SUNDAY REVIEW: Cookin' at The Cookery
BY JOSEPH PLANTA
Sunday, 01 October 2006
VANCOUVER - Playing at the Stanley for two more weeks is the remarkable, Cookin' at The Cookery. The revue staged by Marion J. Caffey begins the Arts Club Theatre Company's 43rd season, and does so with a vengeance.
The life of Alberta Hunter is the subject of the show. A singer-songwriter, who left Memphis for Chicago and show business in the 1920s, Hunter began performing in seedy, smoky nightclubs, where whistles, and sometimes chairs and bullets flew. She sang, and she also wrote for such stars like Bessie Smith, who covered Hunter's "Downhearted Blues." Through the Second World War, Hunter continued performing, becoming a fixture with the USO. Hunter gives up show business, taking up nursing in the New York City area for nearly twenty years. She enjoys her new career, until being forced to retire at 82. It seems her age was overlooked or undisclosed. A rebirth occurs, and until her death in 1984, Hunter was a popular performer, who despite being out of commission for two decades or so, went on without missing a beat. The place for her comeback is The Cookery, a nightclub, where Hunter revives a dormant career to much adulation.
Alberta Hunter is brought to life in Cookin' at The Cookery by two fantastic performers, Jackie Richardson and Janice Lorraine. Both go back and forth playing parts that illuminate and bring the life, times and music of Hunter to this revue. Though Richardson is listed in the role of Alberta Hunter in the playbill, and she does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to vocalising Hunter's songs on stage, Lorraine is an indispensable, vital performer in this production. Her slender and fit frame houses charm and formidable talent that stops the show a number of times. Her send-up of Louis Armstrong is remarkable.
If Janice Lorraine stops the show, Jackie Richardson grasps the audience in the palm of her hand. She is a force of nature, who commands the stage at her first appearance with a halting walk due to her robust form. Her larger than life spark captivates the audience. The audience awaits her first notes with rapt anticipation. And when she sings, by golly, it's amazing.
The worlds of gospel, jazz and blues figure prominently in the show, and both Richardson and Lorraine are no strangers to the music, feel and energy. They're unbelievable in their handling of the material. Richardson is vivacious in the role. Bringing Hunter to a contemporary audience was made easier by Richardson's involving the audience in her performances of Hunter's finest works, as Hunter would.
The dream of any burgeoning performer is to not only find some outlet in which to perform, but yes, seek the validation and opportunity that an audience affords the very talented. Eventually, Alberta Hunter made it out of Memphis onto Chicago, then to New York City. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, thus Hunter, a hit in Europe, lived the dream she hoped as a child, eventually performing at the White House for The President. Recently, I saw the video of Hunter delighting President Carter and the august crowd at the Kennedy Center. By then, she was 83, but she had the audience in the palm of her hand, with a swagger and attitude that inspired and entertained still.
Jackie Richardson and Janice Lorraine, as well as the quartet they have with them on stage (Bill Sample, Graham Boyle, David Sinclair, and Rene Worst), do Hunter's ups and downs, the sadness and the good, much like her music, justice. They stop the show, move the audience, blow the roof off, and sizzle as they cook at the Stanley.
The Arts Club Theatre Company presents Cookin' at The Cookery at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (2750 Granville St., at 12th Ave.) until 15 October 2006. Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Wednesday-Saturday at 8 pm, and Wednesday, Saturday, & Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $27-$51, with discounts for students, seniors, and groups. Call Ticketmaster 604 280 3311 or the Arts Club Box Office 604 687 1644, or visit www.artsclub.com.
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