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"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Brenda Russell and Earl Klugh October 27, 2007

Brenda Russell and Earl Klugh at Cerritos: No Wrinkles

By Glen Creason

Once again the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts became the venue for Smooth in Southern California as veteran performers Brenda Russell and Earl Klugh charmed a full house at the big hall on Saturday night. Together, these two possess decade upon decade of success and piles of gold in both bank holdings and records on the wall. Brenda Russell is a songwriter and singer of great skills and repertoire while Earl Klugh is just one of the best acoustic guitar players breathing the (somewhat murky southland) air of planet earth.
Ms. Russell opened the show with her foot down on the pace accelerator, bouncing through a pair of up-tempo joys including the evocative “Walkin’ in New York” that demonstrated from the get-go that the band she brought was top-drawer. Animated bass player Bill Sharpe once again stood out in this ensemble but double keyboardists Stephan Oberhoff and Bill Simpson along with a sensational young Latin percussionist named Ronny Gutierrez kept the sound superb throughout. Miss Russell wrings the utmost out of an arrangement and her “Expect a Miracle,” “Make You Smile” and “Please Felipe” raised the temperatures in the hall. Yet, the best was reserved for last as her finish included the silky smooth classic “Piano in the Dark,” a rather spectacular, gospel-spiced “So Good, So Right” and the truly grand finale of her anthem “Get Here.”
Earl Klugh continued a theme of great surrounding musicians and strong central playing in the second half of the evening. Klugh is mild-mannered, soft-spoken and unassuming but he just lets his ax do the yakking. His stage-mates included the powerhouse sax-man Lenny Price, legendary keyboardist David Lee and three of the best back-up singers you will ever hear. It was a very unusual group for an acoustic guitar concert since it included a five-man horn section and the trio of voices. The curtain-raising “Night Walk” was pure smooth jazz, the tune opened with an electrifying sax journey by Mr. Price, then centered on Klugh’s precise and lyrical guitar with a dreamy soundscape created by the full band. Once, the crown prince of quiet reflection Klugh brought plenty of voltage to the Cerritos stage this time. The easy-going music and patter were there yet pumped up a bit as in the absolutely beautiful “This Time” which was elevated by the spirited vocal of Lamont Van Hook. Strangely enough in a concert by a guitar great, the high points were songs with words sung by the back-up singer talent. Lynne Fiddmont was utterly sensational in her turn of the gorgeous “Now and Again” and young Valerie Pinkston put some tasty edges on a long jam of “Holding On” once more injected with funk by Bill Sharpe. This is not to say Klugh’s guitar was overwhelmed or ignored. Certainly his playing was at the highest levels and when the band finished with “Back in Central Park” he just demonstrated in capital letters why he is the headliner.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Emmylou Harris October 10

Emmylou Harris: An Abundance of Musical Riches

By Glen Creason

The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts is certainly setting the bar pretty high lately. The recent visit of traditional music great Emmylou Harris continues a trend of hall of fame performers to visit the great hall in the month of October. With thirty years of experience on the boards, a matching number of albums and twelve Grammy’s to show for her artistry this silver maned lady has sweetened many a song with her silky, “high lonesome sound” soprano. She doesn’t fool around much on stage and kept the storytelling to a minimum, choosing instead to pack the proceedings with music, plenty of the very best in the genre. On this night she came with ample help from the band sometimes known as “Carolina Star” who played in many styles, all with great passion and skill from bluegrass to gospel to what once was called country-rock. The great dobro player Mike Auldridge lead the way in support but Rickie Simpkins on fiddle, Jimmy Gaudreau on mandolin and Tom Gray on bass really put some giddy up in two dozen bluegrass, county and gospel tunes that comprised the concert.
There was a relaxed tone in the early going with nice stuff like “Songbird,” “Roses in the Snow,” “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “Miss the Mississippi and You” lolling the audience into a countrified groove. Despite a the little canter of “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” the bittersweet ballad specialties of Emmylou returned with a perfect “One of These Days,” the deeply affecting James Taylor song “Millworker” and just one of many gospel gems “If I Be Lifted Up.” While Miss Harris strained a few times on the high lonesome notes in this time of weather temperature transition she carried on toward an entire CDs worth of beautiful choices from her huge repertoire. Much of the music came from her early work and none worked better than a fine rendition of “Making Believe” that was balanced by the easy on the ears “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” The songwriting was at the highest levels including the work of Townes Van Zandt in his masterpiece “Pancho and Lefty,” and probably the highlight of the show in “Snowing on Raton” which gave goose bumps for sure. There was a healthy portion of sanctified song including the crisp harmonies of “Jordan,” a very nice “Green Pastures” and the wondrous “Get Up John” that really glowed like polished gold. Family also figured and the highlight to my ears on this night was most certainly “Love and Happiness” dedicated to her own. Emmylou mixed in the secular too and standout material on this night came from disparate sources such as Paul Simon’s “the Boxer,” and Graham Parsons “Sin City” and “Wheels” which served as a perfect setup for an encore of the emotion-drenched “Boulder to Birmingham.” October 2007 will most certainly be a month to remember on Center drive.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

