Written by Marion J. Caffey
Directed and Choreographed by Marion J. Caffey
Musical direction by Dave Thompson
Performed by Ernestine Jackson, Janice Lorraine
Grand Theatre, London
