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, May 31, 2009

Chris Botti May 30, 2009

Chris Botti Sends Off Cerritos Season in Style

By Glen Creason

You might think Chris Botti is too perfect since he is handsome, witty, extremely talented and one of the most successful Jazz artists alive. Well, some might argue about his sort of hybrid-genre jazz/pop/classical/smooth/new age approach but the jammed hall at Cerritos certainly was in full agreement on Saturday night that his show was probably the season’s best. Botti has so much going for him that he kind of started fifty yards ahead of the pack. His band is superb, lead by pianist Billy Childs, guitarist Mark Whitfield and one of the best drummers you will ever see in Billy Kilson. He had marvelous guest stars including the dazzling violinist Lucia Micarelli and vocalist Sy Smith who not only brought great talent but a feast of feminine pulchritude to the Cerritos stage. Then again, judging from the preponderance of lovely ladies in the crowd on this night I would guess that not all of them were there to just hear the trumpeter.
That is not to diminish the music which was really sweet and strong from the surprising opening notes of “Ave Maria” to the languid beauty of “One for My Baby” that eased the delighted crowd into the night. In between there were enough high-points to fill a high-lights reel and several fevered standing ovations that spoke for the opinion of the assembled about Botti’s performance. The trumpeter is no mere showman but a polished musician with skills beyond the smooth guys he might get lumped with because of big sales. “When I Fall in Love” was at first silky-smooth and then broke off into an improvisational journey with Billy Childs taking it to lands unforeseen that made it clear that this was no noodling concert. “Caruso” did cause some romantic swoons but the tribute to Miles David in “Flamenco Sketches” was real good jazz that gave solos to Whitfield and Botti that would have stood up to any be bop snob in the house. Botti’s reading of the first of two fine Leonard Cohen compositions “Hallelujah” just changed the temperature of the blood and vocalist Sy Smith’s “the Look of Love” proved that pop does not have to be mundane. Yet the wise Mister Botti saved the wondrous violinist Lucia Micarelli for last with “Emmanuel” that put the crowd on its feet cheering at the emotion drenched conclusion. Like Chris Botti she is so accomplished with her instrument she can literally make the melody pulsate with emotion.
The second half was nothing but better. After Sy Smith sang like a nightingale on “What’ll I Do,” the instrumentalist Chris Botti once again chose a Leonard Cohen song and just nailed “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” “Streets Ahead” opened the floodgates for assorted sizzling solos and got the joint jumping but the breathtaking “Cinema Paradiso” again with Lucia Micarelli was the best of the best, gaining the duet another hall-full of standees. The show jumped on to other peaks however, especially an unreal drum solo by Billy Kilson on “Indian Summer” and the final deluxe notes of Chris Botti’s salute to the saloon song singing Sinatra with “One for My Baby” that once more sent the elated crowd to one more standing O.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Four Tops and the Temptations May 23, 2009

Fine Vintage Motown: Four Tops and Temptations Wow Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The answer to every ailment in society nowadays is “bad economy” and you could see it in effect over the weekend at Cerritos. Not that folks did not pack the place and spend their hard earned cash but they saved some dough and travel by performing a little stay-cation right here in Cerritos. Instead of traveling to Vegas for one of those big splashy, high voltage shows they just drove over to Center drive and got one here with no dazzle held back. The genre was R&B in the Motown style which was delivered with passion and certainly experience. On the docket were two of the biggest names from the era of driving beats, funky lyrics and lots of African-American style known by those of a certain vintage as the Tops and the Temps. The Four Tops and the Temptations have a legacy to protect and they make sure they are not giving their fans a wan rehash when they perform. On this night both groups gave it all they had and certainly pleased the faithful who stood frequently and once in a while actually clapped in time to the old favorites. To be fair, they participated pretty well and even sang verses when they were not even asked to do so.
The Four Tops still have an original in Duke Fakir and some veterans along with Lawrence Payton Jr. who is second generation Tops. They played, as did the Temps in front of a full orchestra that included a knockout, eight man horn section. No need to experiment here and they did not but just played what they were bid to do by the talking back crowd, including “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “Bernadette,” It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” and the gold-plated classic “I Can’t Help Myself” known by zillions as “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.” There were lots more music and playful kidding from members but even the ballads did not resonate like the stuff we used to hear on KGFJ back in the day.
The Temptations were all that and more. They also had an original in Otis Williams and an act that has sparkled for almost fifty years. Why fix it if it aint broke and the crisp choreography, energetic singing and wonderful songs are pretty good on their own but these guys are way better than just true to the spirit. They work hard and the songs sound fresh and powerful with the sweat up on stage plenty real from gents who have sung these songs hundreds of times. Part of the success is certainly the young powerhouse Bruce “Big Sexy” Williamson who is a sort of Department of Water and Power dynamo all on his own. Yet, all the members were marvelous singing and dancing with some all-time great songs like “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You,” “the Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Aint Too Proud to Beg,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “Get Ready,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” “The Girls Alright With Me” and the one they will be tapping their feet to in the year four thousand “My Girl” that had every man woman and child singing along at the end.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mingus Big Band May 8, 2009

