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"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Magic Kingdom Once Again November 26. 2009

Passages at the Magic Kingdom

Glen Creason

As time flies by in great chunks and Independence Day’s blends into Thanksgiving I once again attempt to push down the brake pedal on chronos and find myself standing before Disneyland where I once stood as a child. While I no longer wear Keds and get a ride from my Mom I still have that same spirit that becomes thrilled by the sight of Main Street and Sleeping Beauty’s castle. This time a few of the hairs that stand on end are gray but in my heart I am just that same kid again. The new kingdom is certainly different from that magical hundred and fifty acres I first roamed but the looks on the young faces we saw all over the park are as fresh as the one I had on that sizzling, over one hundred degree morning back in the days when Ike was president and recession was just the beginning of a word used in church. Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again but I beg to differ when it comes to Disneyland.
Now there are two parks and I still find Disneyland more to my liking since it is rife with the stages of my life. It may be changed but I mostly see Main street with the spongy asphalt I romped down on opening days; there is the Matterhorn where my Dad took us when I was twelve; Tom Sawyers Island where my tweener buddies and I fought Indians and got booted off the War canoes for being wise-guys; Autopia where I began my baptism into the horrible life of freeway driving in Los Angeles; the bandstand by Tomorrow land where I stood around smoking cigarettes as a goony teen trying to make connection; the Haunted Mansion where I first strolled as a hippie in the day; the Peter Pan ride where I proudly accompanied my little daughter in the eighties; the Pirates of the Caribbean which my Mom hilariously called Pirates of Penzance by mistake and Splash Mountain that I shared with the woman I love yesterday. There is something terribly thrilling to have your tush grabbed by a gorgeous woman you adore while in line for those Pirates of Penzance. When I look at her there is no need for fireworks or parades because that is happening in my heart twenty-four hours a day.
We might be sophisticated and blasé about many things in our lives. We may have seen and done the hard things like losing loved ones and raising children or fighting for a livelihood in a sad economy but there will always be a place, a need for the fantasy that such a place affords. When I walked through this unexpectedly crowded park and took in the sights I felt hope and joy that we all can come together in one happy place and at least pretend that all is right in the world. It’s refreshing, it a battery charger and when it is done with someone you love it can be truly wonderful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Wedding Singer November 21, 2009

The Wedding Singer Regales Hall at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

While the comic-musical “The Wedding Singer” that visited Cerritos over the weekend will not make you forget Rogers and Hammerstein it grew on the audience after a slightly awkward beginning and left a lasting, happy impression. The production that gave four performances here was fully decked out in 80’s bliss and there seemed to have been little spared expense in the mounting of this large and colorful show. Based on the popular movie, the play sort of encompasses the oldest comic-melodrama in the book where attached boy meets attached girl but love wins out in the end after attachments are jettisoned. It is a full two hours with a large, youthful cast that gives it all they have got, sometimes a little over the top of what they have got but it is great fun for the most part. The spirited singing and dancing more than made up for a story line pulled out of movie that relied heavily on star power. The story is set in New Jersey, yet few characters seem to actually have a Jersey accent but the straightforward sets and the exceptional costuming really does bring the decade of bad fashion and sometimes unforgettable pop music back into focus. Part of the fun is the use of celebrity look-alikes so if you remember the 80’s (as did the majority of the crowd except for a baby in the orchestra) you might find it delightful to see Billy Idol, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Cyndy Lauper, Imelda Marcos, a fully-blown Tina Turner, Mr. T. and sort of Boy George and Michael Jackson in the mix.
Again, the music is not all classic show-stoppers but there were some tunes you might put on the Ipod including the bittersweet “Not That Kind of Thing,” the danceables “Someday” and “Casualty of Love” along with the surprisingly poignant Adam Sandler tune “Grow Old With You.” The large scale dance numbers were a genuine hoot and provided the best moments of the show, particularly the “Thriller-video-like” “Casualty of Love” and the layered and lively “All About the Green” which gave energy to the second half that continued to the finish. The were also some very good performances throughout and with J. Michael Zygo as the protagonist Robbie and Jillian Zygo as the female lead Julia they brought their real life chemistry as husband and wife to the stage, making the romance palpable. All of their singing was polished and professional. April Monte played the saucy friend Holly with a sort of smart but skanky turn that made her light up the stage and Linda as the sexpot ex-fiancé was sensational in both of her memorable dance numbers. Band mates Sammy and George played by Adam Clough and Ben Martin were very good after finding their legs early in the show but Ellen Karsten as the grandma Rosie just stole the show every time she appeared.
There is a lot of good stuff in “the Wedding Singer” but it truly is a an ensemble piece which shines its brightest when the stage is full of the slightly eccentric characters interacting as in the delightful penultimate scene in the White House Chapel in Las Vegas.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Liss Fain Dance November 13

