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"

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ellsies 2011

                   Ellsies 2011

   By Glen Creason

    It is downright miraculous that in this sickly economy the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts continues to be one of the finest theaters in America without lowering standards or abandoning their lofty goals of bringing culture to Southern California. In a world where half the population is staring down at tiny devices clutched in their mitts or sitting at home trying to make something out of cable TV, the great hall on Center drive continues to give folks reasons to come out of their electronic caves and see the world of the performing arts. For years we have heard jokes about the auto square and now YesCerritos! but this Performing Arts Center is not only the pride of the small city with big ambitions but a proven role model for other venues in the West. This operation from top to bottom is something to be very proud of in many ways.
     While I have been coming to the center and marveling at the shows for almost two full decades I honestly never tire of feeling gratitude for the people who make that place a world-class theater. Since I come in at ground level I am met first by the best box office I have ever seen in my horrifyingly many moons. The bosses are Nate Chavez and Cristopher Larocco who seem to get great attitudes out of every single representative which just makes the first impression for visitors one of love at first sight. Once I had a program with all their names and I would name them all if I could but if I ever hit the lottery I will buy each one a car like Oprah. It is a deck full of aces. Inside you have the many dark-blazered hospitality staff who make you feel right at home and directors like Tony Erdelji smoothing any rough edges and crossing the t’s in comfortable. House manager Alan Strickland does his job so well you hardly know he is there until you need something, then he is always there. The same can be said about the strong presence of Vince Roldan, security that never intrudes but is right where you need him. 
    Again, this year more than any other I noticed how seamless the operation behind the scenes works, especially the technical crew who just get better and better each year. The names are Tom Hamilton, James King,  Rogan Girard, Jack Hayback,  John Palmer, and Jeff Thielke who should be lauded in the programs but they are too busy making sure everything is perfect. I haven’t seen the hall vary much from that standard all year. All of this is overseen by Dianne Cheney who has taken the helm and kept a straight course of excellence that has been steered by her great predecessors. Lastly, I would know nothing of any of this without the gentle guidance and steel-trap like intelligence of publicist/press liaison Lori Levine-Yonan. Thank You a thousand times Lori!
     Without further ado here are the Ellsies for 2011:

