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"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Best Is Yet to Come September 23, 2009

"The Best Is Yet to Come"
By Glen Creason
It was a juxtaposition of the greatest irony in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday night, sort of comparing peanut butter to caviar. On one hand the Brittany Spears concert at the Staples Center and on the other a drop party for the anthology tribute album to Cy Coleman entitled “the Best Is Yet to Come.” Swarming the Staples were young girls in outfits that would drain the blood from any parents head and over at the Grammy Museum theater a group of seasoned hipsters of another milieu. The party at the Grammy Museum featured four female vocalists who participated in the project and just happened to be available on the West Coast for this event. Unlike Ms. Spears they are all extremely talented but under-celebrated for their vocal gifts by the media. Well, who reads music writers anyway? The event featured a symposium on the exalted place of Cy Coleman in the great American songbook and just a sampler of the fine music given a fresh look on “the Best Is Yet to come.” I won’t bother to rehash the greatness of Maestro Coleman but anyone who has ever joyfully whistled the jaunty “Hey Look Me Over, “ “Witchcraft,” or “The Best Is Yet to Come” may not realize how exquisitely sensitive and musically complicated most of his compositions were through a career as a pianist, then composer, then show music giant. This album was lovingly conceived by those close to Coleman and brilliantly executed by pianist/arranger Dave Palmer. The songs certainly stand like monuments in the popular music skyline but Palmer’s arrangements here make them shine like new while keeping the essence of each. You won’t think of Sinatra but you will understand what Coleman was getting at on every song. Palmer's playing was at the center of all of these performances and his solo of "Witchcraft" was a sweet voyage of Cy Coleman discovery to begin the evening. On this night there were only four ladies presenting and they seemed like perfect cornerstones of the vast compositional monument of Cy Coleman. Julianna Raye took a completely different approach to “I’m Going to Laugh You Right Out of My Life” and made it an achingly beautiful torch song. Her voice has a rare quality that can kinetically convey longing and when she sang “but if I find you and I really meant that last goodbye, then I’m gonna laugh so hard I’ll cry” it made your heart shudder to hear it. On the album she sings the song wonderfully with a lilting bossa nova but this more minimal version focusing on her extraordinary voice certainly hit the spot. The veteran Jill Sobule was next up with the challenging “I’ve Got Your Number” that is pure Broadway with a need for a physical style and plenty of voice. She nailed it and appeared ready to take her place on the great white way, away from the popsters who want more Brittany and less Cy Coleman. The song is deceptively philosophical and Ms. Sobule conveyed the typically smart and sassy lyric perfectly. Another perfect example of substance over flash was the two pieces done by Sara Watkins, an amazing young talent who looks young and cute enough to be attending a Brittany concert. Watkins is an accomplished fiddle player and her singing is deeply moving and surprising from such a young looking performer. Her reading of “Too Many Tomorrows” just took you to this edge of this precipice of a delicately balanced love affair and made you feel it to the marrow. I really had to restrain a belted “bravo!” after the song. Last up, was Perla Batalla, one of the most versatile and polished of all performers on the disc. It was an extremely difficult position for any singer to step on stage after three bravura performances from women who gave everything to one song but it did not seem to faze this lady. She took “Hey Look Me Over” that might have been performed by High School glee clubs a few thousand times and turned it into a brilliant and exhilarating anthem of optimism that resonated far beyond even Coleman’s intentions. Starting slow with measured control that allowed the audience to think about the lyric that is normally passed over for the melody she built the song like a march toward a brighter future and finished with a rather breathtaking announcement of joy and confidence that left all the tubas and trombones behind. It reminded me of hearing Mandy Patinkin sing “Bali Hai”one night and thinking “so that is what that song means.” Cy Coleman left us only five years ago but on this Wednesday night and for many spins of this disc his legacy will be polished anew. The best is yet to come indeed.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kool and the Gang September 18, 2009