Mingus Big Band True to Their Inspiration

By Glen Creason

It is fitting that the legacy of the complex and powerful Charles Mingus lives on in a fourteen piece band from New York City called the Mingus Big Band. Mingus, one of the most passionate and influential jazz artists of all time never swayed from his strong beliefs and most certainly took Jazz to new places in his relatively short life. While he died before he reached sixty years of age he left a pretty fair discography including the landmark albums "Mingus Ah Um" and "Blues & Roots" from which the Big Band took all but one song for their Friday night Cerritos appearance. While some might suggest Mingus was the founder of the free jazz movement that is a fork in the road many don’t take. This show danced up to the edge of such experimentation but always returned to more solid ground even if the sound was ricocheting all over the musical solar system. Mingus believed in improvisation as part of the whole and this Big Band does that to perfection.
The Mingus Big Band plays every Monday evening in NYC but occasionally tours and this was a rather rare opportunity for aficionados to drink the nectar of Mingus’ marvelous music. This fourteen member ensemble is as solid as a rock, member by member excellent together and alone. They play the Mingus way, handing over solos to everyone in the group that builds up the excitement and leads to paths unknown and enlightening. There are five saxophones, three trombones, three trumpets, a piano, drums and of course, a very busy bass in this group. They all get a chance to stand up and show their chops and even the bandleader changes in this egalitarian setup from bassist Boris Koslov to Craig Handy to Frank Lacy . The brilliant thing about the music is that nothing is predictable and the notes just rush by like rafts in a briskly moving stream, sometimes heading for a waterfall and a torrent of sound played from different angles but forming a deep pool of Jazz in the conclusion. They played “Gun Slinging Bird” with Saxes appropriately dominating, beginning with young Seamus Blake and giving time to Vincent Herring, Abraham Burton and Craig Handy. “Fables of Faubus” was typical of Mingus’ outspoken civil rights expressions with vocal and fiery trombone solo by the amazing Ku-Umba Frank Lacy. There was a relatively mellow period with ballads “Diane,” and “Alice in Wonderland” spiced by great trumpet work from Alex Sipiagan and the muted and swinging “Open Letter to Duke” that allowed the fantastic David Kikoski room to pay his own Ellington homage with the piano. There was a premier of a moody “Put Me In the Dungeon” along with one of the nights high points in Baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian’s “Moanin’” that really left folks staring in amazement. The first half was a concert in itself and only space keeps me from raving about the other soloists who were all top drawer. Yet the second half was even stronger with the Saxophone madness of “Bird Calls” once again colored by Kikoski’s piano and the full throttle voyage of the “Double G Train” that was full of improvisational steam. Movement 18 from the esoteric “Epitaph” was quite avant guard and despite it taking you way out there, once you got there you liked it. “Tensions” was about as good as you can get with the musicians playing off each other and getting better and better like a good team that understands how to share the ball. Lastly the dessert of this Jazz feast was “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” which was a sad farewell for the not big enough crowd that certainly made plenty of noise for the music they love.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Pirates of Penzance May 1, 2009

Pirates Board Cerritos Center

By Glen Creason

The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Society Players brought much mirth to the Performing Arts Center over the weekend with a stellar mounting of “the Pirates of Penzance” while taking no hostages. The two act comedy has been knocking them dead now for pert near one hundred and thirty years so I guess it is safe to call it a classic. Imagine folks listening to Beatles songs in the year 2093 and you have an approximation of the phenomena that continues to delight and give rise to the whistling of tunes like “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” for literally thousands of performances. Of course, the New York troupe started as street theater in the 70’s but found that the public just could not get enough of Gilbert and Sullivan and the rest is history. It seems the locals feel about the same way judging by the rather full house and the wild cheering that greeted the Friday evening performance. Lest we forget these songs and tomfoolery have endured through the waxing and waning of the British Empire, through several world wars and crossed every boundary known to man. There is some lesson to learn here about war versus musical comedy.
The production at Cerritos started well with a sprightly live orchestra playing the wonderful overture, spinning through the many memorable melodies that spice the frolic.
The Players sent out a fine cast lead by Colm Fitzmaurice who played Frederic to perfection and overcame some light opera orchestra volume challenges without losing his dedication to duty. Others who shone in this wildly fantastical farce were Michele McConnell as Mabel, David Wannen as the charming cad, the Pirate King and Stephen Quint as the much tested but always-jolly Major General Stanley. Betina Hershey distinguished herself as dancer and player without one single solo. The comedy is painted with the broadest of strokes but there is a kernel of pathos hidden in there somewhere and parts of that were coaxed out by Angela Smith as the feckless Ruth, the hard of hearing maid-of-All-Work. The costumes fit right into the fantastical production, looking more like a fun party than a Caribbean takeover and the sets were expansive and efficient. The songs, especially “Modern Major General…” and “A Rollicking Band of Pirates We” just never grow old. What makes this kind of long in the tooth, tongue in cheek show work over and over and over is the snappy, lively songs full of clever lyrics, the brisk dance steps and the colorful costumes and sight gags that work seemingly forever. Why, would there be a big crowd out to see old Gilbert and Sullivan stuff? Because live musical comedy is way better than the reality TV of humiliation, the films of explosions and blood and the music of misery and degradation. The Pirates of Penzance brought good clean fun and that seems like more than enough. It’s a pure goof that is light, vibrant, silly and refreshingly engaging in all of its aged beauty.