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, November 23, 2008

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee November 22, 2008

Cerritos Welcomes the 25th Annual
Putnam County Spelling Bee

By Glen Creason

Apparently the demise of Broadway musicals has been slightly overstated and the form seems to have been re-invented by young talents like William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin who created “the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Based on an improvisational comedy show “C-R-E-P-U-C-U-L-E” the music, words and even a character or two developed as the show progressed from workshop to Off-Broadway to Broadway. This delightful musical farce hit the boards at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend and was even better than advertised which is impressive indeed since the show won two Tony awards as recently as three years ago. On form alone the play is different on several levels including the inordinate amount of audience participation that actually put four paid customers in the spelling bee and garnered plenty of laughs on their unpredictable improvisation alone. The company is a compact eight players with several taking double duty and this group was excellent throughout. The four willing volunteers (a lobby table asked for such before the curtain) played it straight with great results and the youngest even shocked the stage by correctly spelling a word she was supposed to miss in the narrative.
The plot line is pretty simple with six nerdy middle-school students competing for the two hundred dollar prize and the coveted Putnam County Spelling Bee trophy which as the title might suggest is in its twenty-fifth year. Each character is developed in ingenious ways involving songs and the occasional dance. On stage for most of the evening were an MC/judge and former winner, the vice-principal/ judge, a sort of sergeant at arms and the six kids. Making this rather mundane subject sing and create entire paragraphs of laughter was all in the clever writing and the hilarious improvisations from the vice-principal as he gave definitions and words in a sentence. The musical is terrific in its conception but on this night Anthony Lopez as that principal had a lot to do with the subject really singing and swinging. He was aided and abetted by Nikki Switzer as Rona Lisa Peretti, the perky hostess and Don Juan Seward II who doubled up as the thuggish Mitch and the sensitive gay father of a speller. Each of the students were very good in their distinctively different personas: the hyper achiever Marcy Park played with frenetic bliss by Zandi DeJesus , the high-strung lesbian nerdlette Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre perfectly done by Joanna Krupnick, sweet and sensitive Olive Ostrovsky made beautiful by Brittany Ross, the obnoxiously neurotic brainiac William Barfee worked to a lather and made loveable by Eric Bilitch, the unique talents of Ryan Goodale as the goofy Leaf Coneybear and another gay father of the same speller and the understated yet funny Kavin Panmeechao as Eagle Scout Chip Tolentino and Jesus Christ (that had devout Christians laughing uproariously.)
The production here was first-rate with a plain but effective set and costumes and some very cool lighting and special effects including sped up action and slow-mo that gave texture to the onslaught of music and laughter. Overall, this is just a really fun and rewarding night at the theater with jokes, memorable songs and an actual lesson about using your brain and heart to win more than just a contest in Putnam County.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jack Jones November 16, 2008

The Singer’s Singer:
Jack Jones at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

Unfortunately, many of us who came of age during the dawning of the Rock and Roll era missed out on some really great popular music from traditions predating the Shaking, Rattling and Rolling. I can remember seeing these dinosaurs on variety shows like Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Dean Martin and even Jack Parr crooning the classics of the Great American songbook while I yawned away, waiting for Elvis or the Beatles to raise my youthful blood pressure. Now, in the early September of my years I have rediscovered the glory of these great entertainers and am saddened that I missed them the first time around. Greats like Mel Torme, Sammy Davis Jr., Joe Williams, Matt Monroe, Robert Goulet, Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney come to mind when I cast back into TV-land for guest-singers on such shows. Happily, some of these great ones still make appearance and can still belt out the classics like they did when Hector was a pup.
On Sunday afternoon, one of the real prime examples of such fountain of youth singers was on display at the Performing Arts Center and his show was a revelation for we wet behind the ears rock and rollers. Jack Jones, guest reveler on untold shows in the 60’s and 70’s put on a clinic of the vocal arts and left an entire hall in awed adulation of his limitless, ageless set of pipes. For close to two hours Jones told a charming story or twenty, moved out into the crowd of avid fans pressing the flesh and just put gilt edges on some really great songs.
The show offered a delightful variety in the material, ranging from Cole Porter’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay” to Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” that stretched the melodies and emotional impact to the limits. There were certain classics like Johnny Mercer’s hard edged “I Want to Be Around,” the utterly romantic “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life,” a crisp “It Was Just One of Those Things” and a decidedly regal “Stranger in Paradise.” There were also surprises from more contemporary sources like a beautiful “God Only Knows” from the Beach Boys songbook, “Just In Time” done as a bossa nova, an R&B soaked “Kansas City” that did Wilbert Harrison proud, and a swinging “All of Nothing at All” that Jones boomed nonchalantly while striding around the orchestra seats thrilling his fans. Of course, the dapper one could not escape the hall without singing his vinyl record hits of “Lollipops and Roses,” “Theme from the Love Boat,” and the dangerously chauvinistic “Wives and Lovers” much to the delight of the mostly female audience. Backed by a very good quartet centered on pianist Jeff Colella, Jones time and time again sent notes to the top row of the hall with range to spare and turned ballads to pure silk in the lower registers. His best work on a full and satisfying afternoon’s “work” was the exquisite singing of a minor classic called “Our Song” and a magnificent reading of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.” After hearing this absolute master class in vocal appreciation I kind of wished I had listened a little more closely back in 1967 instead of leaving the tone arm up on that “Meet the Beatles” album. I wonder whatever happened to them?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Loudon Wainwright III and Leo Kottke November 5, 2008

