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"

Friday, December 29, 2006

A Year End Review 2006: the Elsie Awards

2006 at the Performing Arts Center
Announcing the Elsies

By Glen Creason

I always find it amusing when reading opinions of locals who grouse about the cost of maintaining a magnificent theater like the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. Considering the prestige and position of cultural leadership the great hall affords the city, such yahoo bleatings seem particularly thickheaded in a time of wasteland wanderings for contemporary media. Going to this theater as opposed to rotting the brain in front of the boob tube or attending the endless march of Hollywood re-hashes is superior in every conceivable way. Moreover, the thoughtful and innovative methods of the good men and women who run the Performing Arts Center are templates for all theaters across the entire United States. This, I know first-hand. I visit the facility around thirty times a year and am never disappointed by the ambiance, the superb hospitality and the unparalleled ease of visiting this wonderful place. “Time is a great healer but it’s a lousy beautician” say the wags but the glittering hall on Center drive does seem to defy Father time while never running out of cultural steam. The secret is the staff that doesn’t just care, they love the place.
It is small recompense to merely mention the fine folk who are responsible but I cannot pass up laying laurels upon the heads of the sages of Center Drive including:
Lori Levine-Yonan: the Portia, the Helen of Troy, the lady wisdom of Publicity. She has no equal and shall be remembered in my will.
Michael Wolf: the rare combination of excellent taste and horse sense. He’s the man along with Craig Springer who keeps the seats full and quite importantly the artists happy. I have heard so many glowing comments from the stage I would need another issue to print them all.
Nate Chavez, Diane Cheney and Chris LaRoco: as an ex-box-office manager I can attest to their skills and poise under pressure. They might sweat but they never let me see it. The box office staff at the Center is the best I have ever seen, anywhere for any venue. Nuff said.
Faith Lazzari: the heart of the Performing Arts Center. Her hospitality room is run like a Swiss watch with class and charm all the way.
Alan Strickland: a house manager who is a big play guy. He meets every challenge without ever showing as much as a raised eyebrow.
And of course India Holloway: the grand empress of seating in the hall. If I had a company that required quality organization I would want her to run it.
Without further ado, this years Elsies for my Best shows and moments at the Center in 2006:
Smooth Jazz: the Rippingtons turned smooth seas into a powerboat ride ripping up “South Beach Mambo” back when the year was young.
Newcomers of the Year: this one was a flat-footed tie between vocalist Norris James of the Boney James show and songwriter Kenny White from the Judy Collins evening. James could have been lauding the theater itself, crooning “Better With Time” and White wowed the literate song appreciators with his memorable “5 Girls.”
Nostalgia: the Endless Summer Band fronted by former Beach Boy lead-singer Al Jardine recreated some of the pure gold of my distant youth. On this night “Good Vibrations” came back to life like I remembered it sitting in Big Macs at the corner of Florence and Lakewood. Sweet!
Inspirational song: in late Summer the elegant, intelligent Judy Collins gave us a banquet of folk song including the pristinely performed “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” that stayed in our hearts long after the last notes had faded.
Vocal of the Year: Finbar Wright at the memorable Irish Tenors Christmas Show seemed to put a little extra into a jaw-dropping “Shelter Me” that defined divine inspiration.
Musical: Spring at the Center brought a dandy version of the classic Oklahoma, fit to remind every one just how eternally great the work of Rogers and Hammerstein are when given their proper respect. We all whistled “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” for a month after.
Class: the gentleman pianist Andree Watts who surpassed even his high expectations appropriately represented the Wayne Shilkret Memorial Concert. Debussy’s “Danse” moved on Angels wings that night.
Traditional: Cherish the Ladies brought “Oh Sister, Where Art Thou” to life in the Sierra Room but leader Joanie Madden stood out with her wry storytelling and the exquisite “Hills of New Zealand.”
Song of the Year/ Jazz: Karrin Allyson was a top contender for show of the year with this special evening of superb material polished by one of the very best jazz voices in America. Her version of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” was truly out of this world and worthy of the very highest accolades.
Living Legend: George Jones, who wasn’t in top form but still managed to demonstrate why he has been the best at what he does for decades, The multi-media showing of Country’s greats with George crooning “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” was awe inspiring but brought to mind the same question about the former Mr. No-Show Jones himself.
Songwriting Moment: Crusty old Ray Benson of the normally jocular “Asleep at the Wheel” showed what great songwriting can do by crooning Guy Clark’s classic “the Cape” and Rani Arbo backed it up at the same fine concert with Leonard Cohen’s under sung “Heart With No Companion.” Both were insightful, poetic and deeply moving.
Holiday Song: Mariachi Sol de Mexico and Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles joined on the packed stage for a rousing Christmas medley including the mariachi choir-like “Feliz Navidad” that made Jose Feliciano sound like a mouse in a well.
High Voltage: for a pedal to the metal, booty-shaking, high-energy show no one came close to the East Bay’s own “Tower of Power.” They amped stuff like “You Ought to Be Havin’ Fun” powering it up with the bass, percussion and trademark TOP horns that rose an entire hall out of their seats.
Classical: The Georgia Guitar Quartet demonstrated palpable hope in today’s musical generation, playing a wonderful set of the old and the new. They mixed Michael Praetorius dances with J.S. Bach, Vince Guaraldi and their own bluegrass composition to enchant and amaze. All this from a group who together did not seem to have as many years as some individuals in the hall on that night.
Pop Music: hard-working Michael McDonald gave us his all which was plenty good in a night of R&B masterworks and pop hits from his long career. His gorgeous and soulful reading of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” was like a master-class in ballad singing.
E-Capella: that’s elsie Capella from the Persuasions who needed no help except their own voices in a set of pure vocal majesty. Their “People Get Ready” must have had Curtis Mayfield smiling down from heaven.
Comedy: the art of storytelling is making a comeback and the greatest in the land visited for a rare Sunday matinee. Garrison Keillor, a bona fide national treasure came to Cerritos and proved once again how incredibly connecting this form of entertainment can be when done by a master. Whether it was descriptions of necking in a old Ford or twelve Lutheran ministers, a couple of fiberglass ducks, the bowling ball urn of a beloved, a bereaved grandson on a parasail, an ex-lover in a hot air balloon, a drunken old Norwegian bachelor and a lake dog with a rotten fish in his mouth, he brought tears of joy to our eyes.
Show of the Year: A cause for celebration by Jazz fans was the visit of the venerable Sonny Rollins. In my mind Maestro Rollins is the greatest living artist in America and on rep alone his visit was a must-see for music lovers. However, the Saxophone Colossus did not just show up but took this concert to several of his own personal, stratospheric levels. His playing, particularly on “Global Warming” defied earthly descriptions. Not only was this the best show of the year but one of the top in the hall’s thirteen year history.
It is time to bid 2006 adios but not until I also bid a very sad farewell to a great friend who left us during this year. Dear Bette Gillies passed on after battling cancer and left a hole the size of a solar system in our newspaper. Bette was a voice of reason and compassion. She kept a smile on our faces and always managed to make it look easy. Anyone who knew her was blessed and she can never be replaced. May she rest in peace.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Irish Tenors Holiday Show December 13, 2006

