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"

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Back to the Folks Festival 2016

Finding Folks 2016

“To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” -Mark Twain

      I haven’t done much studying of religion since I converted from Holy Communion to donuts and coffee on Sunday mornings around 1967. However,  I do remember the story in Genesis of the "Tower of Babel" that God used to cut humans down to size when they tried to rise above their raisin' by building a skyscraper intended to reach heaven. The Supreme Being put the kibosh on the construction by sending the petty humans in different directions speaking a myriad of tongues. Instead of one people, speaking one language there were thousands of confounding forms of communication which put on end to the skyward thrust of those Old Testament monolith of hubris. While Lyons, Colorado does not have a tower of Babel it does have a sort of silo/ivy-covered tower that symbolizes the opposite of that scattering of the languages in the Holy Land. In Lyons, in mid-August the Millennials speak to the Gen-Xers who translate for the Boomers in the tongue of music which is understood by all in an astounding gathering of the tribes on the sometimes rain-freshened pastures of the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. As has been said by many and many times it is the vibe of the festival so full of love, peace and understanding that is unique. This is my understanding for sure,  at least in my audience participation since the summer of Love which wasn’t completely full of love anyway. Most musical gatherings are rife with strife but problems in Lyons might be running out of Moscow Mule mix by 7 pm. My great-niece lost her wallet full of cards and cash, only to find it undisturbed at the Lost and Found the following morning. Try that in LA!
     Folks old, new and in-between sit together, sip together, eat together and even sing or dance together as dozens of musical acts spread their own flavor of this universal language from the old stage that actually rose up out of a seemingly Biblical flood just a couple of years back. While the reason for being of this event is a celebration of the best and most underappreciated music in America the festival is more than just musical. The joys of the three days present a large umbrella of sensations from bouncing down the St. Vrain river in an inner tube, to dozing under an easy-up on the meadow near the surviving Oak tree. Kids run free and friends can’t help but converse while some life changing lyrics roll through the sunshine or surprise rain-showers. The comradery of festivarians extends to compliments on your t-shirt or tattoo while waiting in line for pot stickers or Boulder Ice Cream after picking your way across the gravel through this sort of gold camp of experience.  Despite the macrobiotic eaters and gluten free freaks there is a smokers tent, still populated by those who experience nicotine and other more mind enhancing substances not far from Craft Beer and Gin drinks that seem perfectlty logical at 5 O'clock. After all,  we are on vacation so have a corn dog or one of those hot fudge sundaes because festival calories don't really count.  Conversations come easy at the communal tables by the Wildflower Pavilion where we discussed Grateful Dead shows in the early 1970’s and the year it poured rain but Patty Griffin blew us away even as we hunkered under blue tarps. This year, after having to skip 2015 I approached Lyons with a greater appreciation and pondered the easy synchronicity of the physical setup of this huge undertaking. The technical crews here are real professionals.  The sound is always top-notch, the acts are always on time, the lighting is evocative and if there was a need for security I am sure that would be done with aplomb. Blending staff and volunteers is way harder than it looks and the Folks Festival maintains order without ever seeming to utter a discouraging word. They have everything under a relaxed control except Mother Nature.
     Friday was a bit of a challenge but the tarps were down and wise Festivarians were ready, up until the wind blew the rain sideways and thunder shook the red rocks. There were murmurs but no one left including the stalwart old pro Cheryl Wheeler who laughed at lightening and provided some electrical moments with lyrics tested over decades. It felt like she was speaking to me when she sang “I suppose stranger things have come to pass/ many’s the forest I can’t see/ I was so down and lost and fading fast/ how did you find your way to me?
                                          Cheryl Wheeler

