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, January 25, 2015

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain January 24, 2015

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain: Indeed Amazing

                 By Glen Creason

     You have so much fun at a Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain concert that you sort of forget the solid musicianship and meticulous planning that goes into these sound extravaganzas that delight and educate the full houses that seem to follow them everywhere.  The Performing Arts Center was fortunate enough to have this wonderful ensemble for two dates which seems way too little for what they have to offer. You really would have to bring in a juke box to offer up the variety and inspiration the group offers with compositions from Jazz, R&B, Country, Folk, Music Hall, Pop, Disco, Punk, Blues, Funk and more that the eight person group play in such perfect harmony that it sounds like one celestial uke interpreting the joy in all music. The band has been together for thirty years and they sound about as tight as a pair of Southern California skinny jeans which no one in attendance was wearing for this show. What makes their concerts so much fun is that there is not one single, solitary shred of ennui on stage except the calculated kind and there are moments of pure harmonic ecstasy that you might expect at a rock concert or full orchestra playing a symphony.

     At Cerritos they culled from their huge song repertoire a couple of dozen winners interspersed with that trademark British drollery that in this circumstance seemed wholly appropriate.  There was what you might expect from ukuleles: the 1922 hit “Running Wild,” “Hot Tamales” once played by blues man Robert Johnson and a sizzling “Limehouse Blues” that really let the band to exercise their musical muscles. There were also tongue in cheek delights like David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” the BeeGees “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Dolly Parton’s “Joshua” and a high-octane “Shaft” that while fun,  got some heads a nodding in the hall. The glorious thing about the Ukulele Orchestra is that this team plays together so well the epiphanies sort of sneak up on you and you get so caught up in the music that five or ten or an hour and forty-five minutes vanish delightfully before your eyes and ears. When the group locks into something like Saint-Saens “Danse Macabre” or the silly exhilaration of “Song 2” or “Woo Hoo” as it is known you forget about ukuleles or the many very funny jokes and remember what makes music magical. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Camelot January 9, 2015

     Cerritos Become Camelot for an Evening

                                                                  By Glen Creason

    It’s impossible to see the musical Camelot and not whistle the theme for weeks if not months to come as the good-sized Cerritos crowd was doing on their ways to their cars after the healthy helping of the Lerner and Lowe classic on Friday evening.  The original Broadway run of the musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe carved an indelible mark in the popular imagination with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet lighting up the stage and performing on the cast album that topped the charts for over a year in the innocent years of the Kennedy administration.  Still, it is strange that this great musical is produced so rarely and especially around Southern California where Hollywood further solidified its place in the American consciousness by making a film that further glorifies the stage version with Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero. The show at Cerritos was surprising in a couple of ways since the memories of the songs and story goes back 45 years. First, it is very long and full of fine songs and a plot that turns from light-hearted to deeply tragic from the opening act to the last. This production was thoroughly serious with beautiful costumes, evocative sets, fascinating lighting, and a strong full orchestra on hand plus a little bit of an adjustment to the film theme that made the story modern and quite compelling.

        The cast here was very strong where it needed to be with Adam Grabau as King Arthur and Mary McNulty as Guinevere who gave the roles a touch of humanity enough to make the temptations of the flesh all that understandable. Both possessed strong voices and McNulty did a fine job on “the Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and the delicate “Before I Gaze at You Again” along with Grabau’s resolute “Camelot” that truly surpassed the film version. The very difficult task of Lancelot was well done by Tim Rogan who remained sympathetic despite his chivalry’s tiresomely rigid code of honor and finally his breaking toward intended adultery because of a powerful desire for Guinevere.  This production keeps the affair between the queen and the knight rather distant in an achingly unfulfilled way. When Rogan sings “If Ever I Would Leave You” all of his resolve to remain pure melts away and a few tears were dabbed in the audience. Mark Poppleton was excellent in the dual role of the garrulous King Pellinore and a rather grand Merlyn. Yet, the show was very much stolen by Kasidy Devlin as the evil bastard son Mordred who seemed to appear from somewhere deeply evil in the second act and absolutely lit up the stage with his understated yet unremitting devotion to destroying everything good and fine about Camelot. The show was tight and kept the audience guessing until Devlin came on board and sent it all up a very entertaining notch.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour 2014

          Koz at Cerritos for Christmas: a Welcome Tradition

                                                      By Glen Creason

     For seventeen seasons Dave Koz has brought a group of top entertainers to the Performing Arts Center to celebrate Christmas without ever producing a bag of coal for the fans who pack the joint each yuletide. This year he invited the electrifying Jonathon Butler, the surprisingly fresh Christopher Cross and newcomer Maysa with pipes almost bigger than the hall could hold. As a glittering ornament atop the concert Christmas tree the music was sweetened by the Musuca Children’s Choir. These kids made “Carol of the Bells” a beautiful beginning to an action packed show featuring a couple of dozen songs including the evergreens of the holidays brought forward in all manner of form including ensemble pieces and rousing solos. Much of the night was filled with light-hearted familiars as in “Let It Snow,” “Sleigh Ride,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and a duet in the American Idol style of “This Christmas.” Each star was allowed a moment in the spotlight to step outside the holiday: Maysa performed her “Inside My Dream,” Jonathon Butler broke off from “O’ Holy Night” and into his gospel rave “You’re My Everything” and Christopher Cross played a medley from his unreal successes of 1981 that were like pulling the old sweater vest out of the closet and finding it stylish again.

