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 29, 2006

Best of Doo Wop January 28, 2006

Best of Doo Wop at Cerritos: Oldies and Sometimes Goodies

By Glen Creason

“Those oldies but goodies reminds me of you
The songs of the past bring back memories of you
I always remember the first night we met
The songs they were playing I never will forget”

It was most certainly Saturday night in the present but there was a huge crowd of one-time teens of the 50’s awaiting musical memories while vintage muscle cars picturesquely dotted the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts parking lot. The crowd of “kids” and their Detroit steel were heralding the visit of the singers of songs that filled the airways of our youth. The show “Best of Doo Wop” ignored the ticking of the old boomer clock and although many of these oldies are truly old, approaching a half century, the show made many forget the thunder of time.
The songs were wonderful to hear live, even if sometimes the spirit was willing but the flesh weak. However, groups like the Del-Vikings, the Dixie Cups, the Crew-Cuts and especially the Coasters and Drifters really got the entire hall’s pulse to thump to a rock and roll beat. It was a might worrisome that two of the first three acts were challenged by physical problems but when the Del-Vikings burst into “Whispering Bells” and finished with “Come and Go With Me” it meant little that the lead singer wasn’t the twenty-year old that recorded the songs in the Eisenhower era. Talk about the days of KRLA, we got to hear Little Caesar do “Those Oldies but Goodies,” bop to the lead guitarist of the Charms do “Tequila,” and groove to “Little Darlin’” at the conclusion of the Crew Cuts energetic set. The Crews who left their butch-wax behind about forty years ago seem to have kept their edge including the clowning and astounding falsetto of Bob Duncan.
The second half was amped up several degrees beginning with the feminine charm of the Dixie Cups who appeared to have drunk from Ponce de Leon’s Pepsi since none gave the appearance of being born when “Chapel of Love” topped the charts. However, their bubbling “Heat Wave,” “Chapel…,” “Iko Iko,” and “Please Mr. Postman” were delivered perfectly in costumes that added much to the festivities. The remainder of the concert was high spirits and excellent doo wop harmony. The Coasters gave us “Charley Brown,””Poison Ivy,” “Searchin’” and the rollicking “Yakety Yak” that had the entire hall up dancing like they were back at El Monte Legion Stadium on a Saturday night. The grand finale of the Drifters was like a tasty dessert, featuring excellent vocals and crisp choreography. The audience was taken “On Broadway,” then “Up on the Roof,” experienced “This Magic Moment” and took an extended romp of “Stand by Me” that resonated across many decades. Those oldies but goodies still sounded pretty good, maybe not as good as they did booming through the tinny speakers of that 57’ Bel Air rolling slowly through Harvey’s Broiler but pretty sweet nevertheless.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Rippingtons and Joyce Cooling January 14

Rippington’s Rip It Up, Joyce Cooling Is Cool

By Glen Creason

While old man winter blew chilly outside, the (arguably) smooth sounds of the Rippingtons heated the Performing Arts Center to a rosy glow on Saturday evening. The solo action was heated and the spirited interplay between horn guru Eric Marienthal and guitarist Russ Freeman stood tall amongst the contemporary jazz platform of fine bassist Kim Stone and the double-strong percussion of Scott Breadman and Dave Karasony. This was not so much smooth jazz as it was smooth funk with some tasty edges. Curtain raising guitarist Joyce Cooling had pretty much won over the large crowd and the Rips had their work cut out for them but they were up to soaring over the bar the pretty and talented lady had set at Cerritos.
Opening with the supercharged “Brave New World” the Rippington’s demonstrated from the get-go that this would be a show of energy and relentless instrumental give and take between sax, guitar and band. Most of the material was extended jams containing compact bundles of notes traded at breakneck speed but with crisp harmony. “Drive” was a road trip of wild Marienthal horn and stinging Freeman counterpoint but then most of the performance was done at a good giddy up. There was a tasty Latin influence as in the bouncy “Spanish Girl,” gypsy kinglike “Angelfire” or the wild “South Beach Mambo” which would have tested Carlos Santana from the congas to the fluid guitar lines. Ballads existed as in “Bellagio,” “Paradise” or the laid-back “Guitarland” but they were the exception to the well-heated norm including the bass-rich “Black Diamond,” and the scorched “Lay It Down” that crossed from Jazz to flat-out Rock and Roll. Encores included the easy-going “Tourist in Paradise” to an utterly astounding tribute to Jimi Hendrix.