Liss Fain Dance at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It should not be surprising that the wise ones at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts might drop a jewel into the laps of the locals in the ever-increasing exposure to small but innovative dance troupes visiting this year. The Liss Fain Dance came and conquered not just the many hard-core dance fans in attendance but those who came out of curiosity or just to sample modern dance and ballet. This is a very polished production with intelligent directors and overall superb taste in music.
The nine dancers all performed the finely detailed works at the highest levels and moved easily from pathos to exhilarated expressiveness without a seam showing. Fain is a choreography that does not shrink from taking chances but on this night there was not one segment that did not work. She was matched by the superb work of the Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie featuring husband and wife choreographers Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux. As a matter of fact the whole was so good it made it hard to leave the performance behind when it concluded just ninety minutes away from curtain. The lighting, designed by Matthew Antaky in the Fain half and Pierre Lavoie in the Coleman-Lemieux portion bears mention since the magic of this art turned the stage into urban streetscapes, dark caverns, broad open spaces and places in between with just the changing colors and shadows of the spare set.
The program was large, challenging and as varied as the expressions of the human body. The show opening “Crossing” played on a stark ivory-silver stage with pairs of dancers, then trios moving to a Bach Violin Partita that gave the century old sound a whole new face. While there was a firm connection to classical dance in the first piece the second was contemporary in the jagged movement of the dancers demonstrating anxiety and foreboding as they seemed under the spell of the urban soundscape provided by Steve Reich’s “City Life.” The connected final pieces of the first half took a modern pass at the ancient musical madrigal form in Claudio Monterverdi’s “When Still” and “Lament” that ranged from an almost sacred solemnity to a brisk, celebratory expression performed by just three dancers. The piece inspired by a line by the fourteenth century poet Petrarch morphed the ancient idea into a powerful statement of connection to the world. The dancers seemed to relish the openness of the dance and projected emotion that reached to the limits of the hall. The second half of the program consisted of the duel glories of “Fifteen Heterosexual Duets” and “For My Father” that sparkled from top to bottom. Set to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in A, Op. 47 the opening piece demonstrated the almost unlimited variety of relationships between the dancer men and women. It ranged from edgy beginning lovers to elegantly accomplished pairs filled with confidence and experience. Each was unique as are such connections and the segment featuring the reluctant, exhausted partner being exhorted by the devoted other was one of the most fascinating of the evening. Overall, there was just something marvelously fresh and uplifting about the entire evening, one filled with thoughtful artistry and fully realized execution.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Don Giovanni November 7, 2009

