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, October 25, 2009

Sphinx Chamber Orchestra October 24, 2009

Sphinx Chamber Orchestra with the Harlem Quartet at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The Sphinx Organization started out trying to encourage classical music artists in the African-American and Latino communities by sponsoring competitions and creating a national arts program. In just thirteen short years they have been able to reach over fifty-five thousand students and have been able to create a truly fine Chamber Orchestra. From this tree the Harlem Quartet has branched and play alongside their brothers and sisters in music. Part of the mission of these groups is to celebrate diversity in composers and performers which brings us to our Saturday evening in Cerritos. The overall feel was of understated elegance and the true beauty of the evening, excellent music aside, was that after five minutes of playing the audience had forgotten race and was enthralled by some superb young artists. The performances were as good as you would hear in any hall in America and several of the soloists may be seen on all of those stages before they are through.
The choice of program was a perfect mix of familiar and esoteric including the exceptional concert finishing “Delights and Dances for String Quartet” by young Michael Abels that echoed Aaron Copeland with its broad scope while melding great American musical traditions like Jazz, Blues and Bluegrass into a colorful and satisfying whole. This engaging concerto in three sections seemed to travel all over America and this folksy canvas was splashed with bright colors and intricate harmonies. The first half also featured fine contemporary compositions like Wynton Marsalis’ strangely playful “Hellbound Highway” which gave the Harlem Quartet room to fill up the hall with the sounds of a train headed for oblivion. Also the wonderful Cuban tune “Mi Menor Conga” remained in the classical genre despite roots in Carnival music that turned violins, violas and cellos into percussion instruments and set some audience members bouncing in their seats. Astor Piazolla’s “Autumn in Buenos Aires” (Otono Porteno) with its gorgeous cello centerpiece succeeded in composition and the transcendent playing of the stunning violinist Elena Urioste.
Along with the more modern material the Orchestra offered fine performances of familiar but fresh sounding pieces from Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bach. The Mozart “Divertimento for Strings in F Major, K.138” was gentle and not rushed with a sweet lyrical violin in the andante and a spirited finish in the Presto. The Tchaikovsky “Serenade for Strings” was appropriately grand and expansive in scale that extended the hall and had heads nodding in time and approval with the familiar melody. J.S. Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins and String Orchestra in d minor” was maybe the most challenging piece since it is so well known but the perfect chemistry between the violins of Elena Urioste and Melissa White resulted in a passionate call and response that made it a memorable performance. The show was opened by the same two ladies who played a fine “National Anthem” that was overshadowed somewhat by an amateur karaokeist in the boxes overhead. Yet, the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra certainly triumphed on this night at the Performing Arts Center and would be welcomed back by all in the hall.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Bangles October 16, 2009

The Bangles Rock the Center

By Glen Creason

As the world turns. A pretty sizeable crowd of Generation Xers initially moved ever so slightly at the Cerritos Center on Friday night as the Bangles, once the darlings of a hard to define 80’s musical phenomenon romped through ninety very solid minutes of rocking pop-punk or folk-punk or Paisley Underground. All such descriptions from what they used to be called when they rejected the “me generation” by playing feisty and fresh rock and roll that stands up very well in this brave new world. Strange to see the youngsters getting all nostalgic and waxing philosophical about “back in the day of the twentieth century” but these Bangles play great and have plenty of sizzle left in their mini-skirted stage presence. The nucleus is the original trio of Susanna Hoff on rhythm guitar along with sisters Vicki and Debbi Peterson on lead guitar and drums with all three ladies singing through a pretty big wall of sound. This is just straight up pop music with a strong beat and simple lyrics that talk about romance like it is a prize fight and disillusionment that means a little more this far down the road. They played straight through with no break and built up some momentum that increased the temperatures inside to match the outdoor oven on this night. It was great to see the Performing Arts Center shifting on its axis toward modern rock.
As a sort of signature the Bangles got “Hazy Shade of Winter” and “Manic Monday” out of the way in the first four songs but those really were the warm up tunes for what was to come. Truthfully, “Hazy Shade…” is one of the rare covers that surpasses the original and Manic Monday being written by Prince makes it fascinating just on that origin. The three “boys” in the band on bass, keyboards and utility percussion were very good too but names got lost in that aforementioned wall of sound. In a way, the show was divided in three parts with the signatures in the beginning; some nice pop hooks in the middle and a rip-roaring ride to the finish. That middle part featured the joyful pop of Jules Shear’s “If She Knew What She Wants,” and old Big Star gem “September Gurls” and the energetic “Going Down to Liverpool” that showed the band at its best. “Single by Choice” demonstrated some of the punk sensibility of the sassy ladies who are now coupled up by the way but “Doll Revolution” and “Watching the Sky” kept up the good stuff. A final gallop to the finish increased the pace and length of songs starting with an undulating and sensual “Ride the Ride” spiced by Vicki Peterson’s fine guitar leads that continued in the equally engaging “Hero Takes a Fall” that had the X-ers stirring. Finally, “Walk Like an Egyptian” got the crowd to its feet and moving to the groove as it moved toward “Magic Bus” and into encores saluting the great Skye Sunlight Saxon. Properly stirred the big crowd begged for more, hopefully sending a message about bringing the Bangles back this way some season soon.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Rat Pack Is Back October 9, 2009