Irish Tenors Triumph in Triplicate

By Glen Creason

Sometimes a show just hits the spot and certainly the well-timed visit of the “Irish Tenors Holiday Show” to a joyful Performing Arts Center at midweek was exactly what the season demanded. The light-hearted offerings; mixing traditional beauties from the Emerald Isle, Holiday chestnuts and religious hymns combined for an evening that sparkled like ornaments on a mighty tall tree. This is the second visit for the Tenors and with only one change in personnel they continued to wow the Cerritos faithful with strength of voice and fine taste in repertoire. John McDermott has been replaced by Karl Scully who blends well with the veterans Anthony Kearns and Finbar Wright, demonstrating the shades of color within the tenor range. Kearns is strong and steady, Scully, higher in pitch and capable of sailing the high C’s while Wright can do it all with deep emotion. All of this Holiday cheer emanated from the large, festively decorated Performing Arts stage, framed by fir trees and backed by an orchestra directed by the excellent Arnie Roth.
At Cerritos the first half of the program was rooted in the Mother country. After a rousing opening by the orchestra of “Brian Boru’s March” the three men sang the sweet “Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls” and the stunning paean “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears.” saluting the struggles Irish-American immigrants coming through Ellis Island. From the film classic “the Quiet Man” came “Isle of Innesfree” alongside the contemporary “Song for Ireland” and “Love Thee Dearest” done by Wright, Scully and Kearns in that order. The proceedings turned, appropriately to the sacred with Finbar Wright captivating the entire house with a magnificent reading of “Shelter Me,” followed by the Three Tenors putting a gilded edge on “Be Thou My Vision,” “Lord of the Dance” and an Amazing “Amazing Grace” that garnered a standing ovation at the intermission.
The second half was much more Christmas oriented including “We Three Kings (of Orient Are),” Scully’s electrifying “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and one more magnificent bit of sacred song from Wright in “How Great Thou Art.” The gentlemen stayed close to hearth and their Christian home treating the full house to “the Lord’s Prayer,” “a tri-lingual “Silent Night,” the cleaned up version of the Pogue’s neo-classic “Fairytale of Old New York” punctuated by Anthony Kearns revelation of “O Holy Night” sung in French. Despite their formal tuxedoed attire and the deluxe setting of the show the tenors seemed to be enjoying themselves and the large crowd’s obvious cheerful response to the music. The gents finished the show, showing their camaraderie with the jocular “Amigos Para Siempre” but the big crowd roared for more. Putting their three potent voices to the yuletide spirit the Three Tenors added a not trifling layer of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Sleigh Bells, White Christmas, Jingle Bells” and then topped it off with the everlastingly wonderful anthem version of “Danny Boy.” It was a fine night for the Irish Tenors and the lucky audience there to cheer them on.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Debbie Reynolds December 10, 2006

