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"

Monday, December 26, 2005

Dave Koz Smooth Jazz Christmas Friday Dec. 23

Dave Koz’ Smooth Yule at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

In sort of the grand finale of a glorious and full Cerritos holiday season Dave Koz and his Smooth Jazz Christmas put a bow atop the Performing Arts Center tree on Friday evening. The ever popular show is approaching the decade mark with the spirited sax man at the center and alternating musician ornaments adorning the festive gathering. This year there was high energy and humor from vocalist Patti Austin and guitarist-singer Jonathon Butler along with the always wonderful David Benoit on the piano. Smooth may be the description of choice but these shows are never laid back and this one rocked the hall much more than it put the place into spiritual, reflective moods. The presentation is more Vegas than Oxford Chapel with a stage full of expressive players including the electric and expansive bass man Bill “Rubber Hand” Sharpe who gave the whole an extra glimmer of wattage.
Koz opened with his big horn and started up the holiday feelings on “Winter Wonderland” then handed the holly over to Jonathon Butler who took the packed house on a “Sleigh ride” who passed it to David Benoit for a not that solemn “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” who let Patti Austin finish the lap with “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”
It wasn’t all holiday sounds since each artist took on favorite songs including a very high octane fully leaded “Let It Free” by Koz, a wide-screen take on James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” by Jonathon Butler, and a powerful “Come to Me” by Patti Austin who sang both ends of the famous duet. Of course David Benoit gave the gathered what they came for in a medley of songs from the now venerable, 40 year old Charlie Brown Christmas show. The “Linus and Lucy” portion turned into a huge jam that involved everyone on stage but mostly the blurred fingers of Benoit on that baby grand piano. Musical Director Brian Simpson also snuck up on the 88’s for a really stirring duet with Benoit on his delightfully infectious piece “It’s All Good” which it was for sure.
Other moments to remember included an audience humiliation portion with Butler wandering the aisles and asking non-plants to sing those “rum-pum-pum-pums” demonstrating why the folks on stage get paid and we in the audience pay to hear them. There was the sweetly sentimental, legitimately tear jerking tribute to Dave Koz’ Mom of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and also his instantly classic Chanukah song “Eight Candles” that once again rocked the menorah to light. The highlight of highlights may have been Jonathon Butler’s “O Holy Night” the concluded with a standing O’ Holy Ovation and Patti Austin’s Motown segment that was refreshingly pure and unadulterated 60’s Christmas cheer. Throughout the packed house provided plenty of encouragement including singing verses asked for or not and cheering like it was the night before the night before Christmas, which it was as a matter of fact. Lastly, Koz and friends gathered everyone around the Yule hearth and set a cozy mood for cruising into the holiday night extending Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home” with strong voices, guitar, piano and especially that golden horn until everyone had musical sugarplums dancing in their heads.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Belated Merry-Achi December 2, 2005

Merry-Achi Christmas at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

Up until last weekend my experience with mariachi was pretty much limited to the grass-roots versions heard in Mexican eateries like Money Panchos or visits to the Plaza and my collection of Vicente Fernandez lps. On one hand the amateur groups stuck to four part harmonies and a repertoire of like three songs. On the other I was listening the king of the genre at the top of his game. So, when I ventured out to the Performing Arts Center over the weekend for the interestingly titled Merry-Achi Christmas I wasn’t sure what to expect but a lot of big voices and passionate songs drawn from this venerable Mexican genre. Actually, the evening was filled with very pleasant surprises in both song and the pageantry of the tradition.
The show was a huge one, filled with glorious singing, exhilarating dancing and beautiful costumes worn by Mariachi Sol de Mexico, the marvelous Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and the Ballet Folklorico de Pacifico. All of this is directed by the tireless and ultra-talented Jose Hernandez who not only is chief singer, master of ceremonies, trumpeter and musical director but he actually founded both groups while recording umpteen successful albums. The truly incredible thing about the show is that at one time there were more than forty performers on stage and every one seemingly could sing, play a mean trumpet, fiddle and smile like it was the best day of their lives. Well, almost. Some fourteen members of the ballet troupe brought excitement in folk dances from states of Mexico including the zapateado, the huapango and the famed jarabe tapatio that created a buzz every time they pranced on stage.
Of course, this was a Christmas show and the spirit of the season was served up in hearty helpings with chili on it. Amazingly enough, the Merry-making began with a mariachi version of “Ode to Joy” with fourteen mariachis singing in harmony as tight as their hand sewn traje de charro. The music continued, split somewhat between the songs of season a la mariachi and favorites from the states of Mexico, particularly the one encompassing Guadalajara whose spirited theme “Mi Jalisco” garnered whistles, applause and shouts of passionate appreciation. From a lovely “Ave Maria” the holiday feeling continued with a Posada that moved around the hall and back to “Noche Bonita,” “Little Drummer Boy” and a stirring “Joy to the World.”
The scene stealing Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles literally took over the next portion of the festivities with a charm hard to resist. Their electrifying “Solo Tuya” had the hall rocking as did the emotion drenched “Guadalajara” but “O Come All Ye Faithful” returned the performance to its Christmas scene. This group is more than wonderful and certain to be seen again on this stage.
The second half of the show was more mariachi atop the Cerritos Christmas tree highlighted by a Veracruz version of La Bamba with the Ballet Pacifico , an emotion drenched “Que Bonita Es Mi Tierra,” “O Holy Night” and the combined ensembles taking a symphonic turn on Chabrier’s Espana that was truly incredible. It was Merry-Achi Christmas so Senor Hernandez closed the show with an encore “Feliz Navidad” that rolled into a “White Christmas,” “Christmas Song,” “Sleighride,” “Silent Night” and more much to the delight of the satisfied full house.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Irish Tenors Holiday Show Dec. 14

