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"

Saturday, February 18, 2006

“Cherish the Ladies” at Cerritos: Yes, Indeed

By Glen Creason

It’s a might early for celebrating dear St. Patrick’s Day but a packed house in the Sierra room of the Performing Arts Center got a delightful jump on the festivities this week. Sure, it was “Cherish the Ladies” who dazzled with their musical virtuosity and sweet humored commentary making for an evening as warm as a drop of “the crater” and as personable as the gift of gabbing Irish themselves. Lead by the charming wit and dazzling whistle-scapes of ring-leader Joanie Madden the ladies distinguished themselves as a please-invite-em-back group equal to some of the venue’s best, including the Chieftains, Altan, the Boys from the Lough and a Clancy brother or two. As one might guess “Cherish the Ladies” is an all female ensemble which seems to work perfectly. The lady-team-spirit leads to wonderful harmonies and spirited interplay between very accomplished players like Mirella Murray on accordion, Mary Coogan on guitar, Roisin Dillon on fiddle and Heidi Talbot on drum and vocals along with the tireless Ms. Madden. This mixture of Americans with roots in the old sod and ladies from the Mother country started as a short term experiment and has been making converts to endorphin releasing Irish music with X chromosomes for nineteen years.
The ladies blended jigs, reels, ballads and even a sort of not really Christmas song leaving no seams showing in a couple of very stimulating hours. Like the best of Irish traditions, everything is touched by humor, even some of the titles like the brisk reel “Bonkers in Yonkers,” Paddy O’ Snap,” “Road Dust” “the Old Maids of Galway,” or the very appropriate “Woman of the House.” Each tune showed an easy going humor and plenty of giddy up. Despite a folksy approach, the playing of the women, especially the incredibly varied whistle tones, the interplay between fiddle and accordion, along with layered guitar chords is glorious without looking labored. All of the lively reels and jigs were crowd pleasers but the heavenly vocals and jocular descriptions of Heidi Talbot added an edge to parts of the performance. Her “Fair and Tender Ladies,” the bittersweet “Bogie’s Bonnie Belle” and a very lovely “Castle of Tramoor” transfixed without being too saccharine or depressing.
There was more to delight, including a gorgeous and extremely dynamic Irish dancer only identified as Colleen who came whirling in from the wings at greatly anticipated intervals to pump up the electricity that was flowing pretty strong anyway. She was joined by two adorable ten-year-old girls from the Kelly school here in Southern California who danced beautifully and showed costumes that fairly dazzled all in attendance. Still, the heart and soul of “Cherish the Ladies” is Joanie Madden, a tower of strength, humor and talent who never lets down. Certainly, the high-light of this show, indeed the season was her tale of a lost and found camera and the evocative air “the Hills of New Zealand.” I think it is safe to say that if Ms. Madden is on a stage, the audience is guaranteed to be filled with fun and great music.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Garrison Keillor February 12, 2006

Words Beyond Woebegon Life: Garrison Keillor at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

Electronic technology with all its magic demands a price from all of us. Those kids who sit wide-eyed in front of X boxes, cyber hounds who chat in rooms of electronic bytes and those who explore the world from inside darkened cubicles are increasingly detached from the most virtual of realities, their fellow humans. Yet, that yearning which yearns beyond flat screen monitors and the safety of a screen name universe is making a comeback. Assisted, ironically by this same technology an ancient form of connection between people is making a return to favor. That art is storytelling and one of the greatest practitioners of this precious form, Garrison Keillor visited the Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon. He absolutely delighted a full house with riveting tales told with affection and warmth. Within his droll descriptions of “plain, honest people” this yarn-spinner enlightened his listeners to the infinite variations of the best and slightly off-kilter idiosyncrasies of folks just like us.
Maestro Keillor is best known for his radio show, The Prairie Home Companion but at this matinee he ventured outside his native rural Minnesota frequently but returned again and again to examples of human frailty and wisdom in those dear ones of Lake Woebegon. He began the festivities with an impromptu song of the joys of warm California that set the stage for two fascinating hours of word paintings on subjects as diverse as his insomniac eight year old daughter, his sleep-eating, the silliness of low-fat diets for grandmas, the sweet memories of necking in the front seat of a car in the 50’s and a teeth-chattering description of Winter in Minnesota.
Keillor’s sonorous baritone caresses the words and his modulation changes slightly to emphasize the dialogues and descriptions. Interspersed, like on his radio show he tosses in a song, well done in fact and always interesting like the unusual “By the Waters of Babylon” mostly done by reggae musicians. There was also a goodly number of rock and roll oldies, which brightened his recollections of parking with a pretty girl, back in the days of bench seats and Ford coupes. You could look around the audience and find fellow travelers grinning from ear to ear and sinking into these dreamscapes joyfully, punctuating the commentary with raucous laughter and nods of understanding. The entire hall was connected by the humanity brought into focus by this one man.
After the intermission the second half was just one, incredibly interwoven story-masterpiece involving the commitment ceremony of Starflower Moonbright of California, twelve Lutheran ministers, a couple of fiberglass ducks, the bowling ball urn of a beloved, a bereaved grandson on a parasail, an ex-lover in a hot air balloon, a drunken old Norwegian bachelor and a lake dog with a rotten fish in his mouth. You kind of had to be there. Yes, the entire hall celebrated the visit of Garrison Keillor and actually exchanged glances of appreciation, not only of the superb storyteller but of each other as well.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

