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"

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dave Koz and Friends Smooth Jazz Christmas Dec. 19, 2009

Dave Koz and Friends Smooth Out Christmas

By Glen Creason

Number thirteen did not prove unlucky for the Smooth Jazz Christmas show at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday night. In a Baker’s dozen show history at Cerritos this contingent has provided lively and most certainly colorful shows in front of consistently packed houses. Over the years the group has formed, scattered and now re-formed into the originals again to make a pretty powerful musical juggernaut. This quintet includes leader Dave Koz on Saxophone, Peter White on guitar, Rick Braun on trumpet, Brenda Russell on vocals and the quietly amazing David Benoit on piano. First and foremost we must banish the idea that this Wave music is not some gentle noodling but a rather stimulating and splashy sound that demonstrates the yuletide classics in a refreshing way.
The show is large and filled with humor along with some rather contemplative moments. After a curtain raising medley where sketches of tunes were handed from one artist to another as in the prelude to a Broadway musical the whole cloth of Christmas was unfolded. This little sampler of “Hark the Herald Angels/ Jingle Bells/ Santa Claus is Coming to Town” wet appetites and then Peter White and Brenda Russell lulled the audience into the holiday groove on the perfectly appropriate” Christmas Song.” The first portion of the show mixed smooth hits with the songs of the season as Brenda Russell crooned “A Little Bit of Love,” Rick Braun saluted Herb Alpert with the peppy “Tijuana Dance” and Peter White bent some heartstrings with a sweet tribute to the late Waymon Tisdale called “Bright.” In between they kept the Christmas spirit alive with a bouncy calypso “Sleigh Ride,” a showy “White Christmas,” Brenda Russell’s original “Christmas Card” and the rousing David Benoit finish of the music of the Charlie Brown Christmases. It is especially invigorating to hear those Vince Guaraldi composed gems from 1965 ringing so true here in 2009 including the truly evergreen “Christmastime Is Here,” “Skating,” and the instant holiday joy of “Linus and Lucy.”
The second half was more good fun and music beginning with a group effort on “Little Drummer Boy” that woke up the audience after intermission beverages. The swing was put back into the proceedings with “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” by Brenda Russell and the corny but effective sing-along of “Silent Night” by Peter White had a rather spiritual bent. Again, the show broke the holiday spell for hits that were well received including the tender “Emma’s Song” by Rick Braun, the rocking Chanukah song “Eight Candles” by Dave Koz that featured the work of the extraordinarily charismatic bassist Bill Sharpe. “Love Will Find You” by Peter White, a wild and wooly Benoit excursion called “Freedom at Midnight” and the soul-stirring anthem “Get Here” by Brenda Russell kept the quality high. The sure-fire pulse quickening "Grazin' in the Grass" was spiced by the sax and sexy demeanor of Misti Abair joining horns with Rick Brain and leader Dave Koz who again took point on “You Make Me Smile” where the rest of the band joined on an extended jam that warmed the holiday blood of an entire auditorium into and including the Christmas encores that followed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Irish Tenors Holiday Show December 9, 2009