The Irish Tenors Holiday Show: Cheer Times Three

By Glen Creason

May peace and plenty be the first
To lift the latch to your door,
And happiness be guided to your home
By the candle of Christmas.
--Irish Blessing

A packed house awaited John McDermott, Finbar Wright and Anthony Kearns expecting more than just beautiful singing and holiday song at the long-awaited mid-week concert at the Performing Arts Center. They expected a sort of Christmas miracle of music from these titans of tenor singing known mostly as the Irish Tenors. And the good folks pretty much got just that with the help of some friends and the wonderful Cerritos Center Symphony Orchestra lead by maestro Arnie Roth. Despite McDermott having a bad respiratory bug, carrying what a friend calls the Christmas gleep, his fellows stepped up and more than filled the hall with inspiring and exhilarating music. It was an enchanting mix of deeply religious hyms, songs of the Christmas season and beautiful old Irish favorites. As the less-than full strength Mister McDermott soldiered on Kearns and Wright took part of his parts without a seam showing or the audience noticing too much. The result was a triumph where there could have been disappointment.
“We Three Kings” was appropriate on a couple of levels following the opening “Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls” but Finbar Wright’s exquisite reading of Schubert’s lullaby “Mille Cherubini” was worth the price of the concert in four indescribably gorgeous minutes. There were nice musical moments not resorting to holiday clichés but maintaining the true meaning of the season in “The Old Tin Star” about passing on the traditions and “If I Can Help Somebody” which rang very true especially in this year of trial and tribulation. Also much of the first half of the show was directed to a divine source and included the inspirational “Be Thou My Vision,” “His Wounds Shall Pay My Ransom,” “How Great Thou Art” and a rousing “Amazing Grace” that got the faithful to their feet. Hearing these great tenors take these songs to the top went much further than the roof of the great hall.
The second half was a bit more secular but no less stimulating marked by a spectacular “O Holy Night” in perfect French by Anthony Kearns and “My Love” that rattled the tiles on the back walls. There was also a pristine “Silent Night” by Finbar Wright in Italian, the sentimental “Secret of Christmas” done quite well by John McDermott, gleep and all. Wright came back with a very different but lovely “Mary’s Boy Child” and the ensemble put an emerald hue on the hall with “She’s the Belle of Belfast City,” “Sing Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra” and “the Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Store.” Yet, the most remarkable performance was in “Fairytale of Old New York” a truly delicate and deeply moving lyric which offers a far from romantic but insightful look at the Irish experience in America. In the Yule tide spirit the fellas finished with a medley including an expansive “Wild Mountain Thyme,” to “Winter Wonderland” to “White Christmas” to “Jingle Bells” to, at last “Danny Boy” that sounded as sweet and fresh as the first time I heard it way back before I knew why it was Monsignor Kelly’s favorite song.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cantus December 9, 2005

Cantus at Cerritos: An Extraordinary Christmas Concert

By Glen Creason

If there was such a thing as a musical compass with say, Brittany Spears at due North then Cantus, the male vocal ensemble would be directly opposite in a straight southern point toward excellence. This superb and sophisticated group from the Twin Cities astounded and impressed an urbane but extremely enthusiastic crowd at the Performing Arts Center on Friday evening. The nine member troupe goes so far beyond just a chorus or “singing group” it strains the thesaurus to give them proper tribute. This concert was billed as “Away in a Manger” connoting a Christmas bent but it ventured across the globe and crossed holiday lines and historical epochs demonstrating the limitless capacity of the human voice in harmony.
The first half of the show was intellectually stimulating besides being a rare treat for the ears. They opened with a medieval chant from the 9th century “Benedicta sit Sancta Trinitas” that was pure, sweet and breathtaking in its variations. This was followed by the gentle lament sung by King David for his son Absalon, written in the 16th century and “Vere languores nostros” from the 15th. Cantus demonstrated absolute perfection in their diction, timing and harmonies in these opening pieces while building a quiet dignity aided by the formal tuxedos and elegant manner they all wore on stage. Any possibilities of stuffiness were sent packing however, when they performed one of many playful pieces next, a children’s song composed by Edvard Grieg “Badn-Lat” in which tenor Shahzore Shah delightfully portrayed a kitten with cold paws. Probably the best version I have heard of the classic American folk song “Shenandoah” followed along with two spirituals done with absolutely pristine clarity. Yet, an international theme abounded including a Japanese rowing song, a playful “Pseudo Yoik” from Lapland and the most incredible four minutes of vocal art since Bobby McFerrin last visited in the Indian raga “Ramkali.”
While the second half of the performance was decidedly more seasonal it was no less full of surprises and superlatives. “Ave Maria” and “Hail Mary” were truly religious experiences and “Go Tell it On the Mountain” and “Los Reyes Magos” from Argentina had rhythm and vibrant energy. While “Winter Wonderland” and “Deck the Halls” might seem like old chestnuts they were all shiny and new with Cantus’ take which went from a seamless barbershop chorus to a be-bop kind of sound. The great dedication and obvious heavy rehearsal time involved in this kind of performance shows in every detail of the show. The interplay of voices is not just textured and well-measured but like the Bayeux tapestry of song. The final piece of “Betelehemu” by Nigerian drum great Babatunde Olatunji was simply magnificent leaving the crowd awestruck but on their feet cheering. Using some percussion, their bodies and every bit of the five tenors, two baritones and two bass singers Cantus cast a spell of intricate sounds. Even when the young men took a couple of curtain calls the appreciative hall begged for more. A beautiful “Silent Night” encore punctuated a really extraordinary evening of singing. A tip of the quill to the Cerritos Center for finding and offering a truly wonderful performing group, broadening and lifting up the local musical stage.