                                          David Wax Museum
                                         Lucinda Williams and Stuart Mathis
  The music stayed strong with the visually and musically lively set by David Wax Museum followed by the excellent singing of evocative lyrics by Passenger who had the unenviable task of preceding the legendary Lucinda Williams. When he sang “Anywhere” the high provided made you believe every word.  While Lucinda is indeed legendary she did have to prove it and she did hedge her bets with one of the world’s strongest lead guitarists in Stuart Mathis at the front of a truly great band. She rocked hard and carved in oak one more show demonstrating her greatness with even some clever political statements that got the faithful roaring their approval.
                                         Kathy Mattea
                                          Darrell Scott
                                          Mavis Staples
                                          Conor Oberst
It’s impossible to describe every moving moment of memorable song since each set has their share but I have my favorites. While Parker Milsap has a voice like dripping honey tinged with some Kentucky sour mash and Kathy Mattea carries on a glorious tradition of fine women songwriters my Saturday was defined by Darrell Scott and the gilt-edged greatness of Mavis Staples. Scott is the best kept secret in America if  what you don't hear on the radio is any way to judge talent. He is a gifted guitarist, a brilliant songwriter and his voice is without peer in today’s folk idiom.  If country stations played Darrell Scott it would improve the brand by 500%... but they don’t. When he played “Uncle Lloyd” it was challenging to mop tears off my face with a straw hat. La Staples got the entire meadow on their feet including my septuagenarian siblings and made her set a celebration of the power of song sacred and profane. This is a woman who lived with segregation and terrible repression but turns all of the ugliness she has borne to shame with her grand spirit and rare talent.
                                         Dahka Brakha
                                          Lone Bellow
                                          Dougie Maclean
Sunday, the last day when the petrol is normally a little shallow in the tank for we Boomers was intentionally invigorating with the cool and clean Darlingside elevating the lyrical barre, followed by the unique singing of the Ukraine’s “Dakha Brakha” whose harmonies were other worldly and their head gear amazing in the heat of Colorado. The all-important late afternoon set by Lone Bellow proved to be the most solidly satisfying of the festival that pumped up the crowd for the all-too-filled with audience participation numbers by the beloved Dougie Maclean. While the faithful did get to hear a song so popular it is considered an anthem in not one but two countries (Caledonia) they heard themselves singing verses more than they heard Dougie.  He was charming and showed a beautiful voice and guitar skills but he should have done more solos. The festival ended as did each night directed at the Gen-X middle ground with the Decembrists; just as Conor Oberst had held the spot on Saturday and the wildly talented Andrew Bird on Friday. While I am sure they were all mouth-gapingly awesome and it certainly was reported that they were I was at the mercy of family who paced themselves for the long haul which ended around 9 p.m. Nothing makes the younger generations happier than telling you just what you missed.
     Last year at this time I was lost in a sea of medications and uncertainty so to fold up my low-backed chair, sling my camera bag over my shoulder and point my tiny flashlight at the sod of Lyons after three sweet days was a kind of victory I could not believe was possible those many months ago.  What better tonic for anybody than to join the multitudes in this annual celebration of what makes life beautiful and worth observing every year, despite the ravages of Father Time.  When we Boomers have finished decimating the planet and spreading our fertilized legacy the Millennials will look back on these days and describe how great the Decembrists, Conor Oberst and Andrew Bird were back in the teens.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Los Lobos and Ballet Folklorico Mexicano January 23, 2016

Los Lobos and Ballet Folklorico Mexicano: the Wolf Has Survived and Then Some at Cerritos

                             By Glen Creason

      Time does fly when you are having musical fun and it has been twenty-six years since I first saw Los Lobos perform their unique mixture of Mexican traditionals, R & B, old style rock and Latin-tinged blues. On an ideal winter’s night in Cerritos the old boys showed once again that they are great talents with plenty left in the tank during a two hour feast of music and dance. While they are a bit more low-key and possess the wisdom of many shows they still play with a spark that demonstrates their love for the old music.  As if the band is not good enough they came with the magnificent Ballet Folklorico Mexico who provided visual dazzle to the lively acoustic portion of the concert. The show was a steady flow of folk dances from different states of Mexico interspersed with mostly Spanish language sones that sounded just as sweet as when they were first put on vinyl back in the day before file-sharing and phone staring. It helped the entire experience that the audience was so wonderfully behind the band, sometimes singing lyrics and reacting to the old favorites that hit the spot developed in the 20th century when we were just a bit younger. These included “Cascabel,” “Sabor a Mi,” “Cancion de Mariachi,” and a taste of “La Bamba” that caused veteranos y veteranas to stir in their sections. The dancers never failed to increase the temperature in the big hall performing joyful steps from Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Chiapas, Chihuahua and Sonora while donning native costumes of the regions.
     The second half of the program was even more rewarding musically with some great old memories from the best of Los Lobos like “Anselma,” “Volver,” “Las Pistola y El Corazon,” “Saint Behind the Glass,” and a strong finishing shot of a high octane “La Bamba” followed by the evergreen “Guantanamara” that stayed in the hearts and minds of the packed house. The young dancers kept up the visual energy with an opening in  Aztec regalia for “Aquila Blanca,” “Mictecacihuatle,” and “Tonantzin” celebrating life in flowers and love plus “a good death” exemplified by a couple of muertos who danced together. Yet, on this night the happy crowd was filled with life and love and maybe a few spirits from the old country.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Johnny Mathis Christmas December 18, 2015

