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, January 30, 2011

A Chorus Line January 30, 2011

A Chorus Line: New
Meaning After thirty-five years

By Glen Creason

The musical, a Chorus Line could hardly have more lofty credentials than its nine Tony’s, a Pulitzer and glorious run on Broadway that was longer than any American production. If you think for a minute about the competition those facts are absolutely staggering. The story of nineteen dancers auditioning for a part in a play is a musical within a musical that thrives in revivals and small productions precisely because it is all about the people that play these roles: actors and actresses who are anxious to prove themselves in front of the footlights. These are not all wide-eyed kids who want a taste but a mixture of veterans who cling to their fading dreams, damaged artists who find refuge in dance and innocents who see only the adventure of show business in front of them. New productions like the NETworks version done at the Performing Arts Center are privileged to choose very talented actors and dancers from the deep pool of hopefuls that mirror the musical itself.

A Chorus Line is blessed by several memorable, “whistle it to your car after the show” songs that anchor the short but emotion packed two hours of the performance. “One” is an anthem in the American Musical songbook and “What I Did for Love” is an evergreen that works as well today as it did back in 1975 when the show debuted in the Big Apple. It is amazing that a Chorus Line does succeed when you ponder what the world was like in 1975, before digital, before social media, before instant electronic access to everything and before it was ok to even mention your sexual orientation. The beauty of this touring edition of a “Chorus Line” is the reminder of its ground-breaking examination of artists “coming out” and the price they paid for living the lifestyle. In light of the excellent “it gets better” campaign of today to end bullying of gay kids, this show is way ahead of its time. Several of the most powerful moments in the show involve the struggle for these dancers to be themselves in the real world and express their feelings on stage.

The Cerritos Show had many fine qualities and tops among them were actors who made blood pump through the roles written for artists a generation ago. Ryan Steer as Zach, the director carried the afternoon with a commanding performance that allowed the audience to respect his dilemma of being the one to make choices while staying sensitive to the dancers. Ironically the character (Cassie) who is supposed to have been a failure as an actress is played by Rylun Juliano who turned in the finest acting job of this show during her powerhouse moments in “the Music and the Mirror.” Again, Gaspare Di Blasi, as Paul brought out the hankies in the audience in his self-effacing confessions of suffering because of his homosexuality. Gina Duci as Diana was a triple threat in acting her segment about “Nothing” and a beautiful lead on “What I Did for Love” along with strong dancing throughout. Also Suzanna Dupree was edgy but sympathetic as the veteran Sheila who has something to prove but is not easily lead.

There was lots more to like including Jessi Trauth as Val, the naughty but pragmatic dancer who is hearing the clock tick; Hardy Weaver as the odd but totally charming youngster and David Grindrod as Mark who brought some humor to the narrative. The dancing was superb and many who had fewer lines stood out in the choreography including excellent Netaniel Bellaishe as Larry, Mickey Junior-Ayer as Richie, Eric Mann as Mike, Justin Clynes as Greg, Julia Freyer as Judy and Erica Cenci as Bebe. The production seemed to be nicely funded as evidenced by the rather spectacular costuming of the finale which saw the ensemble on stage in glittering gold which was a nice send-off for a very good show.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Robert Kapilow: What Makes It Great? The Music of Stephen Sondheim

“Robert Kapilow: Clear
Thinking About
Mixed Sondheim

"What I want most of all, By Glen Creason

Time flies when you are learning while being entertained and Robert Kapilow’s series “What Makes It Great” in its thirteenth year at the Cerritos Center for Performing Arts! Thirteen years of stellar programs and sterling insight into the magic of musical creation ranging across some genre lines from the giants of classical to the greats of more popular forms. In the case of this show on a Wednesday evening, the subject was the modern musical maestro Stephen Sondheim where Kapilow, an accomplished composer and conductor himself dissected then put four gems back into whole piece as performed by three very talented Broadway savvy singers.

Kapilow said it and it is hard to deny that Sondheim stands high above his contemporaries for memorable compositions and risk taking shows that have left an indelible mark on this wonderful American art form. Not since Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein has the musical stage had such a treasure of songs as have flowed from the pen of Sondheim. It is a tribute to Kapilow’s skills that he is able to demonstrate this great genius by using just a few songs out of the hundreds that date back to “A Funny Thing Happened to on the Way to the Forum” in 1962 to “Road Show” in 2009. This Kapilow master class was probably inspired by the fascinating, recently published memoir “Finishing the Hat” that was explained with piano and voice on this night.

The beauty of any Kapilow show is his empathy for the composers and insight into the process of creating the structures of musical art. On this evening he started with the most well-known of all Sondheim songs “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” which is full of a sort of trademark longing and lack of resolution. Kapilow shows how the song is antithetical to the standard approach seen in almost all previous musical song writing. The quote from the poet W.H. Auden sums up the genius accomplishments of such songs as “clear thinking about mixed feelings.” After explanations the song was performed exquisitely by soprano Sally Wilfert whereupon you could have heard a tiny pin drop in the big hall.

The second song was “Finishing the Hat” from “Sunday in the Park with George” that won Sondheim a Pulitzer. Once again we find subtlety and ambiguity that put edges of emotion on the lyrics. Another wonderful singer Michael Winther put a shine on this twenty-six year old lovely by just singing it as written. “Too Many Mornings” from “Follies” is an absolute heartbreaker as the lady Sally longs for “what might have been” and even “the selective memory of nostalgia” cannot bring back to life. The final piano punctuation by Kapilow after Miss Wilfert’s silken solo sent serious goose bumps from the orchestra to the back row.