Kool and the Gang Bring the Party to Cerritos

By Glen Creason

Friday night was party night at the Center for the Performing Arts which almost sounds formal in comparison to the sweaty, full throttle funk-a-thon that took place there for a couple of high octane hours. On a big, Vegas-style stage twelve of the gang filled the hall with thick, bass and percussion heavy sounds that the exceedingly rowdy crowd reacted to by staying on their feet for the entire set. The sound came in fuzzy walls of bumps and grinds with all the complexity of Atari Pong from the decade when Kool and this same gang made their first hit records. This is not lyrics driven music, it is booty-driven and there was much shaking of that same part of the anatomy and points north in front of the stage. Pity the house staff that was overwhelmed by well-oiled enthusiasts who were invited by the band up to hug the footlights where the fire lines are drawn. Oh well, it was quite a sight to see even if it did invite chaos.
The evening opened with “Fresh” and most certainly gave a hint at what would follow as the entire place got up on their feet and danced. For the most part this kind of energetic pulse continued with others of a similar vein including “Stepping,” “Hollywood Swinging,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Funky Stuff” which gave the crowd some pounding groove that allowed them to show off their stuff, especially the many highly pneumatic ladies in their Fredericks of Hollywood ensembles, many of whom could not have been born when the song first hit the airwaves. There were some tunes that gave some hint of balladry like “Take My Heart” or “Cherish” but even the love song “Joanna” never allowed pulse rates to get lower than about a hundred. The sound was such a monolith it was not easy to find the many guitar and horn solos but in those moments when they sliced through the bass and percussion it was obvious that the men were accomplished at those instruments. Still, this music is not about sitting and pondering life’s mysteries, it’s about getting up and letting the rest of the folks see you dance.
The crowd was often compelled to sing along with their dancing and one of the highlights of the show was a young woman who was invited up on stage in a rather scintillating bit of audience participation, doing one full, very sexy minute of the huckle-buck or some such thing. The show finished with a torrent of funky Kool and the Gang hit sounds including the obligatory “Ladies Night” that really was enjoyable from where I sat, craning my neck to take in all the feminine finery up front. “Get Down On It” was pumping up the energy to what looked like a finale but after a wild drum solo interlude the gang returned for the “Celebration” that made sure no one went home with dry clothes.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Oedipus the King, Mama! September 3, 2009

I Can’t Help but Laugh, Mama: Oedipus the King, Mama

By Glen Creason

On the road in search of entertainment I found myself at the Falcon Theater in Burbank, invited by friends to take in the latest production of the comedy group, the Troubies called “Oedipus the King, Mama!” Not since Mel Brooks made Hitler a rib tickling comedy has such a dark subject matter been the launching pad for so much mirth as this wildly crazy musical phantasmagore-ia. The Troubies have been doing similar send-ups for years but this was my first and it was more than amazing in the pace and comedy of what was sort of a plot based on the two-thousand thirty-eight year old second part of the trilogy of tragedy by Sophocles. What makes the production profoundly funny is the real adherence to the original story with dialogue and loose interpretations of the events of the original. This creates a framework for ribald songs and shenanigans that are so over the top they make you open your mouth in amazement before guffawing. Throw in some caffeinated, full-stage dance numbers, lots of topical humor (as up to date as the Health Care debate), Elvis inspired musical moments, broad physical comedy and you have a very enjoyable couple of hours at the theater.
The Troubies or Troubadour Theater Company puts fourteen comedians on stage and each one has plenty of time to shine while quite purposely stepping all over each other’s lines. It seems the jollity spread at the Falcon is not a very well kept secret as the place was packed with folks laughing to the wheezing point and the show repeats that five nights a week. While every single player is very good here the Troubies roller coaster of comedy is held in place by three steely lynch pins playing the key roles. Director/Narrator Matt Walker is amazing in his verbal and corporeal dexterity certainly drawing comparisons to the emcee in the musical Cabaret but with bleeding eyes this time. Rick Batalla as Creon actually takes on three roles in one and knocks them dead in triplicate. He is one part dupe, one part schemer and one part a hyphenated curse word that can never appear in a family newspaper. Lastly Beth Kennedy as lusty Mama Jocasta with overflowing bosom and booming red-lipsticked mouth is perfectly delightful and disgusting all at once. The entire chorus really is fine but both Elvis’ (what is the plural of Elvis?) James Michael Lambert and James Snyder were excellent in voice and comedic timing. While the principals elevate the proceedings the ensemble productions, particularly the finale and the shoehorned tribute to Michael Jackson were sheer Euterpean exhilaration. While this is a small theater production there are people up on the stage that are more than equal to any comedic players seen on network television, especially on Saturday night and you can tell your friends you saw them first at the Falcon Theater.