The Rat Pack Is Back at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

With the early 60’s taking on some nostalgic glow due to current TV hits and the return of fashion from the days of vintage Vegas, the brotherhood of booze, cigarettes and late night carousing seems to have come back into popular culture. The “Rat Pack” with the vintage Vegas trappings seems like a show that offers a cool and crazy step back. So the entertainment “the Rat Pack Is Back” that took in a weekend at the Performing Arts Center was just what the Nielsen family ordered. The question was could four young actors really make you believe you were back at the Sands in ’61, watching Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop? The answer is yes and no. On the positive side the singing and comedy was very good and close to the originals but on the other side of the cocktail napkin ledger the infamous banter between the guys lacked the true spontaneity of these huge stars. The evening does have its charms but you won’t be completely moved to go out and get into your Cadillac El Dorado after the show and jump on the highway headed for the sight of that tall Vegas Vic looming up out of the Nevada desert. The big blasting band was excellent; especially the nine member horn section and the sets were certainly up to Vegas standards.
Drew Anthony has an uncanny resemblance to Dino, Kenny Jones has the manic mannerisms and sincerity of Sammy down pat and Brian Dupree as Frank can really sing like the Chairman in his prime. Also, Mickey Joseph as Joey Bishop took some really old comedic chestnuts and made them work with fine comic timing and all of the players were dressed to perfection. The first half was heavy on the Dean Martin with a medley of his winners like “That’s Amore,” “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You,” and “Dance With Me” that young Mr. Anthony sang with the laid back Martin style. Jones brought out the Sammy dazzle and ripped a triple with “ That Old Black Magic,” a stirring “What Kind of Fool Am I” and “Mr. Bojangles” that made you want to check out the original on YouTube which is a compliment to the actor.
The show maintains some class along with all the somewhat dated booze and black guy jokes by using some great American songbook material including “Where or When,” “the Best Is Yet to Come,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “A Foggy Day in London Town” that were mostly sung by the talented Duprey as Sinatra. When the three singers got together and harmonized that was quite good, in particular on “My Shadow” and a ring a ding ding “Luck Be a Lady” that brought the best out in everybody. Yet the true highlights were the old boffo numbers that never got stale in real time, especially “My Way” and “New York, New York” that took you back not quite to the 60’s but certainly to the reign of Emperor Sinatra. While this Rat Pack might not have the millions in the bank that the originals did the show keeps you interested and the music carries it beyond the mere nostalgia of those halcyon days in Vegas.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Sergio Mendes October 2, 2009

Sergio Mendez Sambas While H2O Raps at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It certainly was what I expected when Brazilian music mainstreamer Sergio Mendez took the stage at the Performing Arts Center with his ten-member ensemble and began the bossa nova/samba grooves that typify his successes here in the states. I can remember far, far back when I was a wee lad the gently pulsating rhythms of Brazil 66 and a hit that reached high on the charts. That one song, called “Mas Que Nada” placed the Sergio Mendez name in the musical books for all time and then there were some other hits in the following decades that pushed him out of South America alone and into the global action. Not one to let the Pop music grass grow between his toes Mendes has always reached out beyond boundaries and has reinvented his music and himself in recent years, even teaming up with the Black Eyed Peas in fresh vintages.
At this performance in Cerritos Mendez was all over the musical map and crossed more genre than You Tube as he surprisingly made a young rapper named H2O a central figure in the proceedings. H did make the show lively and pumped up the crowd on songs that morphed from bossa nova to hip hop but Mendez, sitting calmly at his keyboard kept an even keel that steered the sounds firmly within the Brazilian current even when it was spiced by the rappers exhortations and gyrations. The enthusiastic crowd reacted to the old standbys like “the Girl from Ipanema,” “Samba Da,” “Berimbau,” the sensual “Let Me” and the swinging samba of “Minha Terra” but they still had time to wave their hands in the air and bounce in their seats a bit.
Strange things were happening in the hall as my reviewers pen was stolen from my press kit at the intermission but I was saved by the House Manager once more and was able to make notes on the much more eclectic second half. The music began with a genuine 1980’s musical melodrama “Never Going to Let You Go” sung by vocalist Giuseppe who followed with a less potent but equally sentimental John Legend composition “Please Baby Don’t.” H2O took over again and got the audience hip hopping as high as middle-aged folks can hop but then returned them to yesterday with the lush, samba version of “Fool on the Hill” that was hit for Sergio Mendes in the late sixties. One of the most enjoyable parts of the concert was the steadying influence and sweet Portuguese singing of Mrs. Mendes, aka Gracinha Leporace who shone amongst two other backup singers probably half her age. Mendes did have a strong band which he allowed plenty of space to work including a fine bassist, spotlight loving percussionist and drummer Mike Shapiro. The show closed with the pair of blockbusters: a revved up “Look of Love” that went from bossa nova to party-rap-groove with H2O pumping up the jam and the expansive and throbbing “Mas Que Nada” that went far beyond the mellow sounds the emanated from transistor radios back in the day.