Irish Tenors Bring Christmas Class to Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It’s hard to imagine a better show, a classier presentation or a more uplifting holiday concert than the wonderful Irish Tenors Holiday Program presented on a chilly Wednesday evening at the Performing Arts Center. The show splits in two sentimental halves with classics of the season being interspersed with evergreens of the rich Irish vocal traditions being sung by three equally marvelous voices. Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearns and Karl Scully are the names but the triumvirate is very much a whole wonderful sound. Through two-dozen such gems the gents never wavered and had a full house absolutely enthralled and deeply moved throughout. With this repertoire it is necessary to take it up a holiday notch since the tunes are so familiar but the Tenors just don’t let down or get complacent. They seem as delighted singing these familiar songs as the adoring crowd was in thrilling to them.
The show opened with an ace, the towering “Be Thou My Vision” with all three men reaching the back rows of the upper balcony with their three shades of tenor. The truly amazing musical phenomenon is that each man is unique in tone within the tenor voice. Each singer can make these songs their own private song property and when they join in three-part harmony the effect can be breathtaking. The first half of the show featured such harmonies on “Red Is the Rose,’ the oft sung “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra” and good old “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” that the gentlemen polished to a fare thee well. Other very sweet moments came when each man took a solo turn including Wright’s achingly beautiful “When You Were Sweet Sixteen,” Kearns’ inspirational “Ave Maria” and Scully’s ethereal “My Lagan Love.” There were lighter moments like the cute “Fifty Years Ago,” and a calypso “Mary’s Boy Child” but the closing “Amazing Grace” said everything the song was intended to convey. The second half was almost pure Christmas and purely perfect in the singing of these well-worn classics. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain” were done to perfection. “Silent Night” was given a new look with the use of three different languages in the same song, making it come to life like it was written yesterday. If you saw a program set list here you might believe the songs have seen their season but not as sung by these extremely talented men. Still, the highlights were the more offbeat “Fairytale of Old New York,” the combining of “Drummer Boy” and “Peace on Earth” a la Bing Crosy and David Bowie along with the bittersweet “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Morning.” By this time the crowd was eating sugarplums of song out of the tenors hands and a medley of classics and encores followed a soaring “O Holy Night” that elicited sighs of admiration and recognition. You can mail in the Ellsie award for holiday show right now to the Irish address of the Irish Tenors. This one is in Santa’s bag.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Merry-Achi Christmas December 5, 2009

Merry-Achi at Cerritos: the Tradition Continues

By Glen Creason

It surely must be the Christmas season when the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts stages the wonderful “Merry-Achi Christmas” and sets out the lobby cards for the “Colors of Christmas” that mark another year of Yule merriment in these parts. Bad economy or no the hall was crowded and the spirits were high along with the nativity presented as melodrama and lots of color, song and passion. Curtain raisers for this year’s adoration were the fantastico Mariachi Sol De Mexico de Jose Hernandez along with my favorite ladies of song: Mariachi Reyna De Los Angeles along with the Pacifico Dance Company. “Merry-Achi Christmas” is a beautiful regalo of song and dance that seems to get more and more grand as the years pass, this being a double digit anniversary of the groups taking the entire hall to Mexico at Christmas time. If you love things Mexican including the food, the dance, the ladies and the music as I do this is indeed a treat worth sampling each and every year.
While the show mixes mariachi with Feliz Navidad the joy is magnified by the large orchestras on stage blasting trumpets, briskly strumming guitars, stroking the violins or singing with heads thrown back. They passionately tell the stories of the season from Jesus and Mary to the glory of states of Mexico. This is not some hipster Christmas with hidden meanings but a fully expressed, emotional look at the holiday with plenty of corn included. There is, of course, an emphasis on the music of the seat of Mariachi music: Jalisco where Senor Hernandez hails from but there is more homage paid too to Veracruz and “El Jarape Tapatio" where the dancers tripped the light fantastic. There was the song “Jalisco” with the trademark soaring vocals and other favorites from that region in Guadalajara. These were sandwiched around the superb performance by the marvelous all-women mariachi group La Reyna de los Angeles who flawlessly performed Mexican favorites like “Noche Buena,” “Que Bonito Es Chihuahua,” “Solo Tuyo” along with the surprisingly crowd pleasing “Crazy” in the style of Patsy Cline and a rip-snorting “Orange Blossom Special.” Lest we forget the season, the show was dotted with the traditional tunes including “Ave Maria,” “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” a towering “O Holy Night,” “Little Drummer Boy” and the finale of “Feliz Navidad.” Yet Merry-Achi is about more than the holidays judging by the large crowd hungry for their favorite tunes from the Mother country.
“Sol De Mexico” returned to the stage for the final gallop and stayed mostly in a Mexican anthem mode that saw stirring renditions of their theme song, a nice “La Bamba” and the hugely popular “Viva Mexico” and “Volver” that had audience participation from stem to stern.
There was also a patriotic bow to the U.S. with a medley of flag wavers highlighted by a large scale “God Bless America.” The grand finale found the stage crowded with all of the performers in dazzling colors singing their heart out while smiling smiles that reached from here to Old Mexico.