CerritosInk

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"

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. After floods that broke hearts all across Colorado and all over the musical world seemed to put an end to the possibility of sweet sounds in the red rocks here ever again, 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 guitar like legends of 45 years ago and 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 to 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 groan 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. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Boz Scaggs February 14, 2014





                       Boz Scaggs: What Can I Say
                                     By Glen Creason

     You really have to hand it to Boz Scaggs. He started decades ago  as a rhythm playing rock and roll guitarist, then went solo as a polyester-clad crooner, then a “white-soul singer, then back to a blues man-guitarist and now just a fearless and  cool old veteran who knows how to entertain a big auditorium.  That he did in Cerritos before a packed house of fans that grooved on the hits from the 70’s but also patiently absorbed his new material that showed he has only improved with age. Wish we could all say that.  He gave the people what they wanted with “Georgia,” “Lowdown,” “Lido Shuffle,”“What Can I Say” and the lesser performed “Sierra” from those crooning years and it sounded just like it did booming from our Pioneer speakers back in the days of cuffed baggies and platform shows.  He also showed his versatility by throwing in a sweet cover of “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl,” a really delicate and fine “Corrina Corrina” along with a bluesy “Dry Spell” which matched the weather outside.
     Yet, the proof of Scaggs’ long experience and supreme confidence was to step on the stage with a band and back-up singer how had the capacity to make the audience forget who was the headliner. Singer Ms. Monet absolutely electrified the hall with high-voltage versions of Boz’s “Miss Sun” and two old soul faves “Thank You” and “Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin” that sounded much better than the original in my humble opinion.  He also turned loose guitarist Drew Zingg on a deeply delicious reading of the old Bobby Blue Bland song “Loan Me a Dime” that stood the house on its ear, its good ear. Boz Scaggs didn’t need to worry as he held his position as head man with some sweet guitar and vocals that don’t sound like a guy who has been at it for forty plus years.  A very happy crowd who stood and cheered long at the conclusion no doubt went home and pulled out their “Silk Degrees” and said again “what can I say?”

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Three Mo' Tenors February 8, 2014

Three Mo’ Tenors: Ten Kinds of Cool at Cerritos

        By Glen Creason

     The fine franchise of “Three Mo’ Tenors” started out as an offshoot of the very classical “Three Tenors” of Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carrera who got folksy with audiences using their powerhouse pipes to surprisingly sing a pop song or two along with arias that sailed on the high C’s. The newest iteration of the Three Mo’s lets loose of the classical and while nodding at a couple of arias mostly allows the three gentlemen to showcase the powers of the tenor voice in ten separate genre. At Cerritos the esteemed tenors were Victor Robinson, Duane A. Moody and Phumizile Sojola who surprised and delighted a pretty full house at the Performing Arts Center.

     While the evening started with Verdi and Puccini it soon quickly moved toward Broadway and the Philadelphia Soul Sound with plenty of high notes and high spirits. Robinson sounded wonderful on “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables” and the trio joined in perfect harmony for the towering “Make Them Hear You” from the musical “Ragtime” that is exactly right for this show. There were no sour notes as the men gave their all to blues, pop, and R& B with more voice than you would be used to hearing. There was some sensational South African soul from Mister Sojola in “My Darling,” some “Paris Blues” and even a Queen medley that reached notes even Freddy Mercury might envy. Other sentimental journeys were tributes to Ray Charles and the great soul groups of the 60’s and 70’s including “Love Train,” “My Girl” and “La La Means I Love You” that hit the spot. Pianist Keith Burton kept it on point from one style to another moving easily from a funky “Midnight Train to Georgia” to soaring gospel sounds like a moving “Lord How Come Me Here” that proved to be the best of the entire show. However, Duane Moody stood the hall on its ear with his tour de force of “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired” that may have meant some folks did not need to go to church in the morning.  The show was finished by a reprise of the magnificent “Make Them Hear You” that was indeed heard in the big hall by all. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

George Kahumoku Jr. and Da Ukulele Boyz with Ledward Kaapana February 1, 2014




George Kahumoku Jr. and the Ukulele Boy Make Cerritos Tropical Paradise
                          By Glen Creason

     This was truly one of the most exotic concerts in Cerritos history and a winner in all respects. While the music came from one of our fifty states it represented a culture that is actually little known here on the mainland except maybe for the many Hawaiians who filled up the Performing Arts Center for this long and sweet show. If you thought this might be like a Vegas style Hawaiian themed evening you would have another thought coming as this night gave us four superb musicians who were masters of the instruments that fully express Hawaiian culture. There was also down to earth hula dancing and a few tunes on the autoharp that made that complicated tool just perfect for these compositions. The first half was segmented with the Ukulele Boys, George Kahumoku and Ledward Kaapana each doing a mini-show that could have satisfied many an audience. However, this crowd was hungry for a Polynesian banquet and got almost three full hours of a musical feast.

       Da Ukulele Boyz really did start with a set you would hate to follow as they progressed from the levity of “Sweet Okole” to the lilting beauty of “Kapalina” to the best version of “Still the One” you will ever hear and a pulse-quickening “G-major Fleas” that brought a huge roar from the house. Headliner George Kahumoku didn’t seem to mind following these young powerhouses and his confidence was fully understood after his singing and playing of “Aloha Oe,” “Tutu Pele,” and “Hi’ ilawe” that was used in the film “the Descendants.” Maestro Ledward Kaapana followed with dazzling playing of “Kalapana,” “Sparkling Waters,” “Everybody Is Somebody’s Fool,” and a delightful slack key composition “Sleeping Shellfish.”  Really, the beginnings were a concert in themselves but the second half was very special indeed with all four musicians gathering on stage and riffing together in a sort of Hawaiian jam session that was deeply enjoyable for not only the delighted audience but the men in front of the footlights who glowed with Hawaiian happiness.