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"

Friday, January 29, 2010

Robert Kapilow What Makes It Great? Vivaldi Four Seasons

Robert Kapilow Is What Makes It Great: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

By Glen Creason

The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts is certainly fortunate to have Robert Kapilow as a regular contributor to the entertainments at the big hall. If you have not been fortunate enough to attend one of his very popular shows you must imagine the best teacher you ever had taking something you took for granted and making it utterly fascinating. I am not talking about the Punic Wars or the Treaty of Ghent here but classical music warhorses some of us in the Boomer set have heard about as many times as “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. Satisfaction might be the exact word to use as Kapilow de-constructs these great works of music and then demonstrates the genius of the compositions with great passion, despite what really amounts to a lecture with a couple of bells and whistles. The added color is in the form of a small orchestra, in this case the Riverside County Philharmonic which was up to Kapilow’s lofty standards while taking apart and putting back together the well-known “Four Seasons” written by the great Baroque era composer and violin virtuoso Antonio Vivaldi in 1725. Amongst hundreds of other colorful details Kapilow lets the audience know that Vivaldi’s otherworldly compositional inventiveness along with this extraordinary musicians technical ability allowed him to reach places most artists could not venture. Breaking down the “Spring” and “Summer” portions of the piece, Kapilow describes the literal notes to the score, the original sonnets of inspiration and opens up a whole new world to the listener. Vivaldi worked on a simple landscape that becomes more and more detailed and inviting as the sounds are explained in detail. This well-chosen masterpiece is literally a tone poem in which the composer paints a picture of the seasons in four concerti with stunning clarity and vitality. By the time the appetizing first half of the concert is complete and Robert Kapilow has truly set the stage for the actual performance the audience is sitting up in rapt attention, awaiting the musical miracles Kapilow has shone his light upon. Sure enough, when the Riverside County Philharmonic began to play the piece the sound was a revelation and absolutely exhilarating as the story unfolds from the singing of birds to the crashing of thunder to the languor of a Summer heat wave. You may have heard the “Four Seasons” in many settings from movie sound tracks to wedding receptions but after hearing Kapilow open it up and the orchestra play it you will never hear it the same again. Typically the concerto form features a solo instrument backed by an orchestra and in the Riverside Phil’s case the essential solo violin role was superbly accomplished by beautiful Chee-Yun. Miss Yun was up to the great demands of the piece, playing with fervor through stormy expressions and caressing the gentle melodies in pastoral scenes. She soared to the heights of the allegro in Autumn and accomplished the staccato of the icy rainfall in Winter with precision and elegance. The young lady was not exactly alone and while she was a literal lightening rod of this performance the young orchestra was perfect in both halves of the performance, from the barking dog of the viola to the thunder from cello and bass. With Kapilow’s words and conducting along with the Riverside County Philharmonic’s skillful performance of Vivaldi’s two hundred and eighty-five year old composition a full house found something new and wonderful on this night at Cerritos.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Keb Mo January 16, 2010

Keb Mo and More at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The last time I saw Keb Mo perform at Cerritos I thought maybe the show could not get better since it was the best of the year in 2002. Before that he made his mark as an opening act at the Center and demonstrated definite star qualities evidenced in his marvelously fluid guitar work, his rich, expressive voice and fine songwriting skills. On Saturday night he came back and more than conquered the full-house at the Performing Arts Center doing all that and more. Keb Mo has only grown better, stronger and more polished within a genre that sort of demands raw edges. On this night he also made an extremely wise choice of inviting the perfect accompanist in Susan Werner who astounded with her command of various instruments and awesome set of pipes. Ms. Werner is an established folk-singer-songwriter in her own “write” but here she humbly stayed with Keb Mo and made him look better on every song. Of course, he is terrific all by his lonesome which he was on several intimate tunes but overall the two musicians were a perfect pairing. It was fun to hear the uninitiated crowd gasp when Susan Werner first opened up her big voice and hit some high notes with Keb Mo smiling off to the side.
Certainly the Keb Mo repertoire just gets better and better the more he matures and it doesn’t hurt to be able to throw in gems like “I’m a Hero,” “Life Is Beautiful,” “More Than One Way Home” and “Just Like Me” that are met with shouts of joy from the enthusiastic fans in the audience. Yet, this concert was solid throughout with no duds in twenty-two songs, including a generous helping of four encores. Interestingly enough he started the proceedings with a Johnny Cash tune “Folsom Prison Blues” and mixed in a banquet of good stuff balanced nicely between blues and ballad. There was the sentimental like “I’m a Hero,” “Henry,” “A Better Man” and the double delights of “One Friend,” and “Closer” that gave you a lump in the throat. There were the traditional shout outs to ladies, in particular “Eileen” and “Angelina.” These were balanced by lighter fair such as “the Bucket,” “City Boy,” “Government Cheese,” “Soon as I Get Paid,” “Shave Yo’ Legs for Me,” and “Whole Nutha Thing” that showed the jocular side of the blues. This kind of music is not easy to perform in a large hall but Keb Mo never seems daunted by the space and filled the auditorium with sweet sounds despite changing instruments constantly and sending notes flying from several genres from song to song. Even at this high level Keb Mo outdid himself a couple of times, like on the spiritual “Hand It Over” and the utterly saucy “What You Got” that left a nice bluesy taste in the hall. The standing ovation lasted so long some folks in the hall had to sit down for the last gushing segment of appreciation. Considering that Keb Mo delivers lyrics that are just downright poetry and plays five guitars like a master while singing up to the highest blues standards I think Cerritos was very lucky to have this young man on their stage.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ying Quartet January 8, 2010