Words and Music by Loudon Wainwright III and Leo Kottke

By Glen Creason

The only surprising thing about the superb evening of music coming from two authentic greats: Loudon Wainwright III and Leo Kottke was that there were some empty seats in the Performing Arts Center. I don’t have to exaggerate when I say you won’t find better in the genre than this duo and the privilege to hear them both on one night is rare indeed. Wainwright is the master songwriter, most certainly the ultimate in describing the volatility of family relationships and Leo Kottke is just an otherworldly guitar player, using the twelve and six string ax to take audiences to awed places of musical epiphany. This combo in one night at Cerritos is a jackpot of musical riches and a coup for the big hall. Both men are exceedingly humble and casual about their performances but that is part of the overall charm and makes their serious moments stand out all the more. While Wainwright writes mostly about himself and his peccadilloes, Kottke plays mostly in the abstract emotions of his experiences. There is a certain ambiguity there, certainly in the song titles that he never divulges for the ease of the beleaguered reviewer.
The show was opened by Wainwright who kept it light in the beginning with “Here Comes the Choppers,” “Leap of Faith” and “Heaven” blithely covering modern paranoia, elections and the afterlife, all accompanied by his trademark wit and unique performance style. “Thanksgiving” was one of three powerhouse family-themed songs that struck a chord of sweet memory for me. His tribute to his Mom, “White Winos” is nothing short of a masterpiece and the restoration of “Be Careful There’s a Baby in the House” was both delightful and true. Loudon complained about being described as self-deprecating, then launched into the very sad “Kick in the Head” and deeply emotional “Another Song in C” that demonstrated his great talent for describing angst in poetic terms. Still there were the whimsical tunes like “Drinking Song,” “Lucky You” and “I Don’t Think Your Wife Likes Me” that made him look undeniably self-deprecating. It’s ok for him to kid himself when he has given so much wisdom to music in his forty years on stage.
Leo Kottke finished the feast with a delicious dessert of guitar mastery containing more notes than a symphony could produce and lots of emotion packed into this almost totally instrumental set. He did flash his trademark droll wit and gave expository remarks before each song, only neglecting to identify any of the song titles. So I can say that his playing was superb on this night, full of energy, style and emotion but the titles of the works and on what CD you might find them is just my best guess. I have listened to Kottke since 1971 and recognized many but can only say for sure that he played “Ice Miner, “ “Vaseline Machine Gun,” “Julie’s House” and “Rings” along with the possibility of “Watermelon,” “June,” “Mockingbird Hill,” “Even His Feet Looked Sad” and others. I don’t really care what they were called they were utterly amazing.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Teatro Lirico d'Europa November 3, 2008

A Night at the Opera in Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The Teatro Lirico d’Europa visited the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend and gave local operaphiles a chance to luxuriate in some classic Italian performances of two nineteenth century short operas. “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliaccci” were the pair, sung in one and two acts that did not lack in drama or memorable arias. The Teatro is in its eighth year of bringing culture outside the big opera halls of Europe and the Cerritos faithful seemed hungry for the opportunity to hear these old favorites live. Teatro Lirico brought a twenty-member cast that was very good throughout the evening. It is a really international group with singers coming from all over the globe including Turkey, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria and Mexico. Of course, Opera is the high art form with the plots that seem straight out of a Mexican telenovela but when the focus is on the majestic singing you tend to accept the bloody conclusions to these twisted tales along with the rest of the merriment. Both operas feature tragedy brought on by infidelity and the wages of that sin paid in terrible destruction.
In “Cavalleria Rusticana” it is the straying Turiddu who leaves his loyal Santuzza for the charms of the restless and rather irresistible Lola. The object of these affections is unfaithful to the feckless husband Alfio and it turns out badly despite some rather grand singing and drinking of wine. Olga Chernisheva carries the piece in her role as Santuzza, singing the heart-wrenching “Voi lo sapete” and “Tu qui, Santuzza?” The smitten Turiddu refuses to be swayed and the powerful tenor Viorel Saplacan was outstanding in “Mama , quel vino” which is both a drinking song and farewell. Alfio played by the most active singer on the night, baritone Theodore Lambrinos was both sympathetic and deserving of admiration. However, it is opera and the conclusion does not turn out well for the womanizer who pays for his transgressions in blood.
The familiar “Pagliacci” was more on the sad lessons of the breaking of vows and ensuing breaking of hearts leading to the spilling of blood. Theodore Lambrinos was back, this time as the evil Tonio, the disfigured clown who when rebuffed by the beautiful Nedda exposes her affair with another to her husband Canio. Nedda, played here by Christina Molnar was perfect in the role and her singing of “Stridono Lassu” was as sweet as the birds she described on the wing. There is the terrible moment in the show when the cuckholded husband faces the truth that his wife is unfaithful and his agony pours out in the aria “Vesti La Giubba” sung by Gabriel Gonzalez on this night with a conviction and passion that brought tears to many in the audience. To flush out the lover of his Nedda, Canio puts on a comedy based on true life. In his clown makeup he tries to get her to reveal the name of Silvio who rushes to her side too late after the spurned husband has stabbed her. If nothing else, this evening was a great example of the value of marriage counseling in such situations.