E-Dance: Sean Curran Company- a memorable, indelible evening of modern dance lead by director Curran who began with the powerful “Aria/Apology” and finished with “Left Exit” that said so much with movement that even words cannot express.
E-Indy: Round Mountain- An amazingly fresh and creative group comprised of the brothers Rothschild who played an array of instruments from around the world and sang witty and insightful songs they composed. They were a perfect example of the depth of the Sierra Room shows.
E-word: Garrison Keilor- Despite recovering from a frightening stroke Maestro Keilor commanded the Cerritos stage and told his stories, sang songs and recited poetry that all seemed even more poignant due to his dance with the grim reaper in the previous months.
E-favorite sons: On Ensemble- this group may center their sound on taiko drumming and classical training of instruments from the old country but their songs and sound are a unique fusion with modern music that really works. A spellbinding show before an appreciative crowd cemented the lads as local favorites who should be invited back every season.
E-musical: Spamalot- a traveling troupe delivered the sensation of recent Broadway spam-smash to the big hall and brought Monty Python to living color with songs and silliness including a terrific “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”  Steve McCoy as King Arthur was exceptional without exception.
E-Classical: Sejong Soloists- It’s really saying something when a group of young musicians beat out the likes of Andre Watts but the young all-star ensemble gave the best classical concert of the year that was elevated to the top spot by the powerful but nuanced piano playing of the elegant and experienced Orli Shahan.
E-Classic-rock: Pink Floyd Experience- While it was not the boys from 1970’s and it was not David Gilmour pouring out his psychedelic guitar solos but it was a clever cover of the famed “Animals” album done on the typically extravagant Pink Floyd scale by a band totally up to the task, especially guitarist Tom Quinn who made us believe the 70’s were alive despite the audience’s lack of big hair and terrible fashion.
E-Comedy: Louis Anderson- on the bill with Paul Rodriquez, Louis stole this show with his droll, dry-wit and stories of his colorful childhood in Minnesota. His set completing bit on aging was as funny and on-point as any heard in the hall’s history.
E-Hall of Fame: Brian Wilson- Over the years the Performing Arts Center has had some giants of entertainment who can genuinely be called genius and placed in the music hall of fame. Such was the case for the former driving force in the great Beach Boys who also created a pretty cool concert with an excellent band that recreated the totally bitchen Brian Wilson sound.
E-World Music: Yamato- Cerritos seems to have become a taiko drumming hot spot and we are glad they fill the great hall with this amazing feast of percussion. This season we were blessed with a visit from Yamato from the mother country where the big drums first boomed. This young and spectacularly expressive troupe of men and women made the Performing Arts Center throb with exciting and superbly harmonic drumming.
E-Old but Gold- Chubby Checker-Truly an inspiration for those with snow on the roof and notches on the belt Chubby Checker made history by just walking out on stage after fifty years twisting and totally rocked the place. His powerhouse band, “the Wildcats” made all of the many in the audience twist again like we did last summer (in 1960).
E-Classical Performance- Ray Chen violin- Chen appeared with gifted pianist Julio Elizade who was no slouch himself but the young violinist’s inspired playing of J.S. Bach’s “Chaconne from Partita in d minor” was a triumphant concert in itself and was just one of six incredibly beautiful pieces in a superb concert.
E-Charm and Musicianship- Marvin Hamlisch- If you just think of Marvin Hamslisch as the guy who provided the ragtime theme for the classic movie “the Sting” you have missed some wonderful music. The charming and erudite Hamlisch dazzled a matinee crowd with his compositions and piano mastery ranging from films like “The Way We Were” to the overflowing evergreen score of “A Chorus Line” while telling fascinating stories of his journey from a humble beginnings to being one of the rare individuals to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy.
E-New Faces- the Backbeats- While the backbeats were the curtain raisers for excellent headliner “the Street-Corner Symphony” you just could not be excited by such a superb idea and group drawn from local music schools. Performing on the television show “Sing Out,” the eight-member “Backbeats” pumped new blood into the entire idea of a Capella harmony used on contemporary compositions. The results were wonderful for one of the best show of the year.
E-Show of the Year: Keb Mo-Actually the gentleman from Compton won both the highly contested show of the year and the holiday show of the year without a struggle. He just has it all: poise, polish, great songs, an expressive blues voice and one hell of a great hand on the guitar. While he mixed materials his ballads, especially “We Don’t Need It” was simply out of this world good.
E-Performance of the Year- Perla Batalla- When dealing with a talent this big you have to use a big word and I would say Perla Batalla is polyphiloprogenitive. The big word means prolifically talented and inventive which would accurately describe her development over the years to an intelligent and gifted singer who can turn a pretty good song into a masterpiece. Such was the case with her reading of “Love Is Everything” which was resplendently brilliant in voice, passion and nuance. If you were there you will never forget it, I know I won’t.
     Lastly, thanks to Brian Hews and the staff at the Los Cerritos Community News who sometimes put my words onto the page so that great music and theater at the Center has a second life. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Canadian Tenors December 14, 2011