The last song showed the versatility of Sondheim with a light-hearted romp from “Company” called “Getting Married Today” that while comedic was packed with wisdom. Cerritos’ own Erin McNally was outstanding in adding a second soprano to this brilliant and brisk trio, providing a true show stopping moment to an already terrific evening. Adding icing to a fully delicious slice of musical cake the encore softened hearts one last time with “You Are Not Alone” from “Into the Woods” which forced hankies out in tribute to Sondheim’s power to move his audiences.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sean Curran Company January 14, 2011

Sean Curran Dance at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It always energizes all my senses to witness the thought provoking art form of dance which without a single word can create great philosophical ponderings in the audience. At its best dance can go places mere words or even music cannot enter and the results of great choreography can be something that can take you a long, thoughtful way. Cerritos is very fortunate to have a perfect venue for modern dance and the good taste in the front offices to choose the best of the best in the form. There is yet to be a single dud in the dance shows in the big hall and most have ranked at the top of great performances on Center drive.
A small but erudite crowd at the Performing Arts Center witnessed dance-plus at the performance of the Sean Curran Company on Friday evening as the dancer/choreographer/artistic director Curran used spoken word and eclectic but perfectly chosen music to create three distinctly different but equally fascinating works. The first, “Aria/Apology” juxtaposed a lilting musical line by George Friedrich Handel with matter of fact admissions of terrible acts recorded on the “Apology Line,” a sort of telephone confessional maintained in 1980’s New York by conceptual artist Alan Bridge. Murder, rape, bigotry, betrayal, incest and shame blast from speakers as the five dancers, clad in plain underclothes moved in synchronicity between the baroque sweetness of Handel and the modern horror in the confessions. It was humans at their best moving next to humans at their worst.
Curran could have quit right there and had a good show but part two, “Social Discourse” was also amazing using a more stark costume design and the beautifully melodic music from the album “The Eraser” by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. This was simply a case of two art forms enhancing each other in an artistically symbiotic performance. The dancing seems to stretch the genre out literally to yoga asanas much more so than traditional ballet forms. The six dancers formed into pairs and then groups of three of forming one unit which spoke to the lyrics of yearning for a true understanding of a new global society and the need to work in some kind of harmony.
The final piece, the West Coast premiere of “Left Exit” was the most provocative of the evening featuring nine dancers representing the great religions of the world and punctuated by spoken word commentary by professor Cornel West of Princeton University from the documentary “Examined Life” by Astra Taylor and the music of John Cage. Every dancer was beautiful but my personal favorites were Elizabeth Coker Giron and David Gonsier who balanced grace with an athleticism that made the piece sing. Curran himself comes out for a pithy solo which distills a discussion on the need for or absence of religion in modern life. This debate on God and atheism or plain lack of interest in spirituality is brought to flesh and blood life in Curran’s work. This was not relaxing movement in space but challenging and highly stimulating stuff that shone from the Cerritos stage in a memorable winter’s evening.

Round Mountain January 12, 2011

Round Mountain Towers at Sierra Nights

By Glen Creason

The word unique has well-defined limits. Unique means exactly that and on a Wednesday evening at the always sweet Sierra Nights concert the locals were able to experience musical uniqueness in its closest definition with the amazing Round Mountain. The series is the brainchild of the tasteful Michael Wolf and you would have to search the purple mountains majesty and all the fruited plains to find a group to equal the truly unparalleled brothers-Rothschild who comprise this duo. Both seem to be born musicians whose broad experience has exposed them to a wide variety of musical traditions and instruments. To find on one stage twelve exotic instruments would be astounding but when several are played at once while vocals are being harmonized is just another league of musical ability. Then there are the instruments that include Scottish bagpipes, Bulgarian gaida, a trumpet, acoustic guitar, dobro, accordion, Turkish saz and ney (lutes), flamenco box drum, djembe, bouzouki, mandolin and of course the West African harp, the kora. Brother Char blows a mean horn with one hand while playing the accordion with the other and brother Robby plays sometimes three drums while strumming the harp and telling stories. Mind you, it is not just that they play these instruments but they do it exceedingly well and change on the fly as they go and very often play two or three at once while singing rather complex and emotional lyrics to the songs they have written.

Ah yes, the songs and the singing are special too. Not always right exactly on key or perfect pitch but beautiful and deep in the telling. Yet only off key in the way Lucinda Williams sings the blues or Joanna Newsome croons her lovely stuff. In moments Round Mountain can sound very Simon and Garfunkel and I mean that in the highest sort of compliment but at others they can get way over into Tom Waits territory. The show is all over the place in genre with bluesy romps like the Mississippi Fred McDowell “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” to the Cuban deliciousness of “Tula” to a caffeinated paean to coffee to a blasting bagpipe melody that filled the hall with Hibernian happiness. Still the best of the memorable night were the heartfelt and unashamedly sentimental songs Round Mountain has written for their wives and children or the sadness of parting from the hearts that love them. “Burn It Down,” “Candle in the Willow Tree” and “I Won’t Lose Sight of You” were more poetry than some of the verses on the page when sung in a tight harmony by these young men.

Having the good fortune to sit next the lad’s parents I understand something of the education the kids received since Mom knew every nuance and could sing like a delta blues mama. The folks lead the cheers but the rest of the full house needed little encouragement for the two talented brothers from Santa Fe New Mexico.