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, January 28, 2012

My Fair Lady January 27, 2012

     Still Fair and Still a Fine Lady

                                             By Glen Creason

    It was like meeting a dear old friend at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend, a very old and dear one. Sometime in the term of John F. Kennedy I first saw “My Fair Lady” at the Biltmore Theater in downtown Los Angeles and I attribute a life long love of musicals to that magical evening. So it was magical indeed to hear the wonderful songs and clever dialogue of that same masterpiece by Lerner and Loewe at the great hall in Cerritos. This staging by Big league productions was done up right, with dazzling costumes, impressive sets and a stage-full of skilled actors and actresses that made this dear lady sing sweetly. In scenes like the memorable and hilarious visit to Ascot for the thoroughbred racing and thoroughbred Britons in grand costume the thrill of live musical theater was truly exemplified.
    The musical, based on the play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw is truly an evergreen but much depends on the principals who portray the essential roles of the professor Henry Higgins and his pupil Eliza Doolittle who is changed from a humble  flower seller from the seedy streets of London to a fine lady who charms “polite” society. In this Cerritos show Chris Carsten as the professor was a tower of strength in this challenging role with so much dialogue and speak-singing. It is hard not to compare any Henry Higgins to the film’s Rex Harrison but Carsten was certainly as good or better as a singer and managed to make the prickly professor quite loveable by the end of the performance. The true lynchpin of the show was Aurora Florence as Eliza who captured the somewhat raggedy early cockney street girl who then blooms into a beautiful and elegant young woman. Ms. Florence possesses an extraordinary voice and was able to make these classics sound all shiny and new, especially a stunning “I Could Have Danced All Night” and a sassy reading of the sometimes overlooked “Without You.” Her transformation from a figure of pity to one of stunning beauty was exactly what the creators had in mind when they invented Eliza.
    Still, this was a team effort despite the powerhouse principals and the entire ensemble worked seamlessly to make this highly unlikely plot look like a beautiful love story.  There were the songs that sounded just as good today as they did back when everyone looked like the cast of MadMen. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “The Rain in Spain,” “Get Me to the Church On Time” and the delicious “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” all stood up like a fine vintage. Richard Springle as Colonel Pickering was spot on in the key role of the sympathetic friend and understudy Tommy J. Dose made the shameless Alfred P. Doolittle come to inebriated life. Daniel Cardenas’ soaring version of “On the Street Where You Live” was an evening high point and the continued chorus of “Poor Professor Higgins” lingered as I jumped on the 91 freeway headed home.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Christopher O'Riley and Matt Haimovitz January 18, 2012

Shuffle.Play.Listen: a Revelation at Cerritos

                        By Glen Creason

     I never dreamed I would hear a concert at the Performing Arts Center that would juxtapose Hitchcock movie scores, good jazz fusion, esoteric avant garde classical compositions and the sounds of 21st Century indie pop. Not only did the program mix such disparate elements there was much more and all done with great musical skill and even touches of wry humor. The choices were iconoclastic and the pairing of the cello and piano were so marvelously mastered by Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz that one tended to forget the wildly different wellsprings and just focus on the notes as they flew from the stage in seemingly every form known to the human ear. O’Riley may be best known as radio host for the excellent “From the Top” that focuses on young classical musicians but his mastery of the piano coupled with an encyclopedic knowledge of musical composition makes him a perfect role model and a very polished performer.
     On this night in the big hall,  Matt Haimovitz played so powerfully it was fortunate that O’Reilly is so gifted on his own instrument or he could have been overwhelmed. Instead the two men raised each other to heights needed to accomplish such an action packed program. Much of the credit must go the thoughtful arrangements that gave both players a distinct place in this heady musical stew. The evening began with the demanding theme from the film “the Red Violin” by John Corigliano translated into a solo cello piece, followed by the haunting prelude to the film Vertigo by the great film composer Bernard Herrmann and punctuated by “Pyramid Song” from contemporary group Radiohead. It just made you think of the old Monty Python theme “and now for something completely different.” Such odd mixes continued with great effect as O’Reilly and Haimovitz drew musical water from four separate wells. There were the modern classical pieces; brisk and lyrical dances by Stravinsky, sweet fairy tales in song by Janacek, a decidedly rambunctious, folk inspired Slovakian theme from Martinu and Opus 11 by Webern, stark and full of dissonant jagged edges.
      Some in the audience may have come just to hear the playing of songs by their favorite contemporary pop groups and they were treated to amazing translations of Blond Redhead (Misery is a Butterfly), more Radiohead (Arpeggi), a rocking “Empty Room” and “In the Backseat” by Arcade Fire and the Cocteau Twins “Fotzepolitic” which was made to sing with the harmony of cello and piano. While rock sometimes does not translate at all in the concert hall these two artists seem to understand the genre and play it serious cool for all concerned. There was more, and different even from Webern and Arcade Fire. Jon Hassell’s “Last Night the Moon Came and Dropped Its Clothes on the Street” was a highlight but the finishing trio of Shuffle.Play.Listen’s expansive and grand “Scene d’amour” from Vertigo, jazz guitarist John McLaughlin’s “Dance of the Maya” with its luscious thick slices of cello-tones and an encore of Astor Piazzolla’s “Le Grand Tango” just let out all of the stops. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