John Prine October 8, 2007

Triumphant Return of John Prine at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

No need to mince words about the visit of John Prine to the Performing Arts Center; the key noun here is genius. That superlative may be tossed around endlessly but when it comes to the songs of this songwriter and his performances of same, the grand meaning of the word is stretched to the limits. I could go on about how long I have been a fan or that I have the beat up vinyl eponymous album from 1971. However, the fact is that Prine has become an American icon with a repertoire of classic, insightful and precious song jewels that will stand until sound ceases to come out of speakers. At 61 years of age Mr. Prine has come through the valley of death in battling cancer and emerged strong, wise and with a legendary status at the top of the musical mount Olympus. To see him and to hear these treasures is a rare privilege indeed.
At Cerritos Prine was in tip-top shape, singing with power and amazing stamina, indeed giving the rabid fans in the hall almost two dozen of his best. Opening with “Spanish Pipedream” and “Picture Show” he had the audience singing along in the first ten minutes. Then, the chestnuts just tumbled out of his rich satchel of songs including “Souvenirs,” “Grandpa Was a Carpenter,” “Far from Me,” “Fish and Whistle,” “Glory of True Love” and “Crazy as a Loon.” Each was unique and while simple in tone, remarkably deep in meaning. Not content to just showcase his words Prine put a ribbon on this package with lead guitarist Jason Wilber who made the sound textured and colorful beyond even the original recordings. Wilber, with his clean-cut appearance and unreal dexterity re-defined guitar solos on many an occasion during the show.
There was a sort of masterpiece middle of the concert when “Angel from Montgomery,” “Illegal Smile,” “Please Don’t Bury Me,” “Sam Stone,” and “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round” captivated the howling crowd but the real tour de force of the whole evening was his brilliant reading of the epochal “Jesus, the Missing Years.” Prine got out the electric guitar for some stronger stuff but “Great Rain” and “She is My Everything” gave way to a finishing kick of the lovely “Lake Marie” and the wonderfully optimistic and poignant “Blue Umbrella” that is quintessential Prine. In every possible way this evening was triumphant for John Prine and the fans that stayed in their seats roaring for their hero way past the last notes sung. Only a crazy man with an iron sense of self would want to open shows for a living legend in front of a hall of Prine fanatics but Dan Reeder is all of that. The clever, occasionally profane, musically skilled and sometimes hilarious gentleman won the Prine-iacs over almost immediately. Plucked from obscurity by O-Boy Records and John Prine, Reeder has developed a following with his offbeat humor and unique songs. Among the near dozen songs in the set, Reeder really shone on “Clean Elvis,” “I Drink Beer” “No One Will Laugh,” and the very sweet “Beautiful” that demonstrated his serious side. However, the real fun came with two songs whose titles can’t be discussed in a family newspaper but will be on my Ipod soon.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