Christmas the Johnny Mathis Way at Cerritos

             By Glen Creason

     There are a select few that are born to sing Christmas songs that make the heart glow with holiday happiness and Cerritos was lucky enough to experience one of those over the yuletide weekend. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald and Johnny Mathis fill the season’s juke boxes and the last in the list was first at the Performing Arts Center on Friday before a packed house of happy folks filled with good cheer and musical memories. While there are many a middle-aged American celebrating this year that are alive thanks to the romantic moods created by a Johnny Mathis album, the man himself seems hardly have aged, especially his sweet and gentle voice. He was relatively casual, wearing an elegant black tuxedo without neck ware in the first half, and then turning to off-white without tie in the second half of the show. To make the evening even grander he had a full orchestra surrounding him and his own quartet that really brought the old chestnuts to a brilliant shine, complete with backup singers and two tall fir trees on stage.
     The concert was mostly Christmas song-candies including classic Mathis renditions of “Winter Wonderland, “ “Happy Holidays,” “Caroling, Caroling,” “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” a rollicking “Sleigh Ride,” and the perfectly appropriate “A Child Is Born” that rang true across the great hall. Of course, with a repertoire of sixty years on stages Maestro Mathis had to please his fans and performed many of the big ones like “It’s Not for Me to Say,” “Chances Are,” “Misty,”  and the gorgeous “the 12th of Never. He also stretched it a little with the newish “We Need a Little Christmas, “ and “Sending You a Little Christmas” along with a surprising finishing kick of a lively Brazilian medley that included “Mas Que Nada,” “Manha de Carnaval” and “Brazil” that got the audience warmed up before departing into the Winter’s night.
     The show was broken up delightfully by comedian Brad Upton who kept the large crown in stitches with a clean but absolutely hilarious set highlighted by clever jokes about marriage, children and aging which seemed to resonate with the happy Boomers attending.

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Ten Tenors December 6, 2015

Ten Tenors Turn Cerritos Toward a White Sort of Christmas

           By Glen Creason

          It might seem odd that a group of singers from Australia would kick off the holiday festivities at the Performing Arts but there was nothing ordinary about the very big and very good Christmas songfest by the Ten Tenors at the Performing Arts Center Sunday evening.  This is a polished group with harmony and dance moves as tight as the tuxedos the handsome gents wore for the action-packed show before a full house. For the most part the ten Aussie blokes made some old Christmas chestnuts shine up nicely with the strength of ten shades of tenor voice. There were the standards like “Joy to the World,” “Adeste Fidelis,” “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” “the Christmas Song” and “Sleigh Ride,” that put the place in a merry state of the season. Just to mix it up the Ten men threw in some “Four Seasons” songs from “the Jersey Boys” and native pop like “Down Under,” the Men at Work evergreen alongside a sweet “Waltzing Matilda.” They even finished the first set with a Michael Jackson medley complete with a spirited “Billy Jean.”

     The second half of the show returned to a more sacred side with some secular exceptions. The Christmas tunes sounded excellent as done by the assorted tenors, sometimes in solo but mostly in perfect ten part harmony. While the young men’s appearance pleased the ladies in attendance they could all sing beautifully. While the theme was Christmas there were some lesser known treats such as “Thousand Candles,” “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that worked very well times ten.  In the season, there were old favorites like “Little Drummer Boy,” “White Christmas,” and a rousing “O’ Holy Night.” However there were two non-yule show-stoppers in “I Would Do Anything for Love” which never sounded better and Queen’s “Somebody to Love” that got some gray Cerritos heads to nodding in rhythm. The show ended with a trio of encores, highlighted by a wonderfully pure “Amazing Grace” but even then the crowd cheered for more from the lads from down under. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mummenschanz November 22, 2015

Mummenschanz Enchants at Cerritos

 By Glen Creason

     I knew it might be tough to describe the matinee “Mummenschanz” concert at the Performing Arts Center when I counted at least one hundred exclamations of “whoa!!” by the silver-haired lady in the row in front of me.  It is understandable since the show is so unique and so mind-boggling that it is hard to describe without repeating ad nauseum adjectives like astonishing, bewildering, brain-addling, dreamlike, crazy unreal, flabbergasting, incomprehensible, otherworldly, redonkulous, surreal, uncanny and lots more. When the performance ends and only four individuals unmask and stand at center stage it is the greatest shock of all since virtually the entire audience is lead to believe there is about one hundred people creating the creatures who undulate, float, scamper, bounce, ooze, cavort and utterly delight an audience that covers the age spectrum from toddlers to senior citizens who say whoa a lot. Would it make any sense if I listed the menagerie created by Mummenschanz? A golden blob, a green split pea with a big red tongue, a hose with a big red ball, toilet paper headed lovers, a puzzle face, ever-changing clay visages, a purple tubing worm and a dozen more of these thingamajigs that elicited whoas and wows and excited shouts from the many kids in the audience. There were floating, iridescent rugs, inflatable silvery bags at war, a flying yellow stick figure, a battle of big heads; eyes become big faces and a big golden blob that threatened to engulf the front row. The troupe has been perfecting this act since 1972 and the creativity and use of movement in the act is pretty much impossible to do justice to with words but very, very entertaining to see in person. All of this is performed against a black backdrop and the creatures created seem completely independent of human manipulation which is pushed to the shadows to increase the illusion. When the show ended there was a standing ovation with kids bouncing up and down and folks in my generation raising up as quickly as we could to salute a job done marvelously. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli March 20, 2015

