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.

My Photo
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, March 25, 2007

Lily Tomlin March 24, 2007

Lily Tomlin Show is a Lulu

By Glen Creason

“No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.”
-Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin visited the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday and left it just as it was except a little warmer and wiser. The celebrated lady has been more than a comedienne or actress for the past several decades, elevating herself to more of a sage status through stage, screen and tube appearances. She is a household name and has been considered THE first lady of humor since she was compared to the great Richard Pryor back in the 70’s. In this one-woman show there is absolutely no frills, no pretensions, no profanity and no stone unturned. You have got to be mighty confident to come out and face thousands of people who paid plenty good money and all you have to offer them is words. Ms. Tomlin had just a stool and an empty stage yet enthralled the full-house for a solid 90 minutes, and then sweetly responded to a Q&A after. Lily has seemed to make her way in the world with this talent, sort of a survival of the wittiest. She was dressed comfortably to draw attention to her characters and not to her person. Oh yes, she was fantastic as half a dozen ladies or children including Edith Ann; Trudy the Homeless Lady; Judith Beasley, southern housewife; Ernestine the operator; Madame Lupe, the octogenarian beauty expert and Sister Boogie Woman. All of them were unique, ingenious and performed with an accompanying physical comedy skills that made them come to life on the stage. Lily Tomlin sometimes seems to channel Will Rogers and at other times Charley Chaplin. The beauty of her humor is that it is gentle and insightful without judging the weaknesses of our fellow human beings. She makes fun of all of us, including and especially herself.
She made the show personal, addressing the locals about her dreams of playing Cerritos as a child tongue in cheek. Yet her many compliments and sincere designation of the place as world-class certainly got her off on the right foot. While her wicked, sharp political barbs seemed to draw less enthusiasm from the conservative crowd she kept using the truth as her lightening rod. There was Trudy calling “reality just a collective hunch.” Edith Ann and her tale of purloined animal crackers, Ernestine took Governor Arnold to task for privatizing her phone company and Judith Beasley told a racy story involving “hamburger helper for the bedroom.” Yet the finest moments came in the interims between characters when Lily Tomlin talked as Lily about her own coming of age in Detroit. The story of her angry teenage years involving her parent’s humdrum discussion of cake was utterly brilliant. The long tale of a childhood crush on her grammar school teacher was both touching and hilarious. Also a colorful fantasy about being a waitress at Howard Johnson’s showed her middle-class roots that she has never stood away from even after considerable stardom. And of course, she is brilliant in physically assuming the persona of all these characters. None of said characters were more convincing than the ancient Madame Lupe which involved the transformation of Ms. Tomlin’s age right before our eyes. This versatility allowed Lily Tomlin to quote Andre Malraux on one hand and offer six-year old Edith Ann’s raspberry to the crowd on the other. Without a prop in sight, she left the packed house, standing in cheerful admiration and ovation.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Etta James March 17, 2007

