Center. Veterans of many a concert and musical  genre Norman Brown, the guitarist with the 78 rpm fingers and Gerald Albright, the saxophonist with the hurricane-like lungs filled it up while the well-dressed crowd rocked in rhythm all night.  Both men have plenty of soul and depth of musical understanding but the truly amazing part of this concert with the skill mixed with unreal stamina. Albright claimed to be AARP but he must be dipping his horn into the fountain of youth. Norman Brown heats that Eastman guitar up to white hot degrees.
     Norman Brown opened the show with some opening chords from “Shaft” and the concert then went all over the musical map with R&B, Blues, Pop, Jazz and Funk having destinations met in the mixed bag of fevered playing by both gents. He romped through “Love’s Holiday” from Earth Wind and Fire’s repertoire then visited the pretty hot smooth jazz of “After the Storm” with audience scat-participation. In a big 180 he moved through Jimi Hendrix’s “Who Knows” to “Keep It Movin’” with Gerald Albright engaging him in hot traded licks on their respective axes. Couples cuddled to “Any Love” and the first half closed with a brisk “Take a Ride.”
     Albright kept the pulses pounding in the his half especially in the wild “It’s a Man’s World,” which was followed by surprisingly high-octane “Bermuda Nights,” followed by the astoundingly fiery “Close to You” which put some hot sauce on the Carpenters song. In the finishing kick the romantic energy surged with “My My My,” a truly terrific “True Colors,” and with the help of the tireless Norman Brown “Champagne Life” which put the house on its feet where it stayed toward a grander conclusion.


Sunday, March 09, 2014

West Side Story March 8, 2014

    West Side Story Dances at Cerritos
                                     By Glen Creason

     It was eye-opening to see the fresh and energetic “West Side Story” that hit the stage at the Performing Arts Center over the weekend. Especially for those of us who learned and listened to the big-budget film made of the musical and the songs we have sung ever since. You would be hard-pressed to find a more powerhouse trinity than Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins who wrote the music, lyrics and choreographed in that order. There is great genius at work here and the young cast at Cerritos did not squander the chance to prove the shows exalted pedigree.  Still, as played in the here and now the show does naturally bend more toward the women and is less a tragedy and more of a musical. Luckily, the women in this cast were extraordinarily good both singing and dancing. MaryJoanna Grisso was absolutely sensational with a powerful yet sweet soprano that made even familiar tunes like “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere” celebrations of the songwriter’s art. Michelle Alves was terrific, lighting up the stage in every minute she held court and youthful Jarrod Biron Green was convincing and very sympathetic as the star-crossed Tony whose love for Maria transcends even his terrible mistake made in a moment of passion.  Alexander Cruz as Bolo was both stylish and strong in the demanding role of the Puerto Rican gang-leader who must stand up to the racism thrust at him and his immigrant community.

     Still, the real stars of this show were the entire cast since the dancing is at the heart of telling this modern day rendering of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Choreographer Joey McNeeley was masterful in recreating Jerome Robbins masterpiece of dance without once showing a molecule of age on the extremely fine ensemble numbers. Director David Saint kept the show very true to the classic original but left room for the exuberant young cast to express their take on the telling of this age old tale. With a live orchestra, interesting sets and costumes the production really left very little to be desired.