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, May 21, 2007

Rick Braun May 19, 2007

Rick Braun Blows the Roof Off Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It should have been a portent of sounds to come when we saw the ushers at the Performing Arts Center holding bags of ear-plugs at door one before the Rick Braun “Smooth Jazz” concert on Saturday evening. A sign said the concert was “contemporary” and audience members should expect high volumes of the instrumentation. All of that was well and good, including the music overall but the arena rock pumped dimensions of sound certainly had the faithful leaning backwards in their vibrating seats. Braun who made his name with rather sweet tunes like “Holding Back the Years,” “Kisses in the Rain,” “Daughters” and “Sao Paulo” tossed the soft stuff in the back seat and tore up the hall on this night. Even though it was Saturday he took a “TGIF” attitude to the entire show, even playing it to open with fevered intensity that continued for a solid couple of hours.
The accomplished young trumpeter is not all about ego and surrounded himself with an all-star band including smooth stars Gregg Karukas on keyboards, British saxophone powerhouse Shilts and high voltage rhythm guitarist Randy Jacobs, all of whom had plenty of solo time in this show. Most importantly, drummer extraordinaire Rayford Griffin and big-time bass man Stan Sargent built a strong platform of R&B for the horns and leads on this night of well-muscled sound. “Hollywood and Vine” brought glitter gulch to Cerritos and “Emma’s Song,” dedicated to Braun’s little daughter was one of the exceptions to roughly smooth on this volume-inous evening. Shilts did a spirited job on his own composition “Look What’s Happened” and the first half closed with fully lyrical but laid out “Shining Star” and a funky jam called “Green Tomatoes spiced by the roaring rhythm guitar and keyboard daring do of Mssrs. Jacobs and Karukas.
The second half had a little more nuance and texture with the excellent guitarist Peter White joining for a couple of songs including a lengthy sonic journey sampling everything from funky reggae to themes from Bond flicks and a lively “Kisses in the Rain” that heated up pretty good for a supposed smoothie. Gregg Karukas played the sweet and saucy “Share the Girl in the Red Dress” which reached a very nice electric piano groove and the next number was just all about a mega-marathon drum solo by Rayford Griffin. In his finishing kick Braun gave the big crowd an added treat by bounding up and down the center aisle blasting off trumpet riffs as he went, delighting one and all who were able to see their hero up close and very personal. One of the wonders of the cordless microphone is this literal joining of the audience where they can actually see the artist sweat. Braun thrilled the faithful as he traded solos with the sax marvel Shilts blowing up a storm in his own section of the good seats. The place reached maximum thrust as the band finished with the marvelous “Grazin’ in the Grass” including electrifying stuff from all the front men, especially the young man with the trumpet.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Cats" May 12, 2007

