Arts Club Theatre Company

Cookin' at The Cookery
by Marion J. Caffey

Dates 2 August – 26 August 2007, 8pm Venue Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage Reviewer John Jane

Vancouver audiences loved the original mounting of Cookin' at The Cookery last September, and the Artsclub Theatre Company are banking on those audiences returning to enjoy this superb show all over again. Much of the production’s success relies heavily on the talent of the two principal players and the Artsclub are fortunate to have Jackie Richardson and Janice Lorraine back with tour-de-force performances.

Ms Richardson is a dazzling performer, with a rich and powerful voice. She doesn’t physically resemble Alberta Hunter and the timbre of her voice is distinctly different from the gritty vocal style that the renowned blues singer displayed in her late career. Richardson doesn’t attempt to impersonate Hunter and interpretation of songs like “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “My Handy Man” is essentially her own. She sings “Down Hearted Blues” as if she really means it.

Janice Lorraine’s role is unfairly described in the Artsclub handout programme as “Narrator.” Although, she actually portrays Alberta Hunter from pre-teen to middle-age, as well as playing impresario, Barney Josephson and a myriad of smaller parts. She has an energetic and vibrant stage presence and shows off her incredible versatility doing a dead-on, tonsil-bruising impersonation of jazz great, Louis Armstrong.

If one discounts her inspiring return to show business at the age of 82, Hunter’s biography is pretty unremarkable. However, Marion J. Caffey has crafted a perfect vehicle to showcase the music that put her in the same league as contemporaries, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ella Fitzgerald.

Caffey wisely skims over Hunter’s career in health care, opting to focus on the more entertaining aspect of her life - the music. There are only incidental references to her brief unconsummated marriage to Willard Townsend and her long-term lesbian relationship with Lottie Tyler. I think this was a wasted opportunity. There must have been great performances inspired by her failed sexual relationships.

Dale F. Jordan’s simple, yet functional set design doubles as the Hunter home and various jazz clubs. The multi-level staging enables the actors to move effortlessly between performance and storyline sequences while accommodating Bill Sample's stellar quartet.

There is a touring production of Cookin' at The Cookery already planned for the Fall. I’m sure it will prove to be as big a hit in the smaller venues as it has been at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

© 2007 John Jane