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"

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Laura Love Duo May 14, 2008

“Laura Love Duo Make It Shine at Cerritos”

By Glen Creason

In the fine tradition of the Sierra Nights’ series musical exploration, the Cerritos Center welcomed the unique and tremendously talented Laura Love duo to the cozy hall on Wednesday evening. Thus, adding one more name to the list of superb artists laboring in relative obscurity who have been brought to light in the small venue here. Ms. Love and her partner Orville Johnson gave the very responsive house a fine show, full of traditional and inspirational tunes polished delightfully by her unique voice melded with Johnson’s great skills on the guitar to create what seemed like brand new discoveries. At this show the pair came forward without much fanfare on a rather bare stage; just the big, white-maned gent and energetic African-American woman with a bass and acoustic guitar, bringing along a big satchel full of great songs.
With extraordinary charm and that mercurial voice Love can take an old chestnut like the curtain raising “the Cuckoo” and give insight and hope. You might say the last stanza pretty much described her attitude when it says, “she brings us glad tidings and tells us no lies.” That first half of the concert contained a sweet mix of traditional, spiritual and tunes that figured prominently in the civil rights movement. The old-timey ones sparkled with the electronic infusion including “Cotton Eyed Joe, “ “Ruby,” “Paul and Silas (Keep Your Eyes on the Prize) “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “I’m Working on the Building,” and a truly swinging “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” that showcased both Orville’s slide and Love’s soaring vocals. The real standout in this hour was the powerful “We Shall Not Be Moved” which managed to feel optimistic while it represented so much courage and suffering from when it was sung in places like Selma and Oxford in the 1960’s. Laura Love represents that tradition of brave civil disobedience but she is smiling as she sings. This is a wonderfully life-affirming artist who has seen the worst of it but will not be defeated. The second half was more eclectic but no less potent in theme. “Saskatchewan” tells the story of her family, former slaves leaving Texas and heading for Canada, only to settle down in Laura Love’s native Nebraska. “More Than a Hammer,” “Living in a Dream” and one of the best versions you will ever hear of “Shady Grove” made for fine listening but Love’s jocular send up of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Everything I Got is Done Gone and Pawned” and Johnson’s “Somewhere Listening” were as good singing and songwriting as you will hear anytime, anywhere. There was more including the crackling “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” which you might not want to play for your kids and the finale of the ever-optimistic “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” which is exactly what the roomful of folks did on this fine night at Cerritos. Even though Laura Love has performed and recorded hundreds of songs, appeared with the best and the brightest and achieved high status amongst folk musicians she chooses to sing the material that comes from her heart and still is not a household name. She really should be, judging by this show.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Mikado May 2, 2008

A Light-Hearted and Contemporary Mikado at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

A friend and teacher of very bright high schoolers tells me that there is a Gilbert and Sullivan club amongst the wise-acre teens thereabouts. At first, I was astounded, expecting such organizations to exist maybe, in Laguna Woods where the whimsical works of these two gents might have been part of their upbringing. Yet, after seeing the really fresh and decidedly contemporary “Mikado” placed upon the boards of the Performing Arts Center over the weekend I am convinced these kids are actually pretty hip.The Carl Rosa Opera Company that produced this version of the great evergreen go to great pains to make it bright, colorful and very rich in the kind of detail that make for a strong pulse in a story created in 1885 and done, quite literally, thousands of times all over the world. When a piece is as well-known as this one and a percentage of the audience may be singing along you have to put a little wasabi on the dish to make it stand out. So this performance of the one hundred and twenty-plus year old comic opera had some surprises to go along with the delightful, expected songs and jocularity. What shocked those 19th century audiences and makes the piece rather amazing today is the central theme of death and suffering made trivial and funny. In a sense the Mikado is the first black musical comedy in the literature.Probably the most easily recognizable example of the fresh sheen on this evening's show was the thoroughly updated version of the well-remembered “Behold the Lord High Executioner” where the character of Ko Ko reads off a tongue in cheek list of people who would be missed if they were put to death. Included here were folks who had cell-phones active in the audience, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain and President Bush amongst many others. It made for good theater and connected the entire audience, at least all of us who would take a samurai sword to the cell-phone boors and maybe a couple of others. Director Peter Mulloy seemed to provide every delicious detail and the singing, acting, dancing and comic timing throughout was top drawer from start to finish in this over two hour long feast of fun and frolic. Also, the sets, lighting and costumes provided an excellent feel for what has always been an exotic locale, the ancient land of Japan.However, the bottom line in any Gilbert and Sullivan production is an adherence to the whimsical creation of an unpredictable situation played out to it’s extreme. There is no more bizarre and circuitous plot than the Mikado but suffice it to say it all worked out quite well at Cerritos. Much of this was due to the fine work of the entire cast but particularly from the superb George Rae as Ko Ko, Curtis Dabek as the mighty Mikado, the tireless Michael Kerry as Nanki Poo, multi-faceted Lesley Cox as Yum Yum, and Caroline Graham as the foreboding, yet empathetic Katisha. The large crowd on hand showed their appreciation with great applause at the rather spectacular conclusion proving that they could possibly be ready to join their own Gilbert and Sullivan club.