George Jones February 10, 2006

Classic Country with George Jones

By Glen Creason

No need to quibble on this one, no probably needed to qualify the statement of fact. The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts was privileged to present the venerable George Jones on Friday evening, most certainly the greatest Country and Western singer of all-time. You can have your current handsome cowboy song-slingers and runway model songstresses with a drawl but when you hear “the Possum” sing, he defines the musical form from the top of his starched hairdo to the tip of his pointy-toed boots. At seventy-four full years and a staggering 164 hit records Jones doesn’t need to utter a note to stand at the C&W mountaintop, he’s been there for years. While not everyone loves Country music, time will place this gentleman in the pantheon of American icons of the performing arts. Then again, if he heard himself described that way he probably would reach for his shotgun but he is a national treasure, like it or not.
At Cerritos, the Possum’s fans were out in force and they are nothing but hard-core. It was my luck, for the second consecutive Jones show, to sit behind the biggest cowboy hat in the county but dang it the guy wearing it loved George. In truth, the show was far from perfect and the old Possum showed a little sputter coming out of the gate with “Why Baby Why” and “Once You’ve Had the Best” that were comparatively thin and lacking the spectacular, emotional navigation of “the voice.” Overall, he does not have the strength in his pipes to achieve the incredible elasticity and depth he once had due to the medicine he’s forced to take as a price for his wilder days. Jones makes no bones about the crooked path he has trod and sang a few of those trademarks from back when he wiped his brow with the devil’s kerchief including “Bartender’s Blues,” “Sinners and Saints” and the deeply affecting “Choices” that gave serious goose bumps. He wisely gave the stage over the superb fiddler Jim Buchanan several times to catch his breath and “Black Mountain Rag,” “Blackberry Blossom,” and “Fire on the Mountain” was much more than filler. The great old ballads owned by George Jones mesmerized the full house such as “I’ve Always Been Lucky With You,” “”A Picture of Me Without You,” and a sterling silver “I’m Not Ready Yet” that stirred the echoes of greatness. There was a forgotten line or two along the way and even one comical coughing start and stop in his salute to wife Nancy on “I’m a One Woman Man.” However, I am comparing him to the greatest country singer ever and as the show progressed the Possum gained momentum climbing toward his accustomed heights. Duets he once performed with Tammy Wynette were beautifully executed by Sheri Copeland especially “Take Me,” “Golden Ring” and proof of the Possum’s current stature with a powerhouse “Blues Man” that ventured beyond his accustomed genre.
The fans begged for and got “White Lightening,” “From a Window Up Above,” “the Grand Tour” “She Still Thinks I Care” and probably the greatest C&W song ever “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” However, the concert’s finest moments came on two mixed media performances, one the highly emotional “50,000 Names” about the Vietnam Veterans Wall and the increasingly poignant “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” that brought to mind a similar question about the white haired man at center stage. Despite his protestations that “I Don’t Need No Rocking Chair” the Cerritos crowd should count themselves lucky to have seen the living legend one more precious time.