               Canadian Tenors Fly South to Cerritos for the Holidays

                                                 By Glen Creason

     The hall was full, the holiday cheer was high and the young and handsome Canadian Tenors strode onto a stage crowded with a full orchestra and more red and green that you would find at any local shopping center (make that centre.) You could hardly ask for more if you are into Christmas and want to hear some of the old classics sung by veteran professionals with big voices. Still, one year I wanted a car and got a lame parka jacket and another time I wanted a violin and got catcher’s equipment. You may have your heart set on one thing and get something altogether different from Santa.
     There have been several manifestations of this Yule extravaganza in the past including the impossible to top Three Irish Tenors, the Irish Tenors, the Celtic Tenors, Three Mo’ Tenors and now these young gentlemen from up North. All of the shows had the holiday music in common but varied in voice and repertoire. Let it be said that the likes of Ronan Tynan and Finbar Wright of the Three Irish Tenors don’t come along too often so to compare young singers in their twenties with these heavyweights is not a fair fight. However, the Canadians certainly had a huge following and the reception from the crowd was enthusiastic to say the least.
     These Canadian Tenors had polish and charm but are not really all operatic tenors and only half of the group really possessed that bouncing off the back wall of the hall vocal potency. Certainly Remigio Pereira could be Rodolfo in La Boheme and Victor Micallef could handle Verdi without a struggle. Clifton Murray and Fraser Walters are both engaging and very romantic crooners but only baritone-tenors like Michael Buble or Bing Crosby are tenors. While these two young men were charming and elicited sighs from the lady-audience they were not geared for the opera hall. There were some of the old chestnuts done with four-part panache including “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “What Child Is This,” “O Holy Night” and the encore of “Silent Night” that were all sung with passion and reverence. There were impressive operatic readings of “Panis Angelicus” by Pereira and “the Lord’s Prayer” by Micallef and concert hall send-up of “Forever Young” by Murray and the lovely “Winter Song” by Walters. Special guests made the season show bright including beautiful Kelly LeVesque for an ensemble joined “the Prayer” and remarkable Justin Hines who sang the moving “Say What You Will.”
      While the show had some problems in the first half with uneven sound and a couple of choices that strayed from the holiday theme they pulled the fat out of the fire in the second half with some very fine moments. In particular a soaring “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” from Ennio Morricone’s “the Mission” and an amazingly fitting “Hallelujah” from Canadian national treasure Leonard Cohen. The following two finishing Christmas evergreens just put a nice sheen on the fine second half and left the big audience heading home hoping those packages from Amazon arrived in time. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Keb Mo December 7, 2011

    Keb Mo: Home for the Holidays at Cerritos

                                                  By Glen Creason

     The first time Keb Mo visited Cerritos as a warm-up act he demonstrated talent so impressive it was evident that he would return for greater glory. That night he seemed to be a torchbearer of true Southern Blues music with an authentic gutbucket growl and a virtuoso touch on the slide guitar. He has returned several times since, growing in stature with each visit and is now in a small handful of Southern California musicians who are at the top of their game. I would go further and say he is the best local artist we have around these parts, surpassing the guys in Los Lobos and greats like Dave Alvin. Keb Mo has evolved from a blues messenger to a singer of poignant ballads and new-Blues that expose young people to that great tradition while winning a wider audience with his poetic lyrics and superb guitar skills.
     It was truly home for the holidays at Cerritos with his Mom in the house and an enthusiastic crowd reacting joyfully to almost two dozen gems he performed with style and a cool that was only broken by passionate readings of some touching ballads.
There were the undulating blues beauties like “Loola Loo,” “Whole Enchilada,” “Shave Yo’ Legs,” “Soon As I Get Paid” and “Dangerous Mood” that had sections rocking in time across the big hall. The man is always in command and his crisp guitar work seems to flow effortlessly from a number of instruments ranging from picking a flattop to an   electric resophonic guitar to a steel-bodied beauty that sings with the bottle neck playing.
He has expanded his scope away from the traditional Blues with darker tales, now telling his own very optimistic hybrid of songs that strum heartstrings and ring very true to the times. Truly exceptional song-writing and performing were showcased in beauties like “Every Morning,” “Stand Up and Be Strong,” “I’ll Be Your Water,” “the Door Is Always Open” and the deeply moving “We Don’t Need It” that was an anthem worthy of the worst and best of 2011.
    There was also plenty of just plain funky fun stuff like “Government Cheese,” “I See Love” “Suitcase” and the extended, high-voltage jam of “Gimme What You Got” that even separated some fans from their seats and set the hall to dancing. Keb Mo’s band is excellent in support of his guitar wizardry; equally terrific were Vail Johnson on bass, Jeff Paris on mandolin, Michael Hicks on organ, soulful Kevin So on keyboards and Les Falconer whose drum work was right on the mark.
     Oh yes, there were some holiday tunes mixed in with the ballads and blues that made the Christmas tree on stage make sense. “Jingle Bell Jamboree” was the best in the Christmas tree lot but “We Call It Christmas,” a loosely interpreted “Jingle Bells” and “the Christmas Song” sung for his dear Mom made the season bright indeed. While Keb Mo only played a portion of his music in the Yule spirit he did follow the poignant line of the show opener “the more you give, the more you receive.” He gave another superb show and received a standing ovation that he humbly accepted with the full band.