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, January 27, 2008

Hairspray January 26, 2008

Hairspray Sets the Standard at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It’s hard to know where to start in describing the production of the musical “Hairspray” that came, saw and totally conquered Cerritos over the weekend. Apparently, everyone in these parts, except me, knew what a great show this was before the fact, evidenced by the totally sold-out throngs at each performance. Springing from the twisted mind of that genius of bad taste, John Waters this musical is a hybrid that has evolved into a wonderfully fun and high-voltage song and dance-a-thon with a conscience. You might be fooled early into thinking it is just a nostalgic frolic set in the halcyon days of the early sixties but “Hairspray” has some serious levels and ends up sending a strong message that you just don’t expect on the colorful surface. Who would have thought a film filled with trashy fashion, the darkest kinds of humor and over-the-top action that featured a 300 lb. transvestite as the Mother would end up as a play that taught tolerance better than a bushel of essays on the subject. By the time act Two is half over it hits you that “Hairspray” is a true morality play about accepting and embracing our differences. It’s Pilgrim’s Progress with very big hair, go-go dancing and lots of 60’s dance music. At Cerritos, the strong show was absolutely sparkling thanks to an excellent cast throughout. This enthusiastic and multi-talented group sang, danced and delivered the comic lines with real flair. Act one kept you busy with the exposition of the plot and some really great large dance numbers but Act Two just turned the hall on its ear. The back-to-back numbers of “Timeless to Me” and the totally electrifying “I Know Where I’ve Been” turned the show from terrific to absolutely fantastic for the finishing kick. This truly is an ensemble piece but some players really took this production up from good to great. Leading the way was the lead big girl Tracy, played with an unbounded optimism and adorable enthusiasm by Brooklyn Pulver. You might actually feel sorry for Tracy at first as she tries to rise above the “fat-ism” of her peers but by the end of the show you just don’t see her weight anymore but really fall in love with the character, just as it is suggested in the story. Jerry O’Boyle as Tracy’s Mom Edna was a powerhouse in the role that included a goodly amount of hoofing and singing for this rather large lady. Angela Birchett as “Motormouth Maybelle” just lit up the stage every time she had a scene and her singing of “I Know Where I’ve Been” really sent the production up an entire notch on this night. Constantine Rousouli as the dreamboat Link, Pearl Thomas as the spoiled princess Amber Von Tussle, the lithe Christian White as Seaweed, Arjana Andris in multiple roles, the spot on Dan Ferretti as Wilbur the Dad and Kristin Stewart as the evil Mom/station manager Velma were perfect in their demanding roles. Yet, strangely enough, like in a Hollywood movie it was a stand-in who stole the show at this performance. Sharon Malane as Penny Pingleton, the best pal of Tracy, just stood out in every way, transforming the loveable goofball pal into a shining example of open-mindedness and courage to explore life’s possibilities. Miss Malane was so good it was hard to take your eyes off her, even when she was in the middle of seventeen gyrating cast-members. “Hairspray” the stage musical, is actually much better than the movie or the movie musical. With the appealing Trudy so physically convincing and strong characters like Motormouth Maybelle and Seaweed showing the way the “lightweight” musical becomes much more.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

William Bolcomb, Piano and Joan Morris, Mezzo-Soprano January 20, 2008

William Bolcomb and Joan Morris Singing Volumes at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

