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, December 31, 2007

Elsie Awards 2007

Elsie Awards for 2007 at the Cerritos

Center for the Performing Arts
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.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Broadway on Ice December 29, 2007

“The Warmth of Broadway on Ice at the Cerritos Center”

By Glen Creason

For five performances “Broadway on Ice” turned the venerable Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts stage into a small, glacial platform that was actually as warm as a comforter in hibernating season. It is amazing enough that the crackerjack backstage crew is able to turn the boards to ice for almost a week but the incredible skating and elegant ice choreography make this show a must for lovers of this wonderful sport. Of course, an ice show can range from Disney characters goofing off to the high drama of the Olympics and there many shades of ice in-between. Yet, this show has a touch of class, a hint of greatness and a pedigree that most cannot match. That class, that greatness and that pedigree belongs to the ever-beautiful Dorothy Hamill who once wore the gold medal at Innsbruck back when I was young. Miss Hamill continues to skate with great elegance and skill while seeming to gulp from Ponce de Leon’s fountain at every opportunity. Ice skating must be the greatest exercise on earth if the ratio of Dorothy Hamill’s actual and appeared age are any yardstick. As my ice skating color commentator told me great ice skating is all about “flow” and Dorothy Hamill has that and great hair.
“Broadway on Ice” does have this ace in the hole but there are other nice cards in the deck to make this show a winner. At the top of the list is the superb Chris Nolan who skated like there were no limits in this miniscule ice arena and the tres elegant Svetlana Butova from Russia who filled up the stage with beauty and grace in her times in the spotlight. Maxim Fomin, Butova’s partner was flawless and Molly Quigley-Moenkhoff, Annie Laurie and Jeff Labrake also shone in their routines on the ice. It doesn’t hurt to have a framework of great Broadway music to inspire them in their skating and certainly the choices on this night were all top-drawer. Particularly effective in this show were Nolan skating to “Wilkommen” from “Cabaret”, the dazzling ensemble performing to “America” from “West Side Story, “ and Butova with Fomin performing to “Hot Honey Rag.” The mostly terra firma based singer Kevin Spirtas gave voice to the classics of the great white way, soaring majestically through “This Is the Moment” from “Jekyll and Hyde” caressing a sweet “Nothing’s Going to Harm You” from “Sweeney Todd,” and twisting “One Day More” into a campy take-off on his ongoing role in a soap opera.
Comedy was provided by the seemingly inexhaustible improvisational talents of Dale Gonyea who very subtly guided the audience through a geographic tour of the southland including delightful ditties about Cerritos in which rhymes to “Fritos…cheetos…a Speedos” celebrated our dear home base. Gonyea showed his serious side, roaring through a high energy “Rhapsody in Blue” with Dorothy Hamill leading the talented ensemble into a thrilling blockbuster sized production. Gonyea stayed on stage in different places to play for some of the best skating of the night, especially in a tribute to Bob Fosse that sent up “Just in Time,” “Steam Heat,” “Heart” and “Razzle Dazzle,” all offering a perfect counterpoint to the passionate skating by Ms. Hamill and Chris Nolan.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Smooth Jazz Christmas December 22, 2007

“Christmas” Dave Koz and Famous Friends Light up the Center

By Glen Creason

They just have to find another name for this concert. In its tenth season, the “Smooth Jazz Christmas” show, hosted at center stage by Dave Koz is increasingly high-energy, kinetically engaging and high voltage in its positive vibes. This is a Christmas party with musical Irish coffee served leaving the crowd a little tipsy and somewhat caffeinated. The cast changes a bit each year but some things stay the same, including the overall enthusiasm, the amazingly joyful performances and an audience as jacked up as kids on Christmas morning. This year the famous guests included Kimberley Locke of “American Idol,” towering Wayman Tisdale of the NBA and the greatly under sung Jonathan Butler, once of South Africa.
Of course, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts is most certainly the big leagues and laurels won’t win an audience, even one as happy as Scrooge in the last act. Not to worry with this bunch though since Ms. Locke tore up, Tisdale showed his guitar is as good as his hoops (he was first-team All-American at Oklahoma U.), Koz was his usual terrific self and Jonathan Butler just plain stole the show. From the jump of Dave Koz’ wailing “Winter Wonderland” to the fantastic finale of Butler’s “Brand New Day” the joint was truly jumpin’ That connection with the audience helped the group pull off some unorthodox stuff including having individuals in the crowd provide the chorus for “Little Drummer Boy” and the diminutive Koz stand ax to ax with the 6’9” Tisdale on his tribute to his own chosen people with “Eight Candles.”
There seems to be a move toward even more Christmas tunes in this year’s edition and the standouts were Kimberley Locke’s Etta James-esque “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” an amazing call and response between Butler and Tisdale on “This Christmas” and a silky smooth “White Christmas by Dave Koz. This being the last show on a long tour seems to let the artists give a little extra as in a standing ovation inducing “O Holy Night” as done by Jonathon Butler with Kimberley Locke hitting notes as high as the cool flags atop the Center. Each artist also dug into their own bag of gems including Tisdale’s “Get Down on It,” Kimberley Locke’s bubbly “Band of Gold” and the heartfelt “I’ll Be There” by Dave Koz. Strangely enough, the finest moment of this very rewarding evening of good spirits and fine musicianship was not a Christmas song or even close to being drawn from the Yule literature. Jonathan Butler took the Bob Marley song “No Woman, No Cry,” one I have heard a hundred times and made it a masterpiece of inspiration and optimism. His vocal and guitar playing during this four minute tour de force will go down in hall history as one of the most engaging ever.
Mostly, the Smooth Jazz Christmas show was not terribly smooth; it was a lot more fun than that. It was warm and funny and in the end worth remembering until next year’s yuletide rolls around.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Irish Tenors Holiday Show December 12

