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.