Miss Debbie Reynolds Pays a Visit to Cerritos

By Glen Creason

In concert is not a term Debbie Reynolds would use for one of her performances; she is far too folksy for such high-falutin’ lingo. Concert, stand-up routine, impressionist performance, variety show, musical review, or mixed media presentation might fill the bill if you combined them all into one. You can’t really call this legendary lady a performer or singer because she seems beyond those earth-bound terms. Debbie Reynolds, at the self-confessed age of seventy-four is more like a force of nature. It’s not that she shows that much age in her flawless makeup, expensive gowns and boundless charm and wry humor. Yet her show at a Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts was all about history and the years that have added so much to her charismatic career in front of the footlights. The hair is strawberry blonde, the figure somewhat hourglass and the cheeks are youthfully rosy but this is show business and father time has no place on a stage with Miss Debbie. A pair of spectacular gowns in sequined aquamarine and yuletide red probably cost more than most customers’ annual salaries but the former Mary Francis from Burbank still connects with we the people. When she said that Cerritos was “the nicest theater I’ve ever played in” you could hear buttons busting all over the hall.
This is a lady who seems to thrive on the attention and spotlight but she never gives the audience the impression that she is a diva or prima donna. In fact her tame versions of classic songs like “Good to Be Here,” “That’s Life,” “From This Moment On,” “Love Is a Tender Trap,” “I Love a Piano,” “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” “Come Away With Me,” “Grandpa” and even a C&W medley simply serve as bridges between her marvelous stories and hilarious impressions. The jokes were straight out of the Catskill comedian’s playbook but in her mouth they worked beautifully. She told Eddie Fisher stories some half century since she jettisoned the singer and got good laughs. She did routines about her encounters with Dolly Parton and Willy Nelson while also breaking the place up with the broad comedy in perfect impressions of ZaZa Gabor and Barbra Streisand that would have done a new comedian proud.
Still, this is Debbie Reynolds who can casually mention working with James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bette Davis, Spencer Tracy and hanging out with her dear pal Judy Garland. Twice she brought a house movie screen to life with highlights of her long career and a fascinating montage of bloopers featuring her friends in show biz back in the day. Her perspective of Hollywood in the golden years is worth the show on its own but she had more for the big crowd at Cerritos. Even as she joked and regaled with humor she was still capable of holding the place in the palm of her hand. This she did in a cozy little medley drawn from Judy Garland’s treasure chest and a sweet bit of nostalgia called “Tammy” which left the dreamy audience happy and standing in ovation for many minutes after.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Moscow Cat Theater December 3, 2006

