Cookin' at the Cookery
The Arts Club Theatre presents Cookin’ at the Cookery, a tribute to the late Alberta Hunter, whose musical career spanned over six decades. Elana Chan of CJSF Radio had the pleasure of attending the opening night at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, as Jackie Richardson and Janice Lorraine reprise their roles from this runaway success.
Something’s cooking, all right, but Marion J. Caffey’s Cookin’ at the Cookery has little to do with food. It is a tribute to the late musical star Alberta Hunter, an African-American from Memphis, Tennessee who earned international success for her lively and charismatic blues and jazz performances. Toronto actress Jackie Richardson plays a mature Hunter, returning to the stage at the New York’s Greenwich Village club, the Cookery after an 11-year nursing career. Then in her eighties, the singer was still energetic and popular with the audience. Richardson portrays Hunter as a strong personality with a positive, hard-working attitude, as she tells the story of her life through the performance of Janice Lorraine as a younger Hunter, bubbly and full of hope. Throughout the show, Richardson and Lorraine pass the baton, sharing the role of Ms. Hunter. Their appearance and voice are different as night and day, but they make a good team that fosters a smooth transition between the roles and time.
Lorraine puts on different hats (and quite often literally) to depict other personalities in Hunter’s life, including the impressionable Louis Armstrong. These impersonations give the audience a nostalgic feel, taking us back in American history where entertainment is in the heart of Americans, and music is in the centre of it all. Blues and jazz were fresh and playing in clubs large and small. Most of Lorraine’s portrayals are also humorous, providing comic relieves that might not be necessary in a performance of such positive nature. Even the world wars seem glorified as Lorraine acted as Hunter performing in front of the troops. The darker aspects of the show are the death of Hunter’s mother and the systematic segregation of blacks, with the latter presented in a ridiculous tone.
Bill Sample, as Musical Director of Cookin’ at the Cookery, leads a quartet of keyboards, percussion, guitar, and bass that created the necessary backdrop for the story. Their performance includes familiar tunes, such as a line from of Ol’ Man River as Richardson describes her meeting with Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern and casting in the Show Boat.
Overall, the plot of Cookin’ in the Cookery is weak, with a main purpose of linking Hunter’s songs in a performance and resulting an atmosphere that resembles more a concert than a story. The set is neither particularly unique nor elaborate, which does not distract from the performance, and colourful lighting fills in the rest. It is certainly a memorable performance for those who particularly enjoy blues and jazz, as Richardson’s voice is rich and soulful. Cookin’ at the Cookery is playing at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until August 26, 2007.
For more information on this delightful performance, visit www.artsclub.com.