Don Giovanni Attempts to Conquer Cerritos

By Glen Creason

A goodly crowd of opera-philes gathered at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday evening to take in yet another in the nice trend of small troupe performances of the art form. In this case it was the retelling or singing of the ever-popular Don Giovanni that features the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the memorable libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. The original title was loosely translated as “the rake’s punishment” and certainly the character of this Don Juan, sometimes called “licentious nobleman” and other times the more appropriately serious “serial rapist” has been mulled over for two centuries. This production at Cerritos by the six year old Mozart Festival Opera kept the production at no-frills but offered solid performances from the key players in the work.
The plot-line is straight out of soap opera literature with the caddish Don Giovanni preying on young women and using his social position and shallow promises to seduce, then abandon to a life of being ostracized by “decent” society. On one evil hand is the sleazy Don Giovanni and his right hand man of nefarious dealings Leporello. On the other is a team of moralists who try to expose his lies and make the Don pay for his crimes. In this group we have Donna Anna whose father was murdered by Don Giovanni; her betrothed who is bent on revenge for that same murder; and Dona Elvira, a woman spurned by the Don after taking advantage who is set on spreading the bad word about his dark deeds. Also caught up in the web of Don Giovanni’s nefarious chasing is Zerlina, the peasant girl and Masetto her feckless husband. The plot has more twists and turns than the Pacific Coast highway with weddings wrecked, ruses exposed, spurned lovers rally mobs to avenge the skullduggery and cemetery scenes that possess wisdom and foreboding.
The Cerritos show had plenty of good singing and strong exposition of the story that unfolds over the three hours of mostly dialogue. There are some memorable arias, especially “Il Mio Tessoro” sung beautifully by Benjamin Brecher as Don Ottavio and all of the principles were fine, especially Vytautas Juozapaitis as the terrible Don and Stefano DePeppo as Leporello who both the played their parts slightly tongue in cheek, therefore making the lead character more of a pompous fool than the downright criminal that he is in fact. All of the ladies shone, especially Viara Zhelizova as Zerlina who sings her heart out in "Vedrai, carino." These small companies may not bring a lot of bells and whistles but the soul of the great opera is certainly visible and the performance was received warmly by the faithful on this night.

Monday, November 02, 2009

San Francisco Girls Chorus November 1, 2009

Transcendent Voices: San Francisco Girls Chorus at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

What might have appeared at first blush a kid’s concert at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday proved to be one of the most thought provoking and culturally enriching programs of many a season. Despite a rather disappointing sized crowd the performance was right at excellent and the program choices were challenging to say the least yet sung with brilliance by the girls. The Chorus is the product of an admirable effort by this organization to provide a center for the education of choral music. At first, the program was just a school to train girl’s voices but the entire enterprise has grown to a top-level music school and world-class performing group that tours extensively, performed at the recent presidential inauguration and has even garnered several Grammies for their superb recordings. Director Susan McMane has obviously dedicated herself to taking these girls to the limits of their talent and the end result is astounding and wonderful to hear.
At Cerritos the program “Transcendent Voices” was dedicated to the words with music of prophets and mystics which is a pretty hard sell to those who might have expected lighter fair. But when the girls began to sing it was most surely transcendent. Local choral music fanatics would have indeed been transported by the demanding choices but even we plain old music lovers were elevated spiritually by the concert opening “O Pastor Animarum” by Hildegard Von Bingham which was crisp in its execution but otherworldly in harmony. The girls approached from the audience side and assembled on the stage in a show of congregation that remained throughout the proceedings. “Blagri” by Slovenian, contemporary composer, Damijan Mocnik was inspired by the Sermon on the Mount and was sung with a delicate, ethereal quality by the chorus. Added at the last minute was “the Hadiths of the prophet Mohammed” by John Taverner, a short but potent piece of singing that preceded Shubert’s “Psalm 23” in all of its lyrical glory. The spiritual eclecticism of the show was further evidenced by Gustave Holst’s Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, No. 3” based on the sacred text of the Hindu religion.
One of the many high-lights was the second half opening jewel set to Langston Hughes beautiful poem “I Dream a World” that was truly inspiring. The girls, so intent on hitting their notes and keeping perfect harmony may not have noticed those in the audience with tears in their eyes. There was more drawing from wildly differing cultural origins including the Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas’ “Three Fiord Sketches” based on the “I Ching,” and the very demanding but highly rewarding “From Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hafez” that made for a expansive musical journey. Yet, my favorite pieces of the entire fine concert came at the end in the performance in three African-American spirituals. “Heaven Bound Train” was playful and energetic, “Deep River” was absolutely stunning in its purity and depth and “John Saw Duh Numbuh” was, well, just transcendent. While small in number the crowd stood and gave tribute to these girls who had delivered great music with so little fanfare.