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"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Moscow State Orchestra October 29, 2010

The Moscow State Orchestra Fills Cerritos Center

By Glen Creason

Just on size and might of sound the Moscow State Orchestra is quite impressive.
Visiting the Performing Arts Center on Friday night with violinist Jennifer Koh, the Muscovites literally filled the great hall with sweet Romantic sound as the vigorous conductor Pavel Kogan roused them to stirring heights. In their 65th year the orchestra specializes in classic Russian composers going back to Shostakovich and Prokofiev among others. This is a large orchestra with a full string section including two harps and enough power to propel the building into sonic super space. Theirs is a traditional approach but not without contemporary nuances.
It was a romantic evening including several 19th century composers who exemplify the era and its lush presentations of grand themes. At Cerritos they opened with the beautiful “Capriccio Italien, Opus 45” by Tchaikovsky that I was forced to enjoy on the wide screen TV outside the cloak room because of not one but four mishaps on the not very romantic Santa Ana freeway. With its folksy rhythm and dance-like passages the piece actually makes it hard to sit still, even in the presence of an orchestra that wears white gloves. The next piece ventured next door to Russia with the German composer Max Bruch and his “Violin concerto No. 1 in g minor” which was masterfully played by soloist Jennifer Koh. They sent the right artist for the composition here, which demands great virtuosity and stamina. The prelude is so sweet, so romantic and such a setup for the fiery concluding “adagio” and “allegro energico” that allowed Koh to stretch her talents to the limit. The orchestra kept up which wasn’t easy and when the concerto concluded the rather dazed audience stood in appreciation.
The second half was dedicated to Mussogorsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” which can be a warhorse in the wrong hands but not with this orchestra. The work is inspired by a posthumous art exhibition by the composer’s painter friend Victor Gartman where the music takes us from painting to painting while describing the works in sound. The effect is mesmerizing when done well and the Moscow State orchestra was up to the task with plenty of flair to spare. There was the mournful feel of a troubadour singing before the walls of “the Old Castle,” the rumble of an ancient cart in “Bydlo” the sweet stroll through “the Tuileries” and the manic rush of “the hut on fowl’s legs” but when it came to the “Great Gate of Kiev” Cerritos got to hear just how much power an orchestra can muster in five minutes of music. It was utterly magnificent and worth an entire concert just to walk through that gate. This was not unnoticed by the very enthusiastic audience that once again was on their feet where they stayed until Maestro Kogan returned for two encores: a comparatively lilting “Humoresque” by Dvorak and the final, unidentified one, possibly another Tchaikovsky, full of bombast and thunderous crescendos.

Friday, October 22, 2010

John Williams, Guitar October 20, 2010

John Williams, Guitar at Cerritos Center
By Glen Creason

In a flawless and unforgettable ninety minutes, the great guitarist John Williams took the Performing Arts Center on a journey to some unexplored musical lands along with the occasional familiar gemlike compositions in a concert as close to perfect as you might find. The rather rare opportunity to hear classical guitar is a joy, especially at the acoustically generous Cerritos hall which Williams seemed to embrace like it was his own home. After so many popular performers it is remarkable to see an artist do so much with just his two hands, an acoustic instrument and of course a marvelous musical mind. Elegantly underdressed and supremely confident he mixed a few cogent remarks with incredibly expressive playing that captivated the astute audience. In truth, I feel almost unworthy to describe the performance since the technical aspects of his fingering are beyond my grasp but that seems precisely what he stands for in his shows since he expressed disdain for over-analysis of the works he plays. There is nothing between his hands and the instrument and a lovely current passes from man to guitar in every expression available to the instrument.
The program on this night was drawn almost purely from Latin America and so much of the material is not heard often enough but Williams’ playing made the composers shine. The first half featured the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos and his Five Preludes which despite the five starts and no stops offered the most familiar of all the pieces played. “No. 1 in e minor” was superbly lyrical and energetic, followed by the more wistful and even somber numbers 3 and 4. The final finger of the five was an exceedingly challenging “No. 5 in D major” that Williams turned into a dazzling tour de force. The dramatic “El Cameron Negro” by Cuban Leo Brower was absolutely enchanting with deep rich shades like a journey into the unknown, finished by the sweet “balada de la doncella enamorada” that lingered like fine chocolate on the palate.
The second half had more wonders, begun by the amazing “O Bia,” an African tune written by Francis Bebey at mid-century in a style called makossa dance rhythm which actually caused feet to tap in time across the hall. A stunningly beautiful tribute to Bebey called “Hello Francis” was preceded by Williams’ own composition “From a Bird” that was inspired by the song of a feathered friend in his native Australia. Like contented birds the crowd was eating out of Williams hand and his playing of the Paraguayan master Agustin Barrios-Mangore ranged from the Baroque-majestic “La Catedral” to some lovely waltzes including “Vals No. 4” that required every bit of the John Williams mastery of the guitar. His encore, the delicate and utterly delicious “Como Llora Un Estrella” by Venezuelan Antonio Carillo only served to drive the adoring crowd into a well-deserved standing ovation that expressed their fervent hope that Cerritos might coax the guitar maestro back again.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cirque Mechanics Boom Town October 13, 2010