Irish Tenors Holiday Shows Class and Grace
By Glen Creason

Like money from home in the spending season the Irish Tenors Holiday show at the Performing Arts Center hit the spot with plenty of wonderful music, much of of it completely appropriate to the real meaning of Christmas. The Irish Tenors have visited Cerritos before and word of mouth was out despite the Winter chill outside. There was a packed house, with every single one of them ready to celebrate in the Irish style with music and laughter. This year’s lineup was the same as last in Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearns and relative newcomer Karl Scully with talents different but certainly equal and working together like a great team, albeit one wearing tuxedos. This is a very handsome show before anyone even utters a note.
The three gentlemen stood before an excellent, full orchestra, under the baton of the very talented Arnie Roth and started with a flair singing “the Minstrel Boy,” and “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” leaving goose bumps some ten minutes into the show. The first half of the evening’s entertainment stayed mostly in the realm of the secular with a couple of exceptions including a towering “Angels Guard Thee” by Anthony Kearns and the magnificent reading of “How Great Thou Art” by Finbar Wright, a man with a close relationship with the man upstairs (Wright is an ordained Catholic priest) and a pristine duet of “Panis Angelicus.” The trio polished of the first hour with a beautiful “Amazing Grace” but not before they gilded some very lovely and lively Celtic tunes drawn from all manner of interesting sources. From the world of film and television came “Isle of Innesfree,” “Too La Loo Ra Loo Ra” and “O Carolans Concerto.” From the world of Irish folk music came “the Belle of Belfast City,” “The Stone Outside of Dan Murphy’s Door,” and the bittersweet “Till Death Do Us Part.”
The second half focused much more on the joys of Christmas which was immediately evident in the opening four tunes: “We Three Kings,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing, “ “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and Finbar Wright’s spot on “Mary’s Boy Child” that made the tropical tune shine like a star. Once again the Tenors chose to draw from disparate sources, selecting the sentimental “In Dublin,” a rollicking “Rocky Road” drawn from the Chieftains repertoire and a well-scrubbed version of the modern Yule classic “Fairytale of Old New York” once growled by Shane McGowan of the Pogues. Yet Christmas around the world was still at the forefront with “Silent Night” sung in Spanish, German and English alongside Anthony Kearns’s “O Holy Night” in French and some Gaelic thrown in for good measure. Staying to the point, probably the best moment of this fine concert was an uplifting and not at all overwrought “Our Father” flawlessly performed by Mr. Kearns. The crowd roared in appreciation and the Three Tenors rewarded them with as many encores as there are ornaments on the tree including “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” “Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells,” and the heart-swelling finale of “Danny Boy.”

