Twentieth anniversary Show at
There was a concert at the Cerritos Center
on Sunday afternoon and the rather well turned out crowd cheered mightily for
old-timer Neil Sedaka and a very skilled five-person band that filled the big
hall with musical memories. Appropriately, the show incorporated past greatness
with material that was as fresh as last week.
Ah yes, the memories. This performance was to celebrate the twentieth
year of beautiful afternoons and evenings at the Center. Maybe a few folks at
this matinee remember day one of what seems like a lifetime of shows in the
exquisite Performing Arts Center and certainly there were many familiar faces
in the lobby before and after. I do know, however, that sweet memories were
whirring through my head like an old movie projector shining delightful images
one after another. Indeed the past couple of decades seem like they passed in
the blink of an eye but when I started in 1993 I had dark brown hair and did
not really know how to write an essay. Now my hair is far from brown and I am
still learning to write essays. It
began for me on a hot August night in 1993 with Whitney Houston, who at the
time was one of the biggest stars in America. La Houston set a standard that
has been upheld for every season up to today and hopefully will continue for
several more decades.
I narrowly missed the first season when
the great Frank Sinatra opened the hall but have since attended over five
hundred (500!) shows at Cerritos and written around a quarter of a million
words describing the thrills I experienced on Center drive. It dopes out to about five novels worth, not
counting a few magical moments when I was allowed to salute my parents or wrap
up the best of each season with the Ellsie Awards. There have been a few duds, as any hall must have. At one
un-named show I described the audience as racing out of the orchestra seats
like they were being chased by wild dogs.
Mostly however, there have been thousands of moments of exhilaration, of
illumination, of hilarity and floods of hope flowing from that now well-worn
stage. All from the place so wonderfully cared for by technical geniuses that
cannot be thanked enough and the most helpful hall staff known to hospitality.
Over twenty years I have had the genuine privilege of working with people like
Victor Gotesman, Wayne Shilkrat, Michael Wolf, Dianne Cheney and of course the
incomparable publicist Lori-Levine Yonan. It gave me some degree of humility at
the Neil Sedaka show to be asked for my picture ID by the new kid in the box
office, an operation that continues to surpass any in any theater in America.
Way to go guys!
It is impossible to single out all the
great shows or great moments but some stand as tall as the beloved cool flags
atop the theater: unforgettable shows like “Lackawanna Blues,” or the one man
show on Clarence Darrow or “the Miracle Worker” or just sitting next to my late
Mom at “Cats.” There were fantastic
musical performances by Sonny Rollins, George Jones, Cantus, Betty Buckley, the
Chieftains, Tony Bennet, John Prine, Johnny Cash, the Irish Tenors, Audra
McDonald, Andre Watts, George Winston, Karrin Alyson and my personal favorite
Perla Batalla. There were shows that made us permanently smile a little bigger
by the grand masters Garrison Keillor, Bill Cosby, Paul Rodriguez, DH Hughley,
and a humble clown named Avner the eccentric. In this time I also learned to
appreciate the art of dance and really find the magnificence of classical music
with the help of Rob Kapilow. There isn’t enough room in the paper for all of
this but it all was in the paper, well most of the time.
So to be
fair I should mention the very fit, energetic and seemingly timeless Neil
Sedaka who has more hit records than you can count. The evening started with an
amazing slide-show with great stars from the past singing Sedaka tunes and it
astounded even the fans in the audience that this one man had written for
greats from Patsy Cline to Frank Sinatra with Queen and Abba in between. Mr.
Sedaka must have more money than Fort Knox at this point, (having sold more
than 40 million discs before 1963) but he still loves to play and sing which he
did very well for over ninety minutes with a clear as a bell tenor voice. There
was fun pop from early rock and roll: “Oh Carol,” “Happy Birthday, Sweet
Sixteen,” “Calendar Girl,” “Where the Boys Are,” and “Breaking Up Is Hard to
Do” that had the gray heads bopping in the audience. There were the
tear-jerking ballads too like “I Should Have Never Let You Go,” “Solitaire,”
and the ultimate evergreen “the Hungry Years.” Yet Sedaka took it further than
a greatest hits package and mixed in two not very surprisingly good new tunes
“I’m Beginning to Breath Again” and “Mi Amor” with a Beethoven piano solo that
would have done any of the tux and tails guys proud. Appropriately, the
twentieth anniversary show ended with encores and a standing ovation for the
man and the great hall. I heartily concur.