Cirque Mechanics Build a Show at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

After several visits to Cirque du Soleil and other spin-offs of the animal-less circuses that proliferated in the 80’s and 90’s I kind of had my fill of the grand-scale whimsy of these performances. The multi-colored lighting, the noodling mood music, the aerial daredevilry, the oddball clowns and the obtuse presentation began to blur a bit. It’s not that they weren’t incredible and enjoyable for all ages but they ceased to enchant me as they did when I first took my kid back in the day. My whimsy-meter was on empty.
However, the unique splinter of the Cirque themes called Cirque Mechanics took over the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts at midweek and pretty much removed unnecessary whimsy and replaced it with down home acrobatics. All this amongst a backdrop that is as relatively plain as the 1860’s gold mining camp they call Boom Town in this show. It’s not really a redneck circus or some bowl of corny camp as you might suspect from the lobby cards. Instead the review presents a mixture of clowning, exuberant acrobatics and some amazing machinery that gives the tricks an extra dimension. The troupe is smaller and the sets simpler but the ability and charm of the performers pans out as pure gold in this show. There are three main components to the show and they are evenly spread out over the ninety-minute experience that is lots of fun for those on both sides of the footlights. There are stunts that involve juggling and balancing tricks that raise pulses including one heady segment by Tex Redinger that involved drawers and corn liquor jugs stacked four high. Charlotte Greenblatt balanced on four raised lozenges with strength that would be admired in any weight room and also performed as a ballerina on a raised platform. Elena Day was the clown in residence and several of her routines brought genuine horselaughs and added much needed comic relief after spine-tingling acrobatics. She also ventured into the crowd and took a poor unsuspecting civilian up on stage used him as a prop, albeit good-naturedly. Those same acrobatics formed the core of the show and were absolutely wonderful throughout. The really great ingredient to the carefree aerial hi-jinks was the obvious joy of the performers including Timber Brown, Wes Hatfield, Andre Nurse, Kerren McKenna and Lindsey Orton-Hines who literally and figuratively made it look easy. I can assure you it was not when you consider some of these maneuvers took place twenty or thirty feet above the stage and without any safety apparatus in sight. They bounded repeatedly off of trampolines centered on ore carts, climbed ropes to the ceiling using mostly their feet and swung with precision near the top of the stage. The highlight of the acrobatics was the duel wonders of an upside down bicycle control of a moving trapeze that swung young ladies out over the orchestra seats where the crowd stared upward with mouths agape.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Color Purple October 8, 2010

Seeing “the Color Purple” at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

Even after reviewing several Operas in the past year it was a stretch to imagine a feel-good musical that features a plot involving misogyny, infidelity, incest, spousal abuse, racism and murder. Other hit musicals we have seen feature murdering barbers, promiscuous cats, killer carnival barkers and drunken juvenile delinquents so all things are possible on that stage. Back to this weekends visiting musical of “the Color Purple” at the Performing Arts Centers which genuinely lightened hearts and pleased theater goers with a long and textured musical look at the Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel that became the academy award winning movie back in 1985. Plot details may be hazy since twenty-five years have passed since seeing the movie but the characters as portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery linger in memory. The story, set in the early 1900’s, follows a forlorn young African-American woman who is abused by her father, separated from her children, sent off to a cruel farmer neighbor and parted from her beloved sister while being forced to care for an entire household as if she were a servant. Her saving grace is the visit of the elegant and worldly Shug Avery, a cabaret singer who befriends the despairing young woman. While Celie endures all manner of heartache she manages to rise above the hardships of life in the South during these days of shameful prejudice.
This production by Phoenix Entertainment is fully realized up to the standards of the originals with extremely clever moving sets, expert lighting, dazzling costumes, energetic choreography and a live orchestra to accompany the wonderfully strong singing throughout the almost three hour performance. It’s a very challenging show for the star who in this case is the totally up to it and then some Dayna Jarae Dantzler as the battered and battle tested Celie. Ms. Dantzler is on stage for most of the show and is called upon to act and sing an unbelievable amount of lines and music that she does with aplomb, saving plenty of emotion for the final sweet scene of reunification. Although this truly is a team effort with excellence from the entire cast there are several shining lights to guide the rest. Pam Trotter as Sofia, the talking-back role model for the women is a solid gold scene-stealer and Taprena Augustine is wonderful as the delicately demanding role of Shug Avery who is the heart of the show. Traci Allen is perfect as the wholly good sister Nettie who can really sing. Edward C. Smith as “Albert” or “Mister” or the farmer/husband is perfectly glowering and believable in his late in life change, while Lee Edward Colston II as Harpo and Allison Semmes as Squeak filled their roles up to the brim. The music is fine throughout but several numbers rose above the rest. “Hell No!” by Pam Trotter was the first half highlight along with the sweet “Too Beautiful for Words” by Taprena Augustine who also joined the company in the gutbucket delights of “Push Da Button.” “The Color Purple” which holds the meaning of the entire show might be the one the audience hums on the way to their cars but the real showstopper was Celie’s finale of “I’m Here” that was pure, uplifting anthem.