The show was opened by the amazing Joyce Cooling who despite her demure beauty can play some pretty mean guitar. It is difficult to not compare her to hall of famer George Benson but her technique and smooth musical narrative is very much from that school. While George may sing and play guitar with the best he certainly is not as easy on the eyes as this San Francisco musician. Yet Ms. Cooling has paid her dues and can play her box like a grizzled veterana and can sing scat note for note like the aforementioned superstar. It never hurts to be surrounded by talent and certainly Cooling has a fine band including writing partner/keyboardist Jay Wagner, drummer Billy Johnson and bassist Jamie Brewer. This is a team concept and they play off one another with precision and passion. After busting out with the smooth funk of “Wizard” the crowd started to hear the notes and get in the groove. She was joined by sax wizard Eric Marienthal for one of her own compositions called “Camelback” that stood with the pulsating “Callie” and electrifying “Savannah” to comprise plenty to remember about the lady’s skills in this show. Yet, the rousing sendoff “Expression” aided by very talented bass player Brewer and an explosive guitar solo by Joyce Cooling had the assembled of Cerritos on their feet, enthusiastically begging for more. I have a feeling Joyce Cooling may be invited back south very soon.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sawyer Brown January 6, 2006

No Power Outage With Sawyer Brown at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

There were a few hundred folks in the Performing Arts Center on Friday who had never seen country stalwarts Sawyer Brown live but by concerts end they were among the standing ovation faithful. This is a band that defies labels and despite the fact that they have won C&W awards they are one part rock and roll, one part country, one part honky-tonk and a dash of cow-punk thrown in for spice. Sawyer Brown and in particular super-charged front man Mark Miller don’t allow much down time for audiences, plying their fans with exciting, colorful sets chuck full of emotion and electricity. On this night it was a typical full-gallop evening of punchy pop country with a few sweet ballads mixed in skillfully. The show started in full “Six Days on the Road” giddy up and ended with the entire place on their feet hollering for more of “Some Girls Do.” You have to ask yourself when the band takes the stage and Mark Miller starts to move: how many country bands have a singer who can dance like a hillbilly James Brown!?
This is a group with a sense of humor, some self-deprecating wit and a long history of success in concert. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a powerhouse band including sensational guitarist Shayne Hill, keyboard maestro Gregg Hubbard and the sonorous, elastic voice of Mark Miller giving each song a resonance. The concert had its moments of sentiment as in “The Walk,” “This Time,” the true morals message of “They Don’t Understand” and the gut—wrenching “All These Years.” What makes it all the more grass-roots here is that Miller actually got the mournful but optimistic song from a furniture salesman who pressed a cassette into his hand when he was picking out a bedroom set. So goes the down to earth approach of this group that makes them easy to bond with. By the time the sweating, smiling Miller finished the first burst of pure country he had the crowd right where he wanted them. There were also some fun forays away from Mark Miller’s centerpiece in a rocked out “Already Gone” a la the Eagles done by guitarist Shayne Hill and the thundering “Please Do” by the prancing Hubbard. After twenty-five years performing Sawyer Brown seems as enthusiastic as when they got their big break back on the old “Star Search” when Hector was a pup.
The backbone of this group’s shows are the up-tempo, country-fried anthems that pump up the energy and get folks up on their feet. At Cerritos this happened midway through the second half and continued through encores. “The Race Is On,” “This Time,” “Used to Blue,” “800 lb. Jesus,” “Dirt Road” and “the Boys and Me” more than filled the high-octane bill. There was a little gravy with the new one “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand,” ”Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and a finishing encore kick of “Drive Me Wild” and “Some Girls Do.”

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Year End Elsie Awards

Ellsie Awards for Cerritos Center: 2005

By Glen Creason

“Time is a Circus, always packing up and moving away.” – Ben Hecht

The Ellsies are out for the past year at the Performing Arts Center and the illustrious awards laud some eighteen performances that stand above the rest for this troubled year of 2005. While the time held more than its share of sorrow and misery, especially in the path of Hurricane Katrina it had bright moments too, some on our little stage here in Cerritos. Certainly, the thrills and inspiration of my year in the great hall gave me the gumption to press on when all seemed rather dark. Once again the Performing Arts Center was able to show the local scene how to balance the productions on their stages and give us the tried and true along with the fledglings and future stars before their glimmer becomes a nova. Surprisingly, several of the best shows seen this year were done in front of smaller crowds which only served to make me lament the loss of locals in not giving the newer acts a try. The month of December was indeed a time rich with superb shows that slipped under the radar for a few. It is my fervent wish that the experts in the offices of the Center be congratulated and allowed to keep up the great work. Cerritos, as a city can be extremely proud of the tradition upheld here and the all important wisdom of the professional administrative staff at the Center. When you have people like the superb Lori Levine-Yonan and the sage of Center Drive: Michael Wolf in your corner you have a nucleus of unlimited potential. I also must tip my pen which scribbles in the darkness to the tirelessly positive hostess Faith Lazar, living legend India Holloway and the absolute best box office staff in any theater in creation. Te salud!
Without further ado here are the Ellsies:
The recent visit of the little known-about “Do Jump” troupe proved to be more than marvelous. The kid-friendly but adult pleasing group from the Northwest proved that entertainment does not have to include violence, explosions, car-crashes and sex to capture imaginations. A dozen, energetic dancer/acrobat/comedians and a whole lot of creative intellect provided a fascinating two hours on the Cerritos stage.

E-Ethnic: World:
Once again the Chieftains capture this award that might well bear their name. As the show changes each visit and always stays at the highest level it is a bar set way high for the genre. Paddy Maloney’s baleful “Derek’s Tune” saluting the fallen Chieftain Derek Bell was moving and so was the jet-fueled dancing of the Pilatzke Brothers of Canada.