If you are laboring under the illusion that everything new is better or that music tweaked by technology is progress then you should have been at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon. There, a lucky few were treated to an edifying, illuminating and exhilarating concert by the wondrous mezzo soprano Joan Morris and her toweringly talented pianist-hubby William Bolcomb. Called “champions of the American popular vocal literature” this duo presents with little pomp a dazzling array of musical beauties drawn from a very deep well of musical scholarship and stage experience. Since the early 70’s this team has taken forgotten genres and songs and made them shine again. It’s like they take you up in the attic of our musical history and open an old trunk full of precious mementos. They blow the dust off the lovely jewels, put their own great skills to the task and make the listener fully understand why people fell in love with these songs when they were new. This is certainly no cruise ship re-hash of the warhorses of American popular song but a meticulously chosen selection of different emotions, intentions and musical creations ranging from the 1890’s music hall to the enduring sweetness of a Lennon and McCartney tune from the late 60’s. Over the years and with twenty-three albums these two great artists have breathed lovely life into great songs from the turn of the century, from forgotten ragtime, from cabaret and popular song from throughout the twentieth century. William Bolcomb and Joan Morris celebrate our finest songwriters including Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Hubie Blake, Jerome Kern, Noel Coward, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Harry Warren, Lieber and Stoller and many more by singing their wonderful songs with passion and panache.
You could literally write a book, indeed an encyclopedia on what Maestro Bolcomb and La Morris know about popular songs but their musical skills match the lofty choices they put forward in the show. When the lady sang Paul Dresser’s sentimental “On the Banks of the Wabash” or another cautionary tale from the nineteenth century “After the Ball” they didn’t sound dated or corny but touched the heart just as they did for folks in the Victorian era. When she sweetly caressed “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Glad to Be Unhappy,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” or Eubie Blake’s greatly underrated “You’re Lucky to Me” you just got lost in the lyrics. Of course, from that trunk in America’s attic they brought forth material that was delightful yet maybe not really serious. The quirky and cute top of the 1900 pops “the Bird on Nelly’s hat” opened the show and Cole Porter’s hilarious “The Tale of an Oyster” offered spice to the more familiar pieces in the repertoire.
The second half of the show unveiled some other surprises including the whimsical “A Bar on the Piccola Marina” by Noel Coward, Bolcomb and Arnold Weinstein’s terrific cabaret song “At the Last Lousy Moments of Love” and the couples own wedding present to each other “Lime Jell-O, Marshmallow, Cottage Cheese Surprise.” These charmed along with really beautiful renditions of classics like “Our Love in Here to Stay,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” the truly sublime “Always” and a romp through Lieber and Stoller’s “Black Denim Trousers” that roared like the motorcycle in the story. As if the superb singing wasn’t enough, William Bolcomb treated us to two marvelous piano solos including the Brazilian composer Nazareth’s Tango and the mesmerizing “Graceful Ghost,” a ragtime composition of great import. The small crowd at the Center stood and gave all they had at the conclusion of this excellent afternoon of songs, bidding the two out for three encores including a very sweet “When I’m 64” sounding even better than when I first heard it in my twentieth year.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Disneyland January 14, 2008

Coming Back Home to Disneyland

By Glen Creason

For those of us who are natives of Southern California, owning up to the dreaded handle of “Baby Boomers” Disneyland has a special cachet in the stages and phases of our lives. My siblings and I were there, gripping the chain across Main Street and champing at the bit on July 17, 1955. That Summer Sunday President Eisenhower was preparing for a parlay with the big four, there was a transit strike in LA, Cardinal Mindszenty was released by the commies, there was a brush fire in La Canada and Duke Snider hit two home runs to lead the Brooklyn Dodgers to a 5-4 win over the Redlegs. However, in my world that was all unimportant. After our beloved Walt Disney had beat the drum on our favorite TV show (called ironically “Disneyland”) about this fabulous place in close by Anaheim we just could hardly wait. It’s really hard to admit it but fifty-two years ago I began my love affair with the Magic Kingdom. Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Main Street are like landmarks in my boyhood neighborhood.
The phases and stages have been notched at the park in Anaheim from that day as an eight-year-old to teenage wise-acreing to my hippie days when we were looked upon askance at the park to high school dates with beauties now faded, to my daughter’s early rides on Dumbo or the Matterhorn or Small World (no, no don’t sing it, don’t sing it). The excitement of the parking lot, the pressing through the main gate, the obligatory photograph in front of the Mickey Mouse floral display and that first rush of amazement upon entering Main Street have hardly abated for me over the years. Even though I now am a bit wizened and no longer see the reflection of the boy in the Keds tennis shoes in the glimmer of windows of the joke shop under Sleeping Beauty’s castle, I still thrill to a day at the Magic Kingdom.
Yet, this Monday, with ten family in tow was my first since the park remodeled and the place has truly received a makeover that left my head spinning. Exiting the Santa Ana freeway you now sort of are enveloped into a huge thruway to a vast parking structure that seems larger than some cities. After a lengthy drive and well-orchestrated direction you arrive in a sparkling (everything is scrubbed and sparkling at Disneyland) tram stop where you board within minutes and head for another huge plaza with the “old” Disneyland on the left and other attractions like Downtown Disney and California adventure on the right. True to the spirit of the post 9/11 times the security is tight at the park and you must pass through an airport-like security check that only served to heighten the hysteria of the kids waiting to take on D-land.
On this “harsh” Southern California Winter’s day with the mercury hovering around 78 degrees the place looked just washed and bathed in brilliant sunshine. The crowds were deliciously small and waits to get on any ride were never more than fifteen minutes. True to the age-tested philosophy Disneyland will never show its age or neglect. No, overflowing trash cans, grimy guardrails or galootish behavior from guests in this Magic Kingdom. We rode dozens of rides, some with glee, some with slightly whitened knuckles and even checked out the classics like “Jungle Cruise,” “Dumbo,” “Storybook land,” and the nicely revamped “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Other more challenging attractions like old pal Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Railway sped up the pulse-rates and satisfied the younger generation. Old reliables Mister Toad, Alice in Wonderland and Autopia demonstrated that “if it aint broke, why fix it.” We also got to enjoy one of the most impressive parades you will ever see outside of Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Of course, the friends and family who joined in this nostalgic voyage make or break the true quality of any visit. In my case I was blessed with a brother, a sister, a bro. in law, a couple of nephews, a daughter and great-nieces of very high jocularity. We laughed long and hard, remembering the past, forgetting the troubled world outside the gates and celebrating the present with equal enthusiasm.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Garrison Keillor January 6, 2008

