By Glen Creason
It was a year of great losses and gains on the international, national and local scenes. The good news was that the wondrous publicist Lori Levine-Yonan returned from her lengthy sabbatical and picked up the superlatives where she left off. A tip of the ink-stained brim to Kim Bui who filled in for Lori like a true professional and kept the bar set at excellent during her tenure. Also, a very sad farewell to friend Faith Lazzari who takes a well-deserved retirement but her departure leaves us with a great sadness when passing the door to the hospitality room where her smile brightened every night at the Center. The best little theater in the world stays that way thanks to the brilliant choices that balance popular with cutting edge entertainments, evidenced by the superb Sierra Nights series put together by Michael Wolf, a consummate professional. Kudos to other top-notch pros like house manager Alan Strickland, hospitality supervisor India Holloway and Yeoman Tony Erdelji who make the concerts hum beautifully. Once more I bow toward the greatest box office staff in the world. This team continues to provide service par-excellence lead by Dianne Cheney with the solid one-two punch of Nate Chavez and Cristopher Laroco who somehow inspire their crews to be patient and helpful in the sometimes stressful situations, including lending ditzy reviewers writing utensils and informing them that their tickets were for the previous night. Once again the entire operation is nowheresville without the fantastic technical staff lead by Tom Hamilton with James King and Jeff Thielke acting as chief lieutenants in this weekly pursuit of perfection. In the entire year I did not see one missed cue or the slightest flaw in any house those good men prepared. There is the sad realization of the passing of one of the nice guys at Cerritos in the person of Don Hayes who left for paradise before we could say goodbye.
Here are the winners of the 2009 Ellsies:
E-Dance: the hardest choice since this was an exceptional year for small dance shows at the Center with absolutely stunning performances from Liss Fain Dance in November and Luna Negra Dance in April. Both companies provided the very best kind of entertainment that inspired and elevated the audience to a higher plain. “Fifteen Heterosexual Duets” in the Liss Fain show was wonderful and “Batacuda Fantastica” from Luna Negra did more in fifteen minutes than most performances can achieve in an evening.
E-Classical: the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra was terrific in every piece they attempted, especially the "Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra" by Bach that featured the stunning interplay of the two violinists Melissa White and the charismatic Elena Urioste. Miss Urioste was certainly the newcomer of the year at Cerritos for this season.
E-Holiday: Even though Dave Koz and the Smooth Xmas show gave them a run for it the Irish Tenors take home the Christmas presents for their show that was begun with the best in a fabulous reading of “Be Thou My Vision” that had each man complimenting the other with their tenor beauty.
E-Culture: in a disappointingly attended but supremely polished chorale concert the San Francisco Girls Chorus demonstrated why this kind of music is so incredible to hear live. Every note they touched was beautiful but none as otherworldly as “Deep River” at the finish of a very special matinee.
E-Rock: easily won by the Bangles who really gave us a rambunctious and fresh concert in October with sexy showmanship and very solid rock and roll. Playing pop the way it sounds best, the ladies took good ones like “If She Knew What She Wants” and made the place glow with musical joy.
E-Eye Candy: A special award to the show with the greatest eye appeal that goes to “Kool and the Gang” that had a good groove going for the rather unbelievable amount of hot women rushing the stage and dancing with reckless abandon.
E-R&B- The Temptations had every reason to just mail one in since they have the name and the repertoire but instead the had the packed house standing by the second bass line and dancing for the duration, especially lead by lead singer Bruce “Big Sexy” Williamson.
E-Jazz- Mingus Big Band despite a smaller than I could believe crowd, those faithful were shown jazz in its purest form as each man in the ensemble showed skills that every kid should study. “Tensions” by the band was superb and Lauren Sevian’s “Moanin’” was memorable.
E-World- Taiko X2 On Ensemble and Kenny Endo- the group is getting better and they were pretty great to begin with the last visit to the hall. The entire show was one ear opening piece after another but the sweet “After the Rain” was everything the title hints at.
E-Classic Rock- Dave Mason- demonstrated the art of the rock guitar and his “Shouldn’t of Took More Than You Gave” after the economic meltdown repercussions were ripping through local economies was just spot-on.
E-Opera- this was a year for the greatest vocal art form and the Teatro L’Irico D’Europa brought the huge and demanding “Aida” to the Cerritos boards for a full night of singing and history bending intrigue lead by tenor Gabriel Gonzalez.
E-Musical- this year with a young musical performing companion we judged the staging of “Chicago” to be the winner of the drama Ellsie. Jeff McCarthy as Billy Flynn was exceptional in all ways as were the principal ladies Michelle DeJean and Terra C. MacLeod as Roxy and Velma.
E-Show of the Year- the voting was close on the gonfalon of Performing Arts but the golden statue goes to “The Keys to New Orleans” that featured three of the best musicians found anywhere in Jon Cleary, Henry Butler and Allen Toussaint. The show was as long as a New Orleans Summer night filled with barrelhouse piano, blues and songs worth remembering for a long, long time. Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” was like the show itself, long, wandering and satisfying to the Big Easy end.
E-Performer of the Year- despite the misnomer attached to Chris Botti as smooth his performance and the entire show was full of nice edges, especially the beautiful reading of two Leonard Cohen songs lead by a perfect “A Thousand Kisses Deep.”