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"

Friday, May 13, 2011

Perla Batalla with Karen Hammack May 11, 2011

Perla Batalla with Karen Hammack: Sweet Sierra Night

                                       By Glen Creason

    It is sage advice to live every day like it was your last and in turn write every review like it was your last. If this is to be my swan song then the Perla Batalla concert on a Sierra Night was the perfect way to finish with a flourish. Ms. Batalla is in a small handful of the best singers on earth and to have her at Cerritos was a coup in itself but to have the privilege of getting to hear her test out brand new material for a full house proved to be one of the very best shows here in a long, long time. Co-star Karen Hammack on piano could have faded to gray next to such talent but instead her solos were breathtaking, Technicolor voyages that just lifted the vocals to places you can’t reach alone. There were other delightful surprises and stories from the stage on this night that raised the performance to dizzying heights.
     La Batalla came right out and bravely tested her voice with a surprising, show-opening “Amazing Grace” that morphed from hymn to gospel rouser. As was the pattern for most of the night the next song was a complete change-up with the restrained and gorgeous “Lazy Afternoon” followed by a “Crazy Love” that made you forget Van Morrison. Two gold-plated Leonard Cohen compositions; “Suzanne” and “Dance Me to the Ends of Love” followed familiar ground where Batalla seems to own a franchise.  The lovely old Irving Berlin masterpiece “What’ll I Do” caused hankies to be drawn forth and the exotic “Nature Boy” once again celebrated love that was the sweet, central theme of the show. The first half ended with the sensual and evocative “To Love Somebody” that practically made me want to go have a smoke afterwards.
     The second half was full of fun surprises and a millennium star diamond musical moment at the Cerritos Center. There was a trinity of beauties from the great American songbook including the especially poignant to the singer “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” along with “the Very Thought of You” and “the Nearness of You” that are perfectly suited to the wide-ranging vocal capacity of Perla Batalla and piano melodies that Karen Hammack turned into satin and gold. In the past one would have to say that the signature song of this artist was most certainly “Cu Cu Ru Paloma” and that would be hard to deny on this night, as her stunning rendition was deeply emotional and riveting while drawing a passionate response from fans.
     As a perfect break in the deep emotion there was some family fun when Perla sang “Las Mananitas” to her sister-in-law and then turned the mike over to her very talented comedy writer-actor brother Rick Batalla who sang an impromptu birthday love song to his wife that brought the house down and most importantly greatly pleased the missus. The fairly giddy Perla then returned to the Leonard Cohen treasure chest for a goose-bump raising “Bird on the Wire” that closed with a Minnie Riperton note.
     As a music lover since my Mom took me to Wallach’s Music City to buy the new Righteous Brother platter way back I have long searched for that song that puts a listener in a “happy place” and makes an album precious. That one song that drives you to be standing in line at the record store the morning that disc is released. Those kinds of songs and live performances are few and far between.  When Perla Batalla told the audience they were going to perform a piece she had only found weeks ago you might wonder if there might be some rough edges on such a song.  Instead the ladies took the entire room into that “other place” and it was quickly evident that one of those precious gems was found. The song, “Love Is Everything” took an entire room to a place where time stands still and the heart beats one thump at a time. Nothing but music and love can make this kind of miracle. I was still catching my breath and mouthing the words “wow” but the crowd exhaled, then cheered and Perla and Karen gave them encores of “Round Midnight” with guest artist Chris Conner sounding decidedly Mingus-esque on a wonderful bass and a finale of “Gracias a la Vida” featuring guitarist Gilberto Gonzalez playing percussion.
     If this was my last show, at least I can go off to paradise humming “Love Is Everything” which on this night described the time and place perfectly.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mothers Day Four Years On

From the eulogy for my Mom   April 2007

"When I was a little boy I had the good fortune of taking a trip with my Mom to the Coronado Hotel in San Diego. The stars were all aligned perfectly and it was just the two of us. There in family lore is the story of how I sailed my little hound’s-tooth matching cap from Robinson’s Department store into the bay during a harbor cruise. The trip is golden in memory. Early on it became apparent that I had a hearty breakfast appetite that Mom satisfied by ordering me adult sized servings of flapjacks, Denver omelettes, and bacon, the food of joy. When we checked out the staff knew us as a Mother and son who fed the squirrel, Nutty Jimmy out on the lawn and ate the big breakfasts on china plates. As we dawdled at the front desk, a staff member mentioned my status in the dining room and she took my hand tenderly and said “yes, he’s good boy!” It was then I realized what I enjoyed for the rest of my sixty years with her, that she loved me. Nothing ever came close to being that valuable for me. For all the stupid, insensitive, coarse and selfish acts I have committed, for the hundreds of times the raw old world bruised me to the bone I could hold to those words and remember the softness of her voice calling me “sweetie” even when I was as sour as lemon rinds."