"Movin' Out" October 5, 2007

Movin’ Out” Moves Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The much ballyhooed new-style musical “Movin’ Out” showed up at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend and provided a very interesting and energetic experience for an audience that wasn’t quite sure what to make of the thing at first. If you hadn’t done a little research you would not understand that this musical is really a dance-ical with no dialogue whatsoever. The plot is advanced by the choreography of dance great Twyla Tharp who garnered a Tony for this work back in 2002 when the show opened on Broadway. Ms. Tharp had an idea for a sort of ballet based on pop songs that was risky but innovative. The proceedings move forward with the help of the songs of Billy Joel and the inspired numbers that represent the stages in the lives of a group of young people getting ready to take on the adult world. We get to experience them dancing through passages from high school to a reunion a decade later with plenty of drama in between.
Maybe the crowd, like myself was a little slow on the uptake of this format but the early going was met with quizzical stares and a long wait for somebody to say something. Yet, after a while the rhythm was struck and as the story unfolded in the bodies of the actor/dancers. The show began to glow a bit and finally became quite riveting as the story moved from the naiveté of kids playing at being adults to battle-worn, somewhat grizzled veterans of the battles (literally and figuratively) of life. The early scenes involved the kids preening for each other, exercising benign, petty jealousies and acting out a little rebellious defiance as they graduated from High School. Set in idyllic Long Island in the 1960’s the story takes a mean turn in the next stage as the men are called off to Vietnam and one boy is killed and two others return home damaged. Eventually, this disillusionment turns into drugs and a stagger along the seedy side of life. However, the undercurrent of love and redemption, exemplified by some of the female characters eventually wins over the young men, releases them from addiction and the show presents a very optimistic denouement.
Young Drew Heflin danced the part of Eddie and was outstanding in this incredibly demanding role that included numerous solos and more energy than I could summon in a month. On the female side Amanda Kay was very good as Brenda who went through changes stateside with her own kind of challenges and emotional angst. The scenes accompanying “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Angry Young Man,” “Goodnight Saigon” and the Finale/Reunion” were particularly spectacular on this night but the dancing throughout was top drawer. The musical part of the “musical” worked perfectly at this performance with the vocals handled by Matthew Friedman who really put some color into the sound. The eight-member band built a strong platform for Friedman and fellow vocalist Kyle Martin was excellent singing the tenor parts. The piece begins and ends with the sweet “Italian Restaurant” but includes some of Billy Joel’s best: “For the Longest Time,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Goodnight Saigon,” “Uptown Girl” and “Only the Good Die Young” that gave the audience something familiar to hang on to as the dance narrative unfolded.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Vonda Shepard/ Sheena Easton September 29

Vonda Shepard and Sheena Easton at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

You might scratch your head at the pairing of Vonda Shepard and Sheena Easton who held court at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday. Shepard is the deeply emotional and romantic singer-songwriter who made her mark with moody, expressionistic emo-songs in the 90’s. She will forever be linked with the mega-popular TV show “Ally McBeal” since she penned the theme and added musical color to many episodes. Most fans will tell you that the show was at its best when Ms. Shepard set the tone for its stars battles in the war between men and women. Sheena Easton, the vivacious and sexy songstress who harkens back to the bad hair 80’s made her mark with dance tunes and a style of R&B characterized by the likes of Janet Jackson or Madonnna. In terms of the pastry tray, one lady is as light and fluffy as meringue and the other sort of like dense chocolate cake.
Vonda Shepard at the Steinway opened the show with just two acoustic accompanists. Fortunately one of her partners was the greatly gifted James Ralston on guitar and his work spiced the set and kept the music at a very high level. Ms. Shepard took great pains also to pace the show and alternate from her probing, introspective stuff like “Wildest of Times,” the bittersweet “Another January,” and Cross to Bear” with rollicking up tempo R&B tunes like “Respect Yourself” and the wonderful Aretha Franklin jewel “Every Natural Thing.” Vonda Shepard has a marvelously powerful voice that she wields in reaching emotional highs in her pieces but it is never overused or overwrought. Particularly nice on this night was her pristine reading of “Maryland” with audience whispering participation of the “la la la la’s” and “Baby Don’t You Break My Heart.” Of course, she just had to give the crowd what they begged for and took us back to the joys of Ally McBeal with her trademark “Searchin’ for My Soul.”
The bubbly and self-effacing Sheena Easton, once a huge sex symbol and now a self-described “prisoner of youth soccer” closed the show. Sheena certainly still looks great and her big voice is totally intact. She did not hesitate in getting the pot boiling by starting off with the up-tempo 80’s joys of “Strut” and “Lover in Me” while her big, bad band blasted away just like it was back in the day of feathered hairdo. She told funny stories with her dulled Scottish burr, sang the golden oldies and strutted her pretty impressive stuff for over an hour. The ace in the hole she held on this night was the singing help of Philip Ingram who can sing every note on the planet with room to spare.The pair really put a charge into the old Sheena/Prince duet on “U Got the Look” and the emotionally charged ballad “Why Don’t You Stay” that redefined the male vocal in that duet. Some things did not work as well including a Burt Bacharach turn of “I Say a Little Prayer,” and the country and western winner “In My Daughter’s Eyes” but others struck the bull’s-eye, especially “Morning Train,” “Fallen Angels” and the utterly obligatory encore of “For Your Eyes Only.”