They say that when Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lamermoor was performed for the first time the audience wept in the face of the genius. Admirers of Scriabin fell to their knees after hearing his compositions. When the great Lillian Russell sang “Only a Bird in a Golden Cage” hard-bitten miners and roughnecks were overcome and had to be returned to consciousness with smelling salts. Going back to the Greek theatricals of Aristophanes or the Elizabethan masterpieces of William Shakespeare audiences have become emotionally supercharged by great performances. I would say that the works of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill or the musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein might transcend earth-bound emotion and inspire a crowd to an otherworldly ecstasy.
In my six decades on this sweet swinging sphere I have seen the best of drama, the heights of musical performance, and have visited several of the planet’s great art museums. Yet, until Sunday I had seen nothing, heard nothing, felt only the most tepid of stirrings in my breast. For, on Sunday, December 3 in the year of our lord 2006 I saw the Moscow Cat Theater and my life and my soul will never, ever be the same. With my emotions aflame, my eyes riveted and my mouth agape I saw miracles occur, angels with fur fly in the charged atmosphere of the Wilshire Ebell Theater glittering footlights. My spirit was cleansed, jolted and purified by feats unseen, unheard of on old Mother earth since man was domesticated by our pointy-eared masters known as cats. These tiny gods and goddesses master a human known as Yuri Kuklachev, who as their beast of burden performs as foil to their acrobatic elegance, their athletic prowess, their defiance of gravity and their witty comedic genius. So many of the felines showed genius that it is difficult to single out one or two but there was one inky actor who literally stole the heart of the assembled and demonstrated his superiority over all mere humans. They darted hither and thither, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. The vaulted into the unknown with elegant fare thee wells. They appeared and reappeared unexpectedly like the magical sprites that we know and worship in our own humdrum human lives. My partner in this performance was a lady, enslaved most willingly but her face was a mask of wonder, inspiration and admiration for this achingly beautiful commedia de la meow. She gasped, she sobbed, she bravely howled bravo! with every part of her human fiber. We touched the whiskers of Bastet, we rode a magic carpet of cat fur, we ate from the crunchie bowl of ancient Thebes' ratters. Bless them every one! The noble cats gave us a template for sophisticated achievement in the entertainment arts and once more lived up to their place as God’s most purrfect creatures. I saw it but can hardly believe the leger-fel-mane that transpired on the old stage. I don’t think we will pass this way again but now I am prepared to take my place on Rainbow bridge as I have been to the mountaintop, have looked into the face of perfection and can die happy once and for all.

Merry Achi Christmas December 2, 2006

Si Senor! It’s Merry-Achi Christmas at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

A sure sign of the commencement of Christmas in the area, along with an absence of parking in the local malls is the songs of the season appearing at the Performing Arts Center. First to put up the musical tree this year was the wonderful Mariachi Sol De Mexico de Jose Hernandez along with my favorites: Mariachi Reyna De Los Angeles and the Pacifico Dance Company. Their Holiday offering, aptly titled “Merry-Achi Christmas” is a beautiful gift of song and dance that dazzles the senses and lights up the stage with laughter and traditional Latin music. In their seventh year at Cerritos, the Merry-Achi Christmas show gets better and better including more regalos under the tree and an increased awareness of the special needs of Spanish impaired locals. This time the evening featured a few more carols and an equal number of sweet sones from south of the border.
What amazes most is the versatility of the troupe; playing trumpets, strumming guitars, firing up the violins or singing with heads thrown back, giving everything to the story. It is that emotion in the melody and the heartfelt dives and swoops of the voice that makes this kind of Mexican music some of the most moving and beautiful in the world. Examples of the best of this music came from the homeland of Senor Hernandez in Jalisco but portions of the evening paid tribute to the greats of Mexican singing including Miguel Aceves Mejia, Francisco Andrade, Vicente Fernandez, his boy Alejandro and the incomparable songwriting of Jose Alfredo Jimenez. The lively, adoring crowd spurred the artists on to higher notes and the greater glory of Jalisco and Old Mexico from start to finish, providing encouragement with whistles, handclapping and shouts of approval. What could be better than the song “Jalisco” itself along with fine old gems like “A Tu Salud,” “Mi Ultimo Fracaso,” “El Rey de Huasteca,” and the rousing closer “Viva Mexico.”
The lovely and multi-talented La Reyna de Los Angeles elevated the proceedings when their turn came, transforming Mariachi into a feminine art form. They performed “Albur de Amor,” “Los Peces en el Rio,” “Rocio Durcal, and “Charreada y Laureles” flawlessly and with gusto but they also surprised the house with a rowdy “Orange Blossom Special” that followed on the heels of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” The color of the show was not in muted tones. There were the red mariachi costumes of the Mariachi Sol, the pink of the Reyna and the glorious splashes of native costume on the spirited yet wonderfully graceful Pacifico Dance Company. They covered the dance genre from Vera Cruz to Jalisco through the Cabalito, the Machete and the Jarabe with grace and beauty galore. We were also treated to a hall-wide Posada, a stubborn piñata and a stage full of adorable kids.
Lest we forget this was a Merry-Achi Christmas and there was yuletide flavor in abundance. The “First Noel,” “Ave Maria,” “Oh Christmas Tree” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” “the Christmas Song,” “Silent Night,” Sleigh Ride” and “Feliz Navidad” all got the Mariachi treatment with a little chile on them. As usual it was a night to remember in the great hall and a fitting kickoff of the season. Anyone asked as they exited if they enjoyed the show would have said “Si Senor!”