The One and the Only Etta James at a Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts can boast the appearances of many a living legend and a few national treasures standing in their footlights over the past decade and a half. Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself to fully realize the performer in front of you on that stage. The names Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Sonny Rollins, Judy Collins, Tony Bennett, George Jones and Leontyne Price come quickly to mind. Add one more to this illustrious pantheon of greats in the name of Etta James, America’s greatest living R&B singer. In an historic visit to our humble climes the great “Miss Peaches” came, saw and conquered Cerritos on a sparkling Saturday evening with an utterly sensational evening of song and blues shouting. The many degrees of greatness she possesses in her limitless vocal chords were demonstrated for a power-packed ninety minutes in which she wasted no breath or time, belting out everything from paint-peeling blues shouts to ethereal ballads that sent the audience to their hankies to daub away tears.
A seasoned veteran who takes it way back before the Beatles and Motown Etta James is wise enough to assemble a fine band, this one the “Roots Band” who warmed the crowd by slicing off several juicy slices of funky blues roots before Ms. James ever hobbled to center stage. The band is anchored by two talented lead guitarists in Bobby Murray and bandleader Joshua Sklair along with the showmanship of keyboardist David Matthews and a rhythm foundation provided on bass and drums by the Jones sons Sarmento and Donto. Etta may have bad knees that reduce her mobility and force her to sing while seated but there is nothing wrong with her glorious ten-story building of a voice. There seems to be no note she cannot reach but she sings plenty that others can’t. At seventy years of age she seems to have lost nothing in range and expressiveness which she demonstrated from the first bars of “Teach Me Tonight” and steamrolled through “I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby,” “I’d Rather Be Blind,” “Damn Your Eyes” and the funkiest, grittiest and tastiest “You Can Leave Your Hat On” you will ever hear. The band was slamming and Etta James used every note in the human vocal chord during this opening burst. She slowed just for a minute in the sultry “A Lover Is Forever” demonstrating every nuance in the lyric then gave the packed house what they begged for in the rocking “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” and the exquisite “At Last,” the song she will own eternally. Seemingly spent, Etta James tried to leave the stage but was cajoled out by the adoring crowd for a trio of winners including “”My Dearest Darling,” “All I Could Do Was Cry” and an absolutely intoxicating “Love and Happiness” that achieved one of those rare moments when the entire hall became one, joyful whole, rocking in fully focused rhythm. The lady seemed to love her time on the Cerritos stage and the audience seemed also to feel it was a genuine privilege to hear her sing in person at last.

Friday, March 09, 2007

David Lindley and Leo Kottke March 7, 2007

David Lindley and Leo Kottke: Music from the Masters

By Glen Creason

Wednesday evening’s no-frills concert at the Performing Arts Center by David Lindley and Leo Kottke was disorganized, short on vocal skills, lacking in color, poor in its exposition and somewhat plagued by audience boors who blabbed while the artists played. It was also, without a scintilla of doubt, the best concert at the Center this year. If you looked up “musician’s musicians” in Wikipedia there might as well be pictures of these two gentlemen because their devotion to the craft and unremitting quest for new sounds and expressions is unmatched in acoustic music. Lindley, always one of the most sought after session guitarists in the land has long since been off on the road not taken, blazing trails and actually creating his own exotic stringed instruments. This artist makes the most commonplace melody extraordinary in his talented hands. He can play a raw, simply structured blues tune from the 1920’s and sing with a voice that sounds like steam escaping from a pig bladder but it works beautifully, transporting listeners into a Technicolor movie of sound.
Lindley takes inspiration from places that former rock legends don’t often go which include the Middle East, the Balkans, Asia and big islands off the coast of Africa. He plays the oud, the bouzouki, the Weissenborn guitar, the national dynamic and sundry other stringed instruments that look mighty exotic and sound divine in the master’s hand. He started the show with “the Young Man Who Couldn’t Hoe Corn (the Lazy Man)” which comes from traditional sources dating back to 1931 and recorded by the likes of Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand and Burl Ives. Like most of Lindley’s stuff, this one won’t soon be on the Christina Aguilera play list. The delightfully quirky “Seminole Bingo” by Warren Zevon and Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” were perfectly complimented by Lindley’s many-layered oud playing and high-pitched vocals. A tune from his Kaleidoscope days was decidedly Middle-Eastern dance music. The astounding arrangement and superb dexterity of Lindley’s flying fingers on a dreamy melody done for a children’s record called “Song of Sacagawea” was plain and simple genius. His finishing triumph was a reworking of Blind Willy Johnson’s “the Soul of a Man” fired to red-hot temperatures with a bouzouki of some kind and ably assisted by his show-partner Kottke. Leo Kottke demonstrated everything that was great about the evening and much of what frustrated too in his half of the proceedings. He stood, slightly off center on a bare stage, surrounded, like Lindley by instruments and wires. His guitar playing was enthralling and impeccable, mostly on the 12-string that he has mastered like no one in acoustic music. His occasional patter was witty and droll, punctuated by a dry, self-effacing humor that harkens back to his Minnesota boyhood. Part of the problem here is that Kottke is so far from true showmanship and so divorced from the fleshpeddlars of music he won’t go near self-aggrandizement. When he closes his eyes, focuses inward and creates a current through his soul into his fingers on that guitar the results are magnificent and inspiring. However, he did not identify his tunes for the most part and even those who have been fans of the man since his masterpiece Takoma album could only say “oh yeah, I love that one but…” It might have been “Airproofing” or “Accordion Bells” or “Even His Shoes Looked Lonely” or “Three Quarter North” but Kottke’s opening two songs were beautiful done, lyrical and so chock full of guitar notes there were almost symphonic sounding. The more minimalist treatment of the Christmas melody “In the Bleak Midwinter” shone sweetly and “Monopoly was a sonic journey that just absolutely stunned the full house. “Julie’s House,” one his best-sung songs worked perfectly despite a voice he once described as sounding like geese passing wind. This lead into two marvelous instrumentals: “Morning Is a Long Way Home” and the absolutely gorgeous “Mockingbird Hill,” definitely the highlight of this very fine concert. A new tune “Ants” was replete with a long, convoluted yet charming intro, all part of a fantastic finishing kick featuring “Stealing” from the classic album, “Rings,” his trademark tune and an encore of (maybe) “Ice Miner” that was a sweet dessert at the conclusion this banquet of superb acoustic music.