Cerritos Straightened Up and Flying Right

    By Glen Creason

    It was almost like the Performing Arts Center was built for the concert there on Friday night with two of the best musicians ever to stand (or sit) on the stage playing the music of one of the greatest Southern California based musicians ever to sing a sweet note. The truly great pianist Ramsey Lewis and the jazz-master John Pizzarelli make for a perfect pair to express the wonders of the intimate but exhilaratingly expressive Nat King Cole songbook that filled the hall on this evening with really memorable playing. Maestro Lewis has a talent so rare and refined that he can say a lot with little waste as he did for the show opening introduction to “Route 66” that seemed to cover every mile from Kingman to Pasadena. He looked dapper, like he had just came from the barber shop on his way to church but the man’s hands are ageless and when he explored “Hit That Jive Jack” playing the melody with his right hand and accompanying himself with his left the big Steinway & Sons grand piano just connected hearts all over the hall. On the other hand, John Pizzarelli not only played his Moll seven-string guitar like a master but provided the art of witty patter and a knowledge of Nat King Cole-iana that is encyclopedic. This thorough musicologial wisdom allowed the show to rise far above any tribute program  by mixing the chosen material between the familiar and beloved like “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Unforgettable” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right” to the delightful, forgotten gems like “Hit That Jive Jack,” “The Best Man,” and “Baby Baby All the Time” that turned out to be the peak performance in an evening of very tall musical mountains.  It certainly helped that the masters Lewis and Pizzarelli were ably abetted by the brilliantly inventive Joshua Ramos on bass and rock steady Charles “Rick” Heath on drums with both men keeping the sound pristine and perfect for the understated but perfectly pronounced vocals that Nat King Genius used to croon. Not only did the packed house get to enjoy some of the best playing ever in Cerritos, they left whistling great tunes and learning a lot about the labels, the songwriters,  the history of each song and plenty of laughs along the way. This was an experience that would lead any music lover into thanking their lucky stars that they were able to see and hear, in person a true genius of the piano with a master of the jazz guitar while enjoying music that will live until the polar ice caps melt.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's Magic March 15, 2015

It’s Magic…it really is

      By Glen Creason

      It is difficult to describe something that isn’t there as in the end result of many magic tricks but then again I have been writing reviews that sometimes disappear for quite some time now. Yet what was there on a Sunday in Cerritos was an embarrassment of magician riches all appearing and disappearing on the stage at the Performing Arts Center much to the delight of a pretty good-sized crowd that admired legerdemain and prestidigitation times five. This magic show as about a straight forward and simple as it comes except for the “tricks” that unfolded without as much as a hiccup during the full ninety minute banquet of old-fashioned magic the way they have been doing it at the Magic Castle in Hollywood for sixty odd years. There were half a dozen remarkable magic acts that were completely different except that they followed the rules of the art form so well not a soul in the audience had a clue as to how they were accomplished. Comedian Matt Marcy hosted and was spot on perfect, adding to the fun without ever staying too long or taking the show too seriously. Parts of the delight of any such show are the “volunteers” and at Cerritos there were many who will remain anonymous here even though they served well at this matinee.

     There was Mystina, the lone lady on the bill who used her graceful dancer’s physique to distract and perform in both black light and footlight including some amazing stuff with scarves and newspapers that were shredded or were they? Illusionist David Zirbel stood tall with some fine work with rings, and barrels full of beautiful magician’s assistants who appeared unscathed and disappeared quite magically.  Suave Danny Cole’s wardrobe was elegant and changing before our very eyes much to the amazement of those even a few feet away. The two-time magician of the year was flawless and in the grand tradition made it look effortless. For comedy relief juggler-comedian Dan Raspyni knocked out the house mostly with his self-effacing humor and use of audience participators while actually juggling like a thirty-year seasoned pro. Finally and certainly the grand finale was Mark Kalen and Jinger Leigh who performed classic illusions with aplomb and some wry humor. This did involve sawing ladies in half, swords passing through same and even levitation alongside the levity. A terrific show and now the disappearing review.