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, March 24, 2011

Andre Watts March 23, 2011

Andre Watts in Command at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

I am not worthy to review the scintillating concert performed by the great pianist Andre Watts last week at the Center. It really was a “you had to be there” kind of an evening because the performance had a truly transcendent quality that defies the human word. Also Watts is simply a genius whose abilities exceed the grasp of mere mortals like me. There were layers of meaning and such abundance of musical texture to the concert that it would take a professor of composition to come close to doing the whole performance justice. Well, maybe a few humble words on such magnificent work will catch some of the light shone from Watt's beacon on that night.

It was completely appropriate that this was an all-Lizst program since that composer has risen and fallen and risen again on the fingers of great artists. Once upon a mid-19th century time Franz Lizst was considered a genius and almost a saint, evidenced by the actual term Lizstomania that peaked around 1842 but remained strong for over a century. Then the circling buzzards of criticism had to pick at the legacy of this towering figure but his compositions speak for themselves when played by the right hands. In the hands of Andre Watts the Lizst legacy is shining bright but it is only an artist with his intelligence coupled with vastly superior technical skill and a passionate belief in the music that can properly showcase such demanding material.

Andre Watts did not waste any time in the full ninety-plus minutes with lesser material but went right for the biggest challenges and greatest rewards. He warmed with “Concert Etude No. 3, Un Sospiro” which was a country mile from the “sigh” in the title, roaring up and down the big Steinway piano, dynamically filling the hall while crossing his hands on the keyboard and sending arpeggios winging to the back wall of the Center. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3 in B-flat major” was rhythmic and complex with flavors of the folk music inspirations drawn from gypsy czardas that so influenced Lizst. The “Sonata in b minor” was, as close to the Romantic tradition we know with tones that ranged from glowering menace to delicate beauty. These pieces took tremendous physical power, endurance and amazing control, ranging from hugely dramatic to very delicate expressions.

After a short intermission Watts gave a us more of the great variety in Lizst’ piano compositions, ranging from the modernistic tonal ambiguity of “Bagatelle Ohne Tonart” to the mournful “La Lugubre Gondola” to the troubled angst of “Schlafos, Frage and Antwort.” “Transcendental Etude No. 10 in f minor” may be the hardest to describe because it was just a musical decathlon of technical demands and range of emotion. The final pieces on the program were from “the Six Grand Etudes After Paganini” which are transcriptions of violin compositions that were wonderfully lyrical and then just filled with pyrotechnics that took the listener to the melodic edge. These are some of the most demanding pieces in all of piano literature but Watts just commanded the keyboard in every shade of expression and thrilled the audience to an honest to goodness ecstasy. He was summoned out for a romantic encore, more Liszt and more raving, standing ovations for a job done better than it can ever be described.

Monday, March 14, 2011

On Ensemble March 12, 2011

On Ensemble: Triumphant Return to Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The On Ensemble once more renewed the mutual admiration society they have developed in Cerritos on Saturday evening. The Ensemble says they love the great hall with its enthusiastic audiences and the feeling seems to be totally mutual judging by the standing ovation that punctuated the conclusion of this concert. This, the third show they have done at the Performing Arts Center was the best yet, despite the young men raising the bar so high at their last show and causing some anticipation about this years festival of taiko drumming and hard to define totally cool music. Being the nice young men that they are they brought their parents along this time but what aces in the hole these folks were on this night. There were other surprises including the superb multi-percussion master Patrick Graham from Montreal, flute Master Kaoru Watanabe by way of NYC and the exquisite dancing of Chieko Kojima. The On Ensemble just to remind the local fans are Masato Baba, Shoji Kameda, Kelvin Underwood and Kristofer Bergstrom.

There was just a touch of bittersweet to the concert since so much of this fine music is inspired by recently devastated Japan but the On Ensemble took the courage of that land and people right into their performance and the results were inspiring. Of course, the heart and soul of the On Ensemble are these traditional Japanese instruments made modern which was evidenced in the show opening “Little Man” with the flute intro and exhilarating taiko drumming of five becoming one vibrating force. This is a visceral and powerful sound that just blasts the capillaries open providing a sensual, joyful and expansive sound that opens up the heart and mind. That high current energy level remained for the next two hours. “Strikes 13” was an amazing combination of the most unusual instrumental pairings from taiko to flute to whirligig to Jews harp. Patrick Graham put on a virtual clinic of sounds you can coax out of two opposing substances. “Yamasong” featured a long drum soundscape followed by pounding percussive crescendos, tuvan throat singing and wonderful sounds from a kind of koto. When Mom and Dad came on stage it seemed nice until they played and totally ripped up the big hall on “7even” that featured a deep and evocative sax solo by Russel Baba and some masterful drumming by Jeanne Mercer that demonstrated the boys are great and those apples don’t fall far from the trees. “Full Circle” was more of the same terrific ensemble work but this time it including plenty of visual appeal with actual acrobatics and dance by the performers including a very spry father Baba.

You could hardly start up again after intermission better than the utterly enchanting piece that commenced the second half with Chieko Kojima dancing a mysterious and haunting number accented by flute and taiko. Once again On Ensemble reached outward toward new horizons with Patrick Graham’s “Brilla” which expanded consciousness via turntable scratching, percussion on half-full pop bottles, throat singing, flute and taiko. Shoji Watanabe’s flute solo with the beautiful dancing of Miss Kojima was just breathtaking and begged the question why this music is not more in the public ear? Lastly, in tribute to the Mother Country the group performed “After the Rain” which offered a very palpable hope and renewal. The crowd responded with raving cheers and kept the boys on stage for more and more.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Spamalot March 6, 2011

Spamalot at Cerritos: Plenty to Like a Lot

By Glen Creason

Once upon a time folks thought contemporary British humor just did not strike Yankee funny bones. Known for dry and quirky dialogue set in surrealistic situations comedy from England took a while to take hold in the colonies. By the mid twentieth century the Goon show with Peter Sellers or the “Carry-On” films that found their way across the big pond and made inroads to America. Then, in the late 1960’s a unique slant of such levity hit the US airwaves in the form of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” that took absurd situations and made them into memorably hilarious skits. To this day, an entire generation of Americans may shout lines like “you were lucky!” from Python episodes at random to express their feelings. The catch phrase was “and now for something completely different” which can sum up the Monty Python experience quite well since they are completely different in a very good way.

Since there have been a number of successful Monty Python films it seems almost logical in the illogical Python world that there would be a theater musical morphing out of all this silliness and finally “Spamalot” hit the boards in 2004. Written by Python great Eric Idle and borrowing from the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” this broadly painted comedy sort of examines the Arthurian legend. That is if you believe King Arthur trotted about on foot with a “footman” making horse hoof sounds with halved coconuts and Sir Lancelot was a gay dandy and the Lady of the Lake is glamorous but self-absorbed vamp. Audiences have believed it however and “Spamalot” swamped the Tony awards six years ago and won best musical by landslide.

At Cerritos the Phoenix Entertainment production did justice to the Broadway original bringing unbridled silliness to brilliant color that sparkled with a live orchestra, humorous sets and very strong cast. Steve McCoy as King Arthur handled his demanding part with great skill, never making the regent whiny or truly pathetic despite the terribly daunting obstacles put in his way including clueless knights of the round table, insulting Frenchmen, tall tree-people, the dreaded Knights that say Ni! and one very fierce rabbit. Caroline Bowman was perfect in voice and comedic timing as the Lady of the Lake singing like a chanteuse and delivering lines that gained huge laughs. Adam Grabau was particularly wonderful in four roles including a taunting Frenchman and the ruggedly gay Lancelot. Glenn Giron as long suffering servant Patsy and John Garry as the fey Prince Herbert also stood out in this laugh crowded forest. The entire ensemble worked beautifully together since much of the fun here is in the crisply timed dialogue of absurdity juxtaposed against logical arguments, peppered by the vernacular. There are also moments of improvisation and even some tailoring to local tastes as when the Lady of Lake performs with the Laker Girls in scene six. Moreover, the music is actually memorable, taken right from some Python bits. “Always Look on the Light Side of Life” is almost anthem-like and “Find Your Grail” has a melody worth whistling between horselaughs.