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, May 22, 2006

Andre Watts Sunday May 21, 2006

Andre Watts Plays it Perfect

By Glen Creason

How appropriate that the great artist Andre Watts performed from works of true genius, including the very best composers of piano music for the Wayne J. Shilkret Memorial Tribute Fund Benefit Concert on Sunday. The fund is the wonderful idea of the Friends of the Cerritos Center to celebrate the extremely important role of this former director in developing the cultural powerhouse that has become of the most important theaters in the West. The Tribute Fund works toward supporting musical education projects, helping to create opportunities for future musical artists and possibly even another visionary like Mister Shilkret. In his tenure, from 1997 to his untimely death in 2001 the Center thrived and presented seasons of perfect balance between the popular and the culturally invigorating. Alongside acts like Willie Nelson, John Denver or Loretta Lynn Shilkret gave us Kathleen Battle, Betty Buckley, the Buena Vista Social Club, the Dance Theater of Harlem and Jose Carreras. Moreover, the man was known for his class and grace under pressure in the Fine Arts field. As the poet said about both men “and thus he bore without abuse, the grand old name of gentleman.”
Thus, one of classical music’s elegant standard bearers represented the Cerritos gentleman with a program and performance that did them both proud. Beginning with two rondos from Mozart (in D Major K. 485 and in a minor, K. 511) Maestro Watts was in top form moving from the intense yet playful first piece through the deeply melancholy second with a velvety touch that made it seem as if his right hand only poised over the keys while the notes flowed out. In Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Opus 10 no. 3 Watts once again was challenged by the technical demands of the gusto of the dynamic opening Presto and the ringing audience cell phone evident in the solemn Largo. After the sobering Largo the allegro of the menuetto was like a romp in a meadow but the sweetly lyrical Rondo: allegro was superb. The first half finished with a Schubert Sonata in a minor D, D.784, opus 143, a forgotten “oddity” exhumed in the 20’s to demonstrate the prolific composer’s true genius in this form. The rather stern beginning gave way to sublime expressions of emotion and the final Allegro vivace was so bold as to get the audience to sit upright and be astounded at the closing crescendo.
The second half was even better, sending up technical challenges that would break any but a true master. Mr. Watts colorful Nocturne in c-sharp minor, Op. 27, no. 1 by Chopin was simply exquisite but the Ballade no. 1 in c minor bloomed from an intimacy to a glorious sonic voyage. The playing of two pieces from Ravel’s “Miroirs” once more was pristine, actually sending birds fluttering around the hall in “Oiseaux tristes” and creating a natural dreamscape in “La Valle des cloches” The finale of Debussy’s “Danse” was playful and lively enough to lighten the hearts of all in the appreciative audience. The elegant Andre Watts, bowed politely, strode to the wings and returned for one triumphant romantic piano (possibly a Chopin etude)encore which punctuated a wonderful afternoon perfectly.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