Monday, March 05, 2007

SYTE/ON Ensemble March 2, 2007

SYTE/On Ensemble: Taking Taiko and Cerritos to Another Level

By Glen Creason

Judging by the full house, mixed between young hipsters and wise possessors of distinguished gray, the talents of the Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble and the ON Ensemble are not exactly a secret. There was a buzz denoting something special about to happen in the big hall on Friday night and audience volume without the fuel of alcohol sometimes means a lot. This being my maiden voyage with both groups I expected a good Taiko performance, which I got, and then much, much more. Both groups are polished and professional and each performed marvelously basing the proceedings on the ancient art of Taiko drumming. Yet, this was an evening of transcendence by both.
Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble, henceforth known as SYTE performed most of the first half of the show and stayed close to the Kumi-Daiko or ensemble drumming style while adding visual charm and choreography to their songs. Some of the initial pieces such as “Guardians,” and “Hitenko” were dreamy and almost hypnotic but the precision of the four players alternating from contemplative to an increasing rhythm raised the pulse of onlookers without raising the volume. “Dan Dan Batake” was demanding and took side-by-side drumming at a brisk pace dependent on razor sharp timing. “Ramen Ondo” was light-hearted but almost pop sounding, a refreshing change from the intensity of the opening numbers and even included an into the audience foray complete with gifts to a lucky few in the orchestra seats. “Wamblegleshka” brought out eight musicians and pulled out all the stops and instruments from didgeridoo to the O-Daiko as SYTE and ON got it on together for the first time of the night. The finishing kick of “So Du So” was utterly dazzling with choreography and surgical precision between the four drummers. Despite the sophistication of the art form there was an edgy, primal feel to the rapid drumming in unison. SYTE is probably not a group you would want to follow if you were a performer. Unfazed, the youngsters of ON Ensemble just simply tore up the second half of the show. This is one of the most innovative and musically fresh groups ever to take the stage in the big hall. From the magical sound of the opening “Gengakki” and its 13 string “okoto” playing to the lyrical and delicious “Watashi Watashitachi” the ON ensemble was playing with utterly esoteric instruments vibrant music you could hear on the radio and really dig. When is the last time you heard taiko drumming on the radio? The group could entertain alone on the fevered, four-part groove they achieve with their drums as in “Yama Song,” “Little Man” or the pure energy and synergy of “Zeecha” but they seemed to reaching for the stars on this night. The risky and totally avant-garde combining of turntable, western drum kit and taiko on “Turns” actually made for beautiful sounds and Shoji Kameda’s powerful throat singing on “After Rain” just expanded the now riveted audience’s musical consciousness. This is a very talented and unique group with the guts to take a centuries old art form to another level. This could never be confused with the sometimes dirty word: fusion. The taiko drumming is at the center of the ON performance but glitters like gold when surrounded by so much enthusiasm and polish.