Sleek and Lively “Cats” Captivates Center

By Glen Creason

While it might not be a prerequisite, it certainly helps in appreciating the Broadway musical “Cats” to be a servant of the pointy-eared masters. When you combine the musical genius of Andrew Lloyd Weber, the surprisingly light-hearted words of the great poet T.S. Eliot and the behavior of felines together you get a smash-hit that has enthralled theater-lovers, music-lovers and ailurophiles for twenty-six years. This little fitting of the cat’s pajamas pranced at the Performing Arts Center over the weekend, shining like a well-groomed feline and demonstrating the beauty of the score that has so many great songs. Yet, despite the memorable music, “Cats” is very much a dance show too which was emphasized here to great effect. This show, mounted by Troika entertainment out of Washington D.C. has taken great care to treat the classic with respect and plenty of production muscle including marvelous sets, costumes, lighting and fine performers throughout.
Even with all the obvious money on stage the show hinges totally on the many cat characters to maintain a sort of happy litter of rascals, noble beasts, scamps and mysterious moggies. One by one the cats, as described in Mr. Eliot’s poem “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” are introduced: the chubby Gumbie Cat, the outcast has-been Grizabella, big old Bustapher Jones, the spunky Mungoejerry and Rumpleteaser, Old sage Deuteronomy, player-Tom cat Rum Tum Tigger, the fierce Growltiger, the rail-cat Skimbleshanks, the mysterious Macavity and the fearsome Mister Mistoffelees. T.S. Eliot obviously studied his masters since almost all of the characteristics of our feline bosses are exemplified in these characters. The cuteness of Jennyanydots, the quiet wisdom of Deuteronomy, the faded glamour of Grizabella, the cartoonish yet loveable Bustapher, the peripatetic Skimbleshanks, the naughty Mistoffeles and the fun-loving pair Mungoejerry and Rumpleteaser demonstrate feline hi-jinks quite well. Just like the wandering furry ones, the cast sometimes leaves the stage and moves in bratty ways through the surprised audience.
Of course, this is a musical and the songs are central to the show, especially the classic “Memory” that can make or break a performance. At Cerritos Angie Smith as Grizabella gave a genuinely magnificent reading in both versions of the song, reaching portions of Artesia with high notes struck at the conclusion. Also excellent here in Cerritos were Philip Peterson as Old Deuteronomy, Joanna Silvers as Rumpleteaser, Ryan Patrick Farrell as Mistoffeles, Anissa Hartline as Griddlebone and Christopher Sidoli as Gus the Theater Cat. Many of the roles are especially demanding since they required singing and exhuberant dance routines together that were accomplished with aplomb at Cerritos. The cast is young, enthusiastic and energetic but there is a polish that shows from many performances in a Cats costume. Some of the very best moments of the show were total ensemble pieces that involve the full-twenty cast members together including the wonderful “Naming of Cats,” the electrifying “Jellicle Ball,” and the spectacular “Journey to the Heavyside Layer.” Sashaying through three decades of song and cat-dance this show seems to be as full of fun and surprises as the mighty felines themselves.

Pirates of Penzance May 5, 2007

Pirates of Penzance Capture Cerritos

By Glen Creason

Talk about authoritative! The one hundred and seventeen year old comic opera of “Pirates of Penzance” hit the boards of the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend and was perfectly performed by the one hundred and thirty-six year old Carl Rosa Opera Company. The hugely professional and accomplished troupe right directly from Merry Olde England showed respect and affection for the classic, taking it to the top of its form. Gilbert and Sullivan’s delightful piratical romp literally sparkled from the polish administered by such a talented ensemble. The Carl Rosa actors and actresses are veteran performers who understand the craft and use it to really make the old jewel fairly twinkle in dialogue, song, costume and sets. If you love the works of the godfather’s of the musical then this one would be your steak and kidney pie.
The plot, like something from a late-night triple-meat-pizza nightmare totters back and forth between the beach filled with not so scary pirates to the grounds of the estate of Major General Stanley and his many, many daughters. The key characters are young Frederick who has been apprenticed to these mild pirates due to the hearing difficulties of his governess (his father wanted to apprentice him to a Pilot!), Mabel the sweet young daughter who is Fred’s intended, Major General Stanley and the King of Pirates. The plot may seem convoluted but you never have a chance to ponder such due to the brisk pace and wonderful music that some in wave after wave. This production profits from the fine work of these principals. Kevin Kyle as Frederick has the voice and acting skills to get the most out of the honorable and steadfast young idealist. Charlotte Page as the pretty Mabel had probably the finest voice on stage as evidenced in “Poor Wandering One” and added a lot even the ensemble musical numbers like “Oh Dry the Glistening Tear.” Barry Clark was truly outstanding both with his strong baritone and physical comedy gifts while singing the trademark “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” Clark was impeccable in song and held the proceedings together without reverting to buffoonery that might weaken the overall show. The costumes and sets should be mentioned, as they were top-drawer throughout. From the distressed but colorful pirate getups to the elegant wedding attire in the finale the stage was always an interesting and colorful feast for the eyes. There was quality throughout and the experience of principals showed in the fine work of Bruce Graham as the Pirate King, Rosemary Ashe as governess Ruth and Anthony Raffell as the Sergeant of Police. Overall, the evening enchanted without being silly, got plenty of laughs from it’s century old jokes and left many an audience member whistling “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” delightedly as they strolled to their cars. The Carl Rosa Company takes Gilbert and Sullivan seriously and in turn gives the audience great music and plenty of fun.