String Fever Friday May 12, 2006

String Fever Cleans Up at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

“String Fever” was the tongue in cheek name placed upon a joint concert of the Georgia Guitar Quartet and the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet at the Performing Arts Center on Friday night. Despite the levity of the appellation this evening was seriously excellent in all its parts. It was a performance for connoisseurs of classical guitar for sure but challenging to the performers and mind-expanding for the erudite audience in many ways. Both groups offered highly disciplined musicianship and marvelously disparate sources of composition making for delight on both ends of the show.
The festivities were opened by the startlingly youthful Georgia Guitar Quartet who seemed very focused but very much in tune with each other’s parts of the ensemble. This was classical guitar playing with the fingers, no flat-picking or folksy improvisation. There was very little strumming of chords and pretty strict adherence to the composer’s intent. The difficulty comes with playing together but not over each other and blending differing tones into a flowing body of sound. The first composition, “Flight” was by a member, Kyle Dawkins and utilized varying techniques that produced a tapestry of unusual sounds forming an intricate but riveting narrative. The crowd was already sitting up and listening but the young men showed off their mastery of the guitars in gliding through a gorgeous set of Renaissance dances by Michael Praetorious including the brisk and joyful “Bransle Double” that reached through the five centuries beautifully. Ravel’s “Empress of the Pagodas” once more showed an amazing variety of tone and a trio of Danzas Argentinas by Alberto Ginastera was contemporary sounding yet deliciously Spanish in the melody. The group showed a sense of humor in the textured, jocular reading of Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” and played their finest together on the demanding Fugue no. 4 from the Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach. One of the evening’s highlights was the lone pop sounding “Sketches” by Brian Smith which was colorful and evocative, followed by a nod to their Southern roots in a fun, bluegrass “dueling double guitars?” The Georgians finished with some stately Boccherini and a souped up Irish traditional dulcimer tune “the Road to Lisdoonvarna” which was spirited and bright.
The Santa Fe Guitar Quartet kept the level at excellent in the second half but stayed with Latin composers for their delightful set. The first portion was the tightly woven, silky trio of pieces by Paquito D’Rivera that exuded Argentina. Yet another set of three “flirtatious dances” by the fascinating Marcelo Coronel proved to be the most demanding yet rewarding of the evening. In particular “Gato” was passionate and deep; played perfectly by the guitars matching up in pairs, one set going note by note and the other providing lines in which the melody traveled. The finale was the ambitious “Four Seasons” of the great Astor Piazzolla, loosely based on Vivaldi’s work of the same title but as different as South America to Europe. Even though the composition was inspired by the elaborate melodies of the 17th century Italian this modern take went in another direction yet came to similar conclusions. Like changing time itself, the music covered the gamut of emotion from melancholy to joyous to a smoldering sensuality. All was heightened by the brilliant interplay, including guitar box percussion from the Quartet. The new tango feeling of Piazzolla with its jazz rhythms just made those seasons shimmer. Despite a roaring, adoring audience the polite gentlemen of the guitars played their announced material and left it at great.

Monday, May 08, 2006

OKLAHOMA! May 6, 2006

Oklahoma! Is More Than OK at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

As far as American Musicals go “Oklahoma!” is pure, glittering gold in the vaults of theatrical treasure. The first of its kind and the beginning of the greatest collaboration ever for the genre this musical play seems to have a life of its own that has passed on from generation to generation. It originally delighted audiences when folks marveled at the miracle of radio and continues into the world of Ipods and Hi-Def. TV. This creation of the truly great Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein will probably have our great-grandkids whistling “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and there are plenty of reasons why the evergreen is still vibrant in this classic.
At the Performing Arts Center the NETworks staging of the Royal National Theater/Cameron Mackintosh Broadway Production (whew) brought us a reverent yet quite animated send up of the granddaddy of true American musicals. It reminded the old-timers and introduced the youngsters to the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The production was colorful, lively and smart from the clever yet functional sets and costumes of Anthony Ward to the economical choreography of Susan Stroman. There was a nice live mini-orchestra that brought evocative warmth to the familiar melodies and offered a platform for the young players to strut their Dick and Oscar stuff on this night. Young Spencer Plachy had the most daunting task, playing the demanding role of Curly that has been cast in stone by singing greats like Alfred Drake, John Raitt and Gordon MacRae. Yet, Plachy more than held his own, as a matter of fact he buoyed up the entire company with his strong presence and fluid baritone. Opening with one of the most famous songs in musicals right from the chute he made “Oh What a Beautiful Morning “ his own and set the tone for a serious night of “Oklahoma” to follow. The challenges of the play involve the necessity of multi-task-acting for the players including dancing, singing and acting all in one play. Jessica Lavin as the crucial “Laurey” was a believably delicate dreamer who plays the game of romance and her strong voice shone on “the Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and in duet with Curly in “People Will Say We’re In Love.” Her waiflike demeanor worked nicely amidst the darker moments with the brutish Judd.
Exceptional in the cast were the rock-solid Pat Sibley as Aunt Eller who was a literal cornerstone and the wonderful Sorab Wadia replete with superb comic timing as Ali Hakim. Andrew Lebon provided deep dread and a rich bass voice in his portrayal of the ill-fated Judd. Sarah Shahinian as Ado Annie sparkled alongside J. Michael Zygo as Will Parker with great dancing and boundless energy. The lengthy dream sequence to end Act I, the sweet ballet of “Out of My Dreams” and the intricate dance number/fight scenes of “the Farmer and the Cowman” were beautifully done. They punctuated the dialogue and music perfectly while opening the stage up from some intense emotional scenes. Of course, the grand finale of “Oklahoma” was stirring and once more a testament to the genius of the two men who put this masterpiece before the footlights over sixty years ago. It is now and shall forever be a great night of musical theater.