     Of course, at the center of it all was the affable and awesomely talented Koz who good-naturedly bantered with his guests at every turn but stepped in to blow some pretty warm sax at exactly the right times. He also saluted his Jewish roots with the truly terrific “8 Candles” and even dashed off Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song.” There were very nice moments in the overall warmth of the show including Christopher Cross’ moving “We Will Remember You” to those serving in the military around the globe and a conclusion of having vets stand and take a bow. Also an admirable “Dream of Peace” with the kid’s choir that was as sweet as grandma’s divinity followed by some rather high voltage secular stuff including “Ride Like the Wind” by Cross that actually rode the Winter wind pretty hard. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Swingin' White Christmas December 12, 2014

Swingin’ White Cerritos Christmas with Debby Boone and Michael Feinstein

                                                               By Glen Creason

   There was a sweet little Christmas tribute concert at the Performing Arts Center over the weekend inspired by and devoted to the late and great Rosemary Clooney. The performers were more than just close musical friends but moreover close personal friends as Debby Boone is actually part of the Clooney family and Michael Feinstein hung out at Ms. Clooney’s Beverly Hills home as a lad. The obvious affection the pair have for the legendary singer made the show a sweet one indeed. Debby Boone has continued singing, decades after her big hit and her voice remains strong but more comfortable than pyrotechnic. This certainly worked perfectly in her readings of the classic yuletide songs “My Favorite Things,” “Christmastime Is Here,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” along with peppy duets with Feinstein on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Sleigh Ride” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” All of these were couched within sentimental tales of growing up within the golden circle of Rosie. Backing the singers was a top-drawer band, the Usual Suspects lead by the fine arranger and musical director John Oddo who learned his craft with La Clooney over many years.

     Feinstein, on the other hand has the voice and musical talent to fill up many concerts and concert halls. He too told droll stories and spent time with his excellent musicological knowledge explaining the greatness of the classic American songwriters. This might include Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn and even the superb Tom Lehrer and his “Chanukah in Santa Monica” that was truly a gold star on the tree of this show. To mix things up Feinstein sang a rousing medley of Frank Sinatra gems (on the chairman’s 99th birthday) and a truly magnificent version of “My Favorite Year” that was probably the finest vocal performance I have heard all year. There was more, including duets with Debby Boone and the obligatory “White Christmas” but this one was every bit the traditional Christmas Concert with glittering gowns, velvet tuxedos, a muscular horn section, double towering fir trees and plenty of good cheer. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

An Irish Christmas December 5, 2014

         Sure It Tis, An Irish Christmas Comes to Cerritos

                                      By Glen Creason

     Any concert describing itself as an Irish Christmas must allow plenty of leeway for the American imagination. Such a show might range from the Pogues singing “Fairytale of Old New York” to a swinging version of “Buala Bas” (Jingle Bells) with uilleann pipes accompaniment.  However, the Irish Christmas that visited the Performing Arts Center over the weekend was full of homespun Irish yuletide joy with a bit of Kerry for spice and filled with plenty of surprises and authentic folk material that made it indeed 100% delightful. It was not like an old “Firestone Your Favorite Christmas Album” full of the old chestnuts of the season but a heady mix of excellent Irish dance, sprightly jigs and reels played by the Kerry men and women of the band plus the sweet-as-a morning lark singing of an interesting variety of a few old favorites and more true Irish folk delicacies. To balance the wildly exuberant and thrilling dancing alongside the spirited, three part harmonies the show was held together by a wise narrator, Sheelagh Cullen whose memories of an Irish Christmas and selected prose and poety gave the whole an air of authenticity. 

     Sure,  there was plenty of music, sung in pristine harmony by  Koral Aakre, Caitlin Ary and Tamora Pellikka who were seamless throughout in versions of the familiar “Carol of the Bells,” “The Holly She Bears a Berry,” “the Wexford Carol,” “Silent Night,” and a jocular “the Twelve Days of Christmas.” These were mixed in with true Irish gems “Ding Dong Dedero,” “Children’s Song,” “Si Do Mhaimeo,” Cead Mile Failte Romhat a Losa” and the wonderful “Wren Song”  (featuring,  appropriately to Los Angeles, one of the adorable Rodriguez dancing girls) that was a delightful morsel for the finish after this big banquet of fun.  Certainly, a great part of this joyful celebration of the season was the marvelous Irish dancing by a dozen beautiful young lasses and three handsome lads.  The stamina and skill was remarkable but the obvious joy in the numbers when the dancers challenged each other to reach greater heights elevated the show above mere holiday entertainment. Certainly, part of the appeal of the evening was the fun the entire cast seemed to be having, quite like an actual family Christmas celebration.  This is a terrific show with the exhilarating dancing and music of a Riverdance without the entire slick Vegas dazzle that has attached itself to that once grand show.  For the first holiday show at the Center for the yuletide this Irish Christmas was a fine one. 

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.