Friday, May 06, 2011

Robert Kapilow What Makes it Great Appalachian Spring

Rob Kapilow on Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”: Simply Terrific

                                  By Glen Creason

     Any review of one of Rob Kapilow’s amazingly instructive concerts has to be comprised of three parts. The first part deals with the wonderful teaching abilities of Kapilow, the second is what makes the subject music great and lastly the playing of the actual piece by the assembled musicians. On this Wednesday night at the Performing Arts Center Kapilow chose the evergreen composition “Appalachian Spring” by the great American composer Aaron Copland and was assisted by 13 members of the Pacific Symphony. Kapilow often asks the question to the audience “got it?” and most certainly the enthusiastic crowd at this show totally seemed to get it and then some.
      Kapilow has an easy charm and breezy teaching manner that comes at you at 78 r.p.m. but his warmth and love for the music makes classical music as fun as a popcorn movie on a rainy day. In this case, as the Lakers folded at Staples, we the lucky folks of Cerritos were instructed, thrilled and moved to a tear or two unlike the downcast basketball fans outside in the real world. It also helped that Kapilow chose the much beloved “Appalachian Spring” which never gets old and when touched by this master-teachers hand becomes even more special and wonderful. It was explained that Copland wrote the piece for a ballet created by the great Martha Graham and wished to make it “seemingly simple but only seemingly simple.” Certainly the melody of “Simple Gifts” that appears and reappears in the piece is from the Shaker hymn written in 1834 by a church elder. The Shakers believed that simple was beautiful all on its own and what Copland does with just this chord and an old melody is exhilarating. It was also good enough to gain the composer the Pulitzer Prize for composition in 1944. Despite the fact that Copland had never been to Appalachia and wasn’t even sure of the title of the piece until Ms. Graham named it before the premiere he wanted to portray the pioneer American spirit in this rustic musical landscape. Copeland was interested in the essence of this idea and not the reality so what comes out of the piece is a great optimism based on this pure simplicity. Even though Aaron Copeland was a very reserved and dignified soul a close friend described him as “he never stopped being a child.”
     At Cerritos, Kapilow worked hard, harder than some Laker big men and showed the intricacies of this seemingly simple composition. At one point he had over one thousand audience members “air conducting” the one chord that begins the ballet. As he has done over 180 times for classical compositions Kapilow took it apart, piece by piece and then puts it back together to a lovely whole. After the teacher shows the audience how each component is cleverly constructed and how true genius takes risks to reach these heights of greatness the entire auditorium is salivating to hear the piece played. This was one of those shows where folks were anxious to get back into their seats for the second half so they could hear the “Appalachian Spring” in whole cloth after Kapilow explained how it was constructed. The thirteen members of the Pacific Symphony did not fumble the ball and played inspired after getting their appetites whetted for the Copeland. With superb performances by the flautist and first violin along with every single other member of the ensemble Copeland’s great work never sounded so good. Bravo, maestros!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Pacifico Dance Company April 30, 2011

Pacifico Dance Company Dazzles Cerritos

                   By Glen Creason

       I don’t think in my near two decades of covering shows at the Performing Arts Center I have seen a show to surpass the spectacular Pacifico Dance Company  extravaganza on Saturday night for color, costumes, history and enthusiasm from both sides of the stage. Maybe the mighty Moiseyev of Russia stands up there with Pacifico but this is a group that locals should be very proud of in their incredibly textured and dazzlingly beautiful programs. To add further amazement is the fact that Pacifico is based here in Los Angeles and draws much of their talent locally while recreating dance and folk traditions of Mexico. This is not corny Mexican hat dance at Olvera street show but a serious and stately recreation of sometimes century’s old traditions. Also the show lovingly mixes modern dance with folk traditions and with countless gorgeous costumes there is never a dull moment in the near two hours of performance.
     The Cerritos concert was divided into six parts that reflected different regions and traditions of the mother country including a sextet of musicians who further enflamed the large crowd to shouts and copious whistles. As an aside, I was amused by the rather accurate bird whistles and recreated skyrockets that seemed to burst up in the concourse along with shouts of “Si Senor! during the Jalisco part of the program.
     The initial segment was pure modern dance called “Mictlan” that was inspired by Aztec mythology expressing the cycles of life by dancers who were in aquamarine body suits. If you thought the show might be all in this vein it changed quickly enough in “Tropico y Calido Chiapas” with the head rocking celebratory courtship dances by beautiful ladies in dresses so full of color you could hardly take it all in the ten minutes of the piece.  The first half closed with the long and spirited “Danzas y Chilenas Costenas” inspired by Oaxaco and Guererro with a mix of flamenco, African rhythms and folk music from northern Mexico. The opening with dancing demons and a heavy tap dancing was dreamlike, bordering on scary.
      The second half had much more, starting with the centuries old “La Danza de Quetzales” from Puebla with the men wearing huge pinwheel headdresses in tribute to the Quetzal bird from Indian mythology and the women in dresses that looked like it took a year to make. This was followed by “Zafra en Tamaulipas” giving a nod to the sugar cane harvest done in peasant attire which were inventive and beautiful. The musicians played Spanish influenced folk music from the Northeast of Mexico and the Cerritos crowd roared in approval. I hate to say the best was last but most certainly the electricity surged in “Viva Jalisco” that might have been the most familiar but also the highest energy. The sextet gave way to a full mariachi ensemble and the cowboy costumes were changed even during the set. The finale with all the women in gorgeous dresses swirling and the hombres in full mariachi mufti made for a very memorable grand finale after the “baile de sombrero” that may be familiar to all in SoCal but to see a dozen couples on stage all doing it in crisp harmony was thrilling indeed. Si Senor! Indeed.