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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Play It Again, Kenny : Rogers' too-familiar Cerritos show included the same songs, same bits and same adoring audience as his last concert at the venue.

March 11, 1994|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CERRITOS — Maybe Kenny Rogers needs a new writer. Or at least some new shtick. And he definitely needs a replacement for the electric-blue jacket he's been wearing for far too long.

The opening night performance of Rogers' second annual five-night run at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday was a near carbon copy of the show he brought to the same venue last February. It was a show that he probably could do in his sleep, and there were times when it appeared that was precisely what he was doing.

Some of the more familiar bits--offering to pay a seemingly disinterested audience member $10 for any hit he could recognize, introducing "Bo Diddley" with a story about a dream he had about appearing in Cerritos--were done in nearly word-for-word repetitions of previous performances.

Did it matter to his audience? Not at all. They loved every minute, every song, every predictable gag. Even when Rogers is doing little more than working his casual way through the well-known catalogue of hits--from "Lucille" to "Ruby" to "The Gambler"--he is the kind of performer who generates undying, all-accepting love from his listeners.

His oldies, in fact, have achieved such memorable proportions that Rogers can hold his microphone up to the crowd when he reaches the chorus of, say, "Lucille" in complete confidence that they will know and will sing every line without any prompting.

With a six-movie deal for NBC-TV, TV music specials, various big-time business ventures and the publication of a new book of his photographs, Rogers clearly doesn't have a lot of time to devote to refurbishing his stage act. Still, one wonders why all the loyalty Rogers receives from his fans isn't rewarded with a bit more effort on his part.

*

In his finer moments, briefly apparent in his versions of "Lady" and an unexpectedly subtle rendering of the standard "When I Fall in Love," Rogers revealed that he is still capable of setting aside all the prepackaged jokes, comments and asides, and singing with musical understanding, subtlety and warmth. A broader application of those qualities to his overall performance would have made for a far more appealing evening.

Fast-rising country singer Sammy Kershaw opened the set. A throwback to the uncomplicated, honky-tonk twang of George Jones and Mel Street, Kershaw is an artist whose most attractive attribute is his willingness to put his heart on his sleeve with each note he sings.

He sang his monster hit "Cadillac Style," of course, and countered with the woe of "I Can't Reach Her Anymore" and the whimsy of "Queen of My Double Wide Trailer."

It was a congenial, good-times, straight-from-the-gut performance--filled with the kind of sincere, unmanipulative passions that were too often lacking in Rogers' set.

* Kenny Rogers and Sammy Kershaw appear through Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos. $48-$66. (800) 300-4345.

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