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Celtic Christmas December 4, 2007

Men of Worth Turn Christmas Celtic at Cerritos
By Glen Creason

Just so you don’t get the impression that the Christmas season is just sitting in front of a computer and ordering gifts on-line or heading toward the daunting gauntlet of the malls, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts commenced the holiday season with a sweet and on-point Celtic Christmas, hosted by the wonderful “ Men of Worth” at midweek. These worthy musicians are James Keigher and Donnie MacDonald, a pair of expats from Ireland and Scotland who have revived the marvelous Celtic music tradition here in forever sunny and dry California. With superb harpist Maureen Brennan and multi-instrument/talented Kevin Carr plus two gloriously beautiful Irish step dancers the Men of Worth achieved a perfectly delightful tone from start to finish, providing an impeccable start to this wonderful holidays season.
From the opening strains of “Angels We Have Heard on High” to the final wise words of “Only from Day to Day” the jovial fellows kept the spirits high and the shallow aspects of the season very low. The selections alternated from true Yule tunes like “Little Drummer Boy,” “Christmas Eve,” “Wassail Song” “Christ Child Lullaby” and “Silent Night,” both sung in Gaelic to the sweetly secular. The Irish and Scottish influence showed in these tunes ranging from hornpipes, jigs and reels like “Gene’s Reel,” the rousing “Up Mayo, “Ramble to Cashiel,” the invigorating “lord of the dance” and a wonderful “Rising of the Moon.” There were several memorable moments from the supporting cast including Kevin Carr’s electrifying Galician piping and Ms. Brennan’s utterly gorgeous harp solo on “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” Patter from the stage was almost always flavored with a Celtic good humor, even from the Yankee-Californian Kevin Carr who not only played fabulously, sang dramatically and was the absolute picture of sartorial elegance in his flamboyant chapeau from northwestern Spain.
Sure to stir the audience into frenzy was the appearance of the two step-dancing lovelies Meredith Lyons and Kelsey Wilson who really brought an Irish pulse to top-speed when they set foot on the stage. Yet, the one true goose-bump causing moment in the show came on the deeply affecting song “Christmas in the Trenches” which tells grasps to the real meaning in the love of Christmas when the soldiers of Germany and Britain called an impromptu cease-fire on Christmas eve and shared some holiday cheer together before returning to their trenches and the slaughter. You could not help but nod your head sadly hearing the line “… on each end of the rifle we are the same.” The Men of Worth” set the bar somewhat high to begin the season, their great choices of music, expert playing and good humor really eased us into the not so chilly Winter night with fine musical memories.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Love Sweet Love November 30, 2007

Love Sweet Love Steps Lightly at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The Southern California premiere of “Love Sweet Love” hit the boards at the Performing Arts Center over the weekend and spread some sweetness on the stage along with much contemporary visual appeal. Front and center in the show is the music of Burt Bacharach and the lyrics of Hal David providing fool-proof musical joy and a familiar, popular ground to dance upon. This Theater League production also had a young and very enthusiastic cast that lit up the stage with an optimism the lyrics don’t always have since many dwell on loss and the ache of love’s tricky travails. The overall look of “Love, Sweet Love” was fresh and colorful with sets, lighting and choreography looking all very modern and upbeat. The action bounced from a card store to coffee house to beauty parlor to office to single bar to cheesy motel to cruise ship and to a lonely wife’s bedroom with skill and some flair. In a nutshell, the story is about young folks trying to find love in a crazy world. What’s not to like about great songs, a smart production and an energetic cast tripping the lights fantastic?
Well, the show may feature over thirty gems from the Bacharach/David treasure chest but many were truncated and certainly changed from the versions we know and love. Certainly songs like “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “Promises, Promises” and “Walk on By” are seared in our juke box consciousness forever and ever and could be sung word for word by half the population. The musical “Love Sweet Love” takes all the songs, too many in fact, and uses them to piece together a montage of the lives of a dozen characters, loosely interconnected by a philandering husband, hopeful young women and an accident victim sort of piecing her life back together. The real current that runs through it all is love but the book here is light, as light as meringue, as light as angel food cake. While the production is filled with beautiful girls and a first-rate production the singing was very definitely weighed in favor of the ladies, especially in the parts of Gwen played by Dawnn Lewis and Katherine, played by Kara Shaw who had voices to make the old chestnuts shine. Ms. Lewis was the true standout and her numbers were the best of the many. Tiffany, acted by Mercy Malick and Amy played by Alaine Kashian were outstanding in every way and several men held their own in the torrent of songs including Keith Bearden as the philandering Mike, Matthew Patrick Davis as Norman the tall, unsure of himself geek and Daniel Lujan, the nice guy Latin lover.
There is a sort of mutation of the original versions of the songs and some worked really well like a hoedown, ensemble of “the Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” or the computer dating angle of “What’s New Pussycat.” However, some subverted the intent as when “One Less Bell to Answer” became a mourning song, “Alfie” flips to upbeat and “Walk on By” became about women’s revenge on an unfaithful lover. “Love Sweet Love” sort of aims at being a “Bye Bye Birdie” with even better music but I think it could have spread the love a little better with less songs, sung longer with a little less sugar on top.