E-Ethnic: South of the Border
A treat for the ears and the eyes were Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles the adorable and powerful lady singers on the bill at Merry-Achi Christmas. Their reading of “Solo Tuya” had the gente on their feet from the first note. These ladies are beautiful and very talented.

One of several sleeper shows this year was Julie Budd, an old-school Broadway singer with a seemingly unlimited emotional well when singing the great old songs. Her version of “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard was simply stunning. The evening was a master’s class in putting your all into a lyric.

Dragging me back some thirty five years Firesign Theater came to the Center with what looked to be a stirring of the brain cells once obliterated in my college years. Instead of being a mere novelty they performed a hilarious couple of hours of their bizarre, unexplainable, yet mostly new comedy. I didn’t waste my youth, I was learning something in college but it was Firesign Theater dialogue.

In a year when more prayers were sent upstairs than ever, the appearance of the Harlem Gospel Choir was well-timed indeed. The afternoon was so sanctified and so special it is hard to single out one moment but when they sang “Ride on King Jesus” it made you want to jump on board but when they turned the Kool and the Gang song “Celebration” into a church song you just felt like shaking a leg for the lord.

Concord Jazz brought several of the brightest vocal lights in Jazz for an evening of tasteful and dazzling song. The truly excellent Karrin Allyson hosted and showed why she is one of the best of the best, especially on “Over and Over Again.” The surprise was in the delicate form of youngster Sara Gazarek who borrowed “Too Young to Go Steady” from Ms. Allyson and knocked out the joint with her sweetly measured and velvety performance.

No contest on this one, Mr. Dave Barry by a landslide of exploding rotten whale meat. America’s greatest print humorist put the entire hall in stitches for the duration of this long show. I’m still laughing about his picking up his thirteen year old son from Junior High School while driving the Weiner mobile. As Dave Barry himself often says “I’m not making this up!”

E-Musical Comedy:
From an unlikely platform (Broadway on Ice) musical comedian Dale Gonyea dove into a thirty minute foray into extemporaneous song including several versions of the official-unofficial city song of Cerritos (rhyming it with deep friend fritos) and other amazingly clever tunes of geographical accuracy including mentions of South Gate, Bellflower, Artesia, and Cudahy. How many evenings at the theater can make that claim?

E-Christmas: tie
Impossible to take measure of just one when two songs stood so tall.
“Mille Cherubini” by Finbar Wright in the Irish Tenors Christmas Concert was as pure and rich as a day at the Sees Candy kitchen. Mister Wright needed to step up for the ailing John McDermott and on this beauty he stopped time altogether.
“O’ Holy Night” by Jonathon Butler at the Smooth Jazz Christmas show where the guitarist and singer took the old chestnut and turned it into a rousing O’ holy standing ovation!

E-from the day
Creedence Clearwater Revisited once more won over the Boomer crowd at the Center with a recreation of the soundtrack of our 60’s heyday. Firing up the gold ones from our salad days they ripped up a medley including “Up Around the Bend,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Traveling Band,” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” that made it feel like we could wear those 501 jeans and tie dyes once again.

When Cerritos has the pleasure to offer the stage to a genuine American national treasure it has to be special. All-Time great Doc Watson did not rest on his laurels but astounded with his fine voice, guitar wizardry and musical wisdom. Despite his long concert with the excellent David Holt the song that stood out was the psychedelic era gem “Nights in White Satin” that Doc made his own.

E-Surprise “newcomer”:
Soul veterana Randy Crawford held court at the Crusaders concert and wowed the packed hall with back to back powerhouse performances of “Street life” and a “you could have heard a pin drop” reading of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The little lady was in tip-top form.

From an unusual source we have the winner for best vocal performance in a year where singing was tops at the Center. Providing voice at the fine Broadway on Ice show Davis Gaines took a song from the not blockbuster “Jekyll and Hyde” musical called “This Is the Moment” and gave a heart-stopping, powerhouse rendition to remember for the ages. When he finished, the ice he stood on was a puddle.

At the charming Jim Brickman show there was much to celebrate but the amazing, multi-faceted violin solo by Tracy Silverman of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” literally defies description. Brickman and friends gave us the audience what they came for but Silverman took them where they never expected to go.

E-Single musical performance:
Despite a disappointing crowd the superb men’s vocal ensemble Cantus gave one of the best concerts in hall history. In a night of spectacular harmonies and vocal artistry their magnificent version of the Indian raga “Ramhali” was only surpassed by the wonderful “Betelhemu” all the way from South Africa. Cantus should come again and so should everybody who did not come to this year’s show.

E-Show of the Year:
The stars seemed to all be aligned for this balm-like evening of sweet New Orleans R&B healing starring Marcia Ball and Delbert McClinton. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction the stunned audience listened to Ms. Ball play Randy Newman’s classic “Louisiana 1927” with their hearts beating in one sympathetic rhythm. Even though it was a very up-beat show it served to remind everyone how vital the culture of the Big Easy is to the entire country.