River North Dance Chicago January 13, 2012

             River North Dance Chicago: a Discourse in Perfection

                                                             By Glen Creason

    I really need the “Better Than Great: A Plentitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives” to do justice to the dance performance of “River North Dance Chicago” at the Performing Arts Center last weekend. There was a large crowd for the rather esoteric art of dance and they were treated to an eye-misting beautiful cast of 13 dancers who performed brilliant choreography, amidst astoundingly eclectic and memorable sounds with fall-to-your-knees lighting and costumes that lived up to all of that and more. Kudos are in order for  artistic director Frank Chaves who must rehearse these young dancers into almost clarified perfection. Not only is the program packed with seven sensational pieces, it demands many extended segments involving the entire company moving in crisp harmony that takes your breath away but never seems to tire the young performers.
     The dancers got the audience up on the edge of their seats at the starting gate of “Evolution of a Dream” with the lyrical introduction building into the driving beat of the Eurhythmics “Sweet Dreams” which seemed to inspire a high-energy synchronicity that just sent endorphin-impulses throughout the entire hall. The plain velour costumes were spot-on for a work focusing on a blend of dance clubs and modern dance. Dancer Ahmad Simmons provided a counter-point to the ensemble dominated first segment with “Beat.” His graceful and expressive solo was a lesson in graceful control and anatomy. The lighting here as throughout the entire performance was essential in creating a memorable scene. “Sentir em Nos” was something completely different with an operatic sounding Portuguese song danced by the couple whose precise partner work demanded that they never actually separate from one another. Michael Gross was a standout here and throughout.  Appropriately “Even for Us” was the most romantic piece on a program filled with passion and love. A four-part tribute to the music of Miles Davis finished the first half and it was nothing but a home run, touching all the bases with grace and classic style.
     The second half broke in a different direction but once more with the industrial-techno pure percussion throb of “Le Tambours du Bronx” (a Cerritos show once upon a time) in “The Train.” The performance moved toward absolutely explosive energy and joyous movement with a solo within the piece by Hanna Brictson that defied superlatives.  When the drumming ceased there were more than a few open mouths in the audience whispering to no one in particular “wow.” This was followed by the sweetly lyrical and gentle duet of “Fixe” with its whimsical score and ingenious eco-camouflage costumes. The grand finale was an absolute feast of grand classical Cuban dance music. With brilliantly colored and designed costumes the company moved with more of balletic style but with such sensual delight that the entire six songs were an intoxicating concoction of dance nectar. The music was cleverly mixed between the vintage smoothness of Morton Gould’s Orchestra and Percy Faith spiced by the passionately earthy vocals of Carlos Puebla and Omara Portuondo. The dancers superbly executed choreography to this “Habaneras, the Music of Cuba” was dreamy, evocative, bountiful and very beautiful. If the director Chavez dedicated this piece to his father he has done him a great honor.