Garrison Keillor, a Man of His Word

By Glen Creason

Early in his performance at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday afternoon Garrison Keillor described himself as the last of the flag bearers of radio story-telling. He continued a few words later to say that youngsters of today, having never been exposed to the giants of the art like Bob and Ray or Jean Sheperd think he invented the form and is a genius. Like the many humble and self-deprecating remarks that flow flippantly from Mister Keillor’s golden tonsils this is a rather massive understatement. Keillor demonstrated with his immense skills and supreme artistry at this show that story-telling is very healthy and ready to take the 21st Century by storm. Oh, and yes this man is a genius for more reasons than just this one.
What is so utterly and exquisitely wonderful about his one-man shows is the magic this man has for glorifying the spoken word. As simple and straightforward as pure story-telling seems, it takes tremendous talent to make those words harmonize together to create the equivalent of a wide-screen, high definition, Technicolor movie in the mind’s eye. Listening to this man tell a story is as comforting and enlightening as settling in with a beloved and great novel. Garrison Keillor gives the impression of speaking plain about regular folks but there is great artistry behind each paragraph. It is impossible to underestimate this art, this skill and his physical gifts if you are a lover of language.
At Cerritos, just as he has done in the past he brought only a stool, a bottle of water, a twinkle in his eye, his red running shoes, a dignified brown suit and an imagination as fertile as Spring on the northern plains from where he hails. This day’s feast of words contained bonuses including a soulful, albeit off-key singing of “ Rivers of Babylon” and five of the man’s own sonnets which ranged from sublime to um, earthy. His poetry, like that on his show “the Writer’s Almanac” is compelling, insightful and melts icy cynicism down to a fine mist. Mostly, however, the man told his trademark Lake Woebegone tales that must make you chuckle in delight or shake your head at the rich humor and genuine folk wisdom. Like an expert rock climber he moves slowly and steadily from one ledge of ideas to the next, never losing his grip or focus and eventually standing at a peak with dazzling results. Such was the effect in tales of his “borrowing” his father’s motor home and destroying it on a drunken ice fishing escapade or the python under the Pedersen’s porch or the visit of the Lutheran church ushers to the national competition in Long Beach, California.
While the characters may be called the Iron Rangers or Clarence Bunsen and the Herdsmen or Bob Andersen from Lake Woebegone, they could just as well be folks from Monrovia , Ventura, South Gate or Echo Park. He makes it all look effortless and seems to turn phrases like “he was snoring like a badger caught in a leg trap” like they were commonplace. Certainly that is the greatness of the artist who can make something worth keeping forever, like a precious jewel of memory. Garrison Keillor’s imaginary place of LakeWoebegone is part of the American consciousness now but he built the place brick by brick with that fertile, story-teller’s imagination. The man is a national treasure in red socks and running shoes.