Ying Quartet Brings the Strings to Life at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

I have a young friend, formerly a bassist in a cow-punk band who knows music from top to bottom but cannot connect to Classical composition because she finds it too staid. If only she could have taken in the concert on Friday of the Ying Quartet at the Performing Arts Center that contained all the ingredients of propriety including composers Beethoven, Schumann, and Janacek played by two violins, a cello and a viola (a string quartet!) However, while the music was centuries old and the string quartet is obviously a smaller sound than an orchestra the Ying Quartet filled the hall with emotion and demonstrated playing so passionate you hardly saw a staid seam showing. There was nothing stuffy about this concert and often the emotional expressions caused the players to practically elevate out of their chairs.
The Yings are mostly family with Janet on Violin, Philip on Viola and David on Cello joining the one non-sibling Frank Huang on the other violin. The program was chosen to exhibit romantic expressions and the group’s spirited performance helped bring this theme to vivid life. Schumann’s Quartet in A Major, Opus 41, no. 3 was written for his beloved wife Clara and the opening movement literally calls her name with the dreamy lead violin repeating the phrase just as one smitten might call out their love. The remaining three movements ranged from tenderness to a deeply romantic yearning that the composer felt for his young bride. The final “allegro” was joyful, celebratory which was expressed perfectly with the strings all standing together like such a union.
The second piece by Leos Janacek, Quartet no. 2, “Intimate Letters”, again emoted such romantic striving but in this case the object of the composer’s ardor was unreachable and the love was sadly unrequited. Thus the music has much more discord, some tortured yearning, uncertainty and strife. The pieces here tip-toed up to painful pursuit of this object of amor but still had moments of ecstatic joy in the composers heart that seemed to reach beyond even the power of musical composition. The music is actually a companion to the many intimate love letters he sent to his intended who was kept from responding by the unpleasant reality of a young husband. The final allegro reached beyond the twists and turns of Janacek’s ultimate failure to a dream of the possibilities of love.
The best was indeed saved for last on the program for the Ying Quartet and Beethoven’s incredibly rich Quartet in C Major, Opus 59, no. 3 that is sometimes called Hero. The music here seems to expand the entire concept of the quartet and creates a powerful statement in bright, lyrical tones after an uncharacteristic somber beginning. In every movement of this quartet the performance by the Yings was impressive in passion and perfect in complimenting each other’s playing in this wonderfully complex composition. The crisp and lively rendering of the opening two andante leads to a rather elegant and stately minuet which then flows into the memorable Allegro molto at the finish that would have made the cow-punk bassist tap her foot in joyful rhythm.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Ellsies 2009

Ellsies are out and Cerritos is In.

By Glen Creason
Despite lowered-low expectations and budgets squeezed to white-knuckle degrees across the land, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts kept a stiff upper cultural lip and continued the excellence that has marked the theater for the past 17 years. It was a year of shorter seasons and sometimes smaller crowds but that shant deter the Ellsie Awards from bestowing honors on those who shone above the rest this year at the glittering hall in dear Cerritos. While 2009 might qualify as one of the worst years in memory for the state of the economy the local populace still found time to seek out fine entertainment and as they came so did I, not as much as before but certainly enjoying what I did see as much as ever. I hope the spanking new 2010 has as much to offer as good old 09.
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.”