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"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dido and Aeneas November 13, 2011

Tamora Pellikka

      Dido and Aeneas: 

Natural Opera in Pasadena

                                          By Glen Creason

      It is amazing how the Celestial Opera Company of Pasadena can produce an expansive show in such an intimate setting while still staying right to the essence of the original work of art. In the case of my Sunday matinee visit the featured work was the 17th century English opera “Dido and Aeneas” by Henry Purcell which left out no small details in a really impressive hour of Baroque music and marvelous singing. “Dido” would fit right in with today’s cinematic leanings toward ancient myth and a dash of the occult. The story revolves around Dido, the Queen of Carthage’s ill-fated romance with the Trojan hero Aeneas as described in  book four of Virgil’s Aeneid. The poor lovers are doomed as an evil sorceress and her witch cohorts bewitch Aeneas’ tricking him into leaving the queen behind to take a sea voyage that will mean his end both romantically and mortally. It is surprising that Steven Spielberg hasn't optioned this one already.
     Despite the fact that the opera is decidedly tragic it keeps to a lively plot that is revealed with fine arias and memorable characters, aided by a traditional Greek chorus that advances the plot and provides counter-point to the chicanery of the sorceress and her minions. At the center of this production is the glorious singing of Tamora Pellikka, a luminescent mezzo-soprano with voice enough for grand halls but here using the intimacy of the un-amplified wood interior of this small hall to make her first aria “Ah Belinda” shimmer with passion and longing.  Several other singers were outstanding in the production including Kristen Speck as the confidante Belinda, the youthful but solid Glenn Fernandez as Aeneas and a truly wicked Jessica Mamey as the Sorceress. Also, amidst the gloom Britta Sterling brought some levity to the music as the Sailor who happily sings “Come Away Fellow Sailors.” All three witches filled their deliciously dark roles well including Allison Coop, Marcela Pan and Jessica Anne Pierce who dreamily dances while Dido’s dreams die.
    Still, the power of this particular opera hinges on the difficult and profoundly sad final aria “When I Am Laid” which Ms. Pellikka made into a deeply moving lament that required subtlety and command of voice close to perfection. She was more than up to the task and when Aeneas returns to say farewell and finds her lifeless form the audience has forgotten that they are in a hall in Pasadena, instead grieving for the bewitched and now bereft young man and his lost love, gone forever. This aria sung by such a talented young mezzo-soprano must be considered one of the most moving in all of opera. The venue was small and simple but this production fully dressed and true to the three-century-old tragedy, made Purcell’s masterpiece come to life in living color. Bravo Celestial Opera Company, once again.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Backbeats with Street Corner Symphony November 5, 2011

Backbeats and Street Corner Symphony at Cerritos: A Million Glorious Notes

                                                               By Glen Creason

      Last weekend the Performing Arts Center demonstrated a musical epiphany and what looks to be a nice trend in popular music. Two young groups brought a cappella glory to the big hall, demonstrating the amazing capabilities of the human voice when used in harmony with others. It was also refreshing to see an exuberant, young audience bouncing all over the hall and greeting the groups with joyful explosions of admiration. It seems vocal music is making a big comeback and Cerritos is on the cutting edge! Both groups spring from the television show “Sing Off” which unlike some other televised exercises in humiliation encourages old-fashioned, (become new) vocal harmony.
     The headliners were the “Street Corner Symphony”; six young men from all over the Southeastern U.S. who sing a cappella jewels of popular songs from all over the musical map. The astounding vocal percussionist Dave Baumgartner who seems to defy the human limits of lungs and vocal chords joined them. They certainly had youth appeal, singing stuff from “the Black Crows,” “Radiohead” and “Coldplay,” with tight harmonies and soaring solos that featured each of the six voices. What was amusing to we old ones were their nostalgic journeys to such ancient music as “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears and way back to a crisp medley of Beatles songs: “Eleanor Rigby,” “Help,” and “Hey Jude.” This was all very good natured, including a segment where they allowed the crowd to shout suggestions that elicited impromptu versions of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” Yet, showing they are not too hip the group busted out some sweet barbershop harmonies, a little soulful R&B, a rocking Creedence Clearwater “Down On the Corner” and even a perfect reading of the folk song “Shenandoah” that would have pleased anybody of any age. When they encored the old chestnut “Drift Away” with the show opening Backbeats they had the big hall in the palms of their thirty hands.
      The electrifying, twenty-something “Backbeats” opened the show and made theirs a truly tough act to follow. With charm, energy and tons of vocal talent the four man, four woman crew made pop music new in their stylish interpretations of pretty modern sounds. Joanna Jones was excellent but every singer in this ensemble is polished and possessing plenty of voice and performing instincts. Even as they were “limited” to less than a dozen songs they seemed more than ready to sing all night. They sang Michael Jackson’s “You Make Me Feel So Young, “ Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” Adele’s “Turning Tables” and even way, way back to a very impressive reading of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Not only can these kids sing beautifully but their passion for the art of harmony and abundant stage confidence made for some very fine musical moments including a rousing final kick of Stevie Wonder masterpieces: “Superstition,” Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” and “Living for the City” that left the crowd roaring for more. Possibly, the Center could bring the Backbeats back soon, maybe for Sierra Nights.