Elsie Awards 2007
By Glen Creason
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities”
“We’re all in this alone”- Lily Tomlin
2007 was certainly a lesson in mortality, a stumble down what the poet calls “the swiftly dimming hours.” Strangely enough, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts is one of the few places where time can be tamed and hold still for a few moments. Indeed the great hall offers the kind of inspiration and optimism that make all the tribulations of the real world fade away, if only for a few refreshing hours. In a year where I said farewell to my Mother and one of my very best friends I visited the Center as one would return home to recharge my batteries and luxuriate in the great bounty of the arts.
Part of that joy in visiting my “home away from home” was, as always, the great people who stay and keep this theater very, very special. People like the wonderful Lori-Levine Yonan and Michael Wolf and Faith Lazzari and India Holloway. Lori is the very best publicist on planet earth, Director Michael is a true genius of judging talent and treating them right, Faith is gentility and class at the door of the sacred VIP room and India of the hospitality corps must certainly have been a Nubian queen in a past lifetime. There are others, especially the fantastic box office staff who have my press materials in hand when I approach the window. Nate Chavez, Diane Cheney and Chris Laroco lead this outfit by good example. Young people like Daniel Penland are bright, efficient and make the customer feel like coming back. They all deserve big raises… but then so do I. The real proof of the success of the Center is the fact that this cast stays pretty much the same over the years. People hate to leave and take genuine pride in the beautiful hall. Just as the audiences linger after shows, the staff stays and keeps the place a cut above the rest. Then, there are the other reasons to love coming “back home” to Cerritos: the shows, thirty-six of them for me this year with few misses and many a bull’s-eye. Without further ado here are the Elsies for 2007:
Dances with Folks: there will probably never be a pair of hoofers as exhilarating in addition to a show than the Pilatzke brothers. Hailing from the Ottawa Valley in Canada Jon and Nathan are to step dancing as Michael Jordan was to basketball and their inclusion in the Chieftains January show was cause for elation.
Dances Classical: the transcendent Les Ballet De Montreal visited in November and just raised the bar for dance way above the barre for local dance in 07.
Music for the Ages: Doc Severensin waved farewell to the concert stage but finished with a flourish at Cerritos. Wearing outfits we shall not forget he also demonstrated some real lung power, hitting the highest notes imaginable during “West End Blues” in January.
Real Roadhouse: raw and rowdy music played with abandon is not always a staple at Cerritos but the Fabulous Thunderbirds turned the Center on its ear with a fired up, rocking show back in January when 07 was new. “You Aint Nothin’ but Fine” was just like a swig from a mason jar of moonshine.
Jazz: despite his smooth handle Chris Botti showed his music to be beyond certain boundaries. His warm personality and red hot trumpet kept the proceeding not terribly smooth back in January. His tribute to his idol Miles Davis of “Flamenco Sketches” was some of the best music of the season.
Classical: when the Romeros came to the Center for the Wayne Shilkret Memorial concert they were without a key member in Celin Romero. They banded together, improvised a program and astounded the full house with their playing. Case in point was a deeply moving “Recuerdos de Alhambra” by the elder statesman Pepe.
Living Legend: Etta James- Unable to move around due to knee problems the fabulous Ms. James just let her tower of power voice move the crowd to heights of R&B ecstasy. The slowly percolating masterpiece of “Love and Happiness” was perfection in the key of soul.
Song performance of the year: in the strangest yet most musically satisfying show of the year David Lindley played a transmogrified bouzouki along in harmony to his unusual vocal of the very old Blind Willy Johnson’s folk song “the Soul of a Man with powerful results. Lindley is probably the best, little-known musician in America.
Instrumental performance of the year: same bare stage, same strange concert in which Leo Kottke followed Lindley’s tour de force with an equal amount of instrumental genius. His “Mockingbird Hill” was pure heaven, played with twelve strings.
New stars: On Ensemble- these young men had ideas and musical vision that really opened the ears and eyes of audiences at the Center in March. Riffing off the Taiko tradition the men appropriately took “Turns” (a marvelous composition) to another level altogether while keeping the intense taiko drumming at the foundation of their show. The ON Ensemble is a group I hope to see again at the Center.
Salad Days Memory: Going back to my single-digit youth I bathed in nostalgia at the Brothers Four and Kingston Trio Concert. “The Green Leaves of Summer” resonated back to when buckles were worn on the back of gent’s trousers and alpaca sweaters were fresh.
Country and Western: certainly in the running for best show of the year was Trisha Yearwood’s master class in country singing, singing in general actually. Certainly royalty in the C&W court Ms. Yearwood showed all the wannabees how to do it when she sang “the Georgia Rain” with a passion and control all too rare these days.
Pure moment to remember: while the Wayne Newton concert was notable more for what it lacked than what it possessed, it had one single pure golden moment. In the September event Newton asked every Veteran of a foreign war to stand and be saluted. As the creaky Vets, self-consciously rose out of their seats, the full house on hand roared in appreciation. Forced patriotism always rings hollow but this was a moment that really sent chills up and down your American spine.
New voice, old music: at the center of the excellent Temptations concert was a big man with bigger talent named Bruce Williamson. The newcomer sang with such conviction and style that you were left marveling at the greatness of this Motown music at hand.
Boomer Classics: might as well name this one the Creedence Clearwater Revisited award since they have become the New England Patriots of 60’s pop resurrection in these parts. For almost two hours this band gives us pure gold from the salad days of my g-g-g-generation.
Unsung singer sung: while the Earl Klugh concert featured his wonderful guitar and the potent voice of Brenda Russell the powerhouse moment of the show came from the number allowed to backup singer Lynne Fidmont who sent up “Now and Again” that put goose bumps on the old goose bumps.
Ponce de Leon Award: Dorothy Hamill in “Broadway on Ice” Ms. Hamill just can’t have competed in the 1976 Olympics and have been born…Well a gentleman never mentions a lady’s age but this elegant beauty looks twenty-five and she is not.
Folk: because she crosses so many genres we will have to throw a blanket over the Emmylou Harris concert and call it folk. Her serious tone and strict adherence to the music and little time to patter made this a full and not too frolicsome show. With a great voice like hers, frills are not really necessary. Her reading of Townes Van Zandt’s “Raton in the Snow” was utterly magnificent.
Hardest Rocker: The Gin Blossoms provided one of the rare late twentieth century pop music at the Center but during their spirited and full-volumed evening Jesse Valenzuela showed himself to be one superb guitarist. Certainly, at Cerritos Maestro Valenzuela rocked the hardest of the many guitar wizards.
Comedy: no contest on the Cedric the Entertainer show which started early and finished late with good (strangely) clean fun all the way. Cedric seems to be able to just turn on a tap of hilarity and let it flow until he feels like leaving the audience wanting more.
Holiday: a flat reindeer hoofed tie in the Center’s most full month of shows. Both shows had an Irish lilt and both had moments to remember including Anthony Kearns’ powerful “Angels Guard Thee” from the “Irish Tenors Christmas” and the Men of Worth’s Celtic Christmas show marked by the poignant “Christmas in the Trenches”
Classic Performance: coming from the strangest source, the most memorable single performance for the entire season was Jonathon Butler’s masterful singing and playing of “No Woman, No Cry” at the Smooth Jazz Christmas show. The emotionally charged performance put the song in a new light, one much more to the point for the time at hand.
Show of the Year: while this is one choice that is always difficult this year John Prine rose above the rest for the gonfalon. Besides over twenty of his greatest songs, sung with vigor and conviction Prine brought young guitarist Jason Wilbur to fill up the spaces with absolutely amazing licks. Prine’s “Jesus the Missing Years” was just a songwriting masterpiece on this night.
Farewell: to my lighthouse in the storm-tossed sea of adulthood and the beam of goodness that guided me for almost six decades. This year meant good-bye to my dear Mom. She attended a few shows at Cerritos but had sowed the seeds of love for the arts a way long time ago. I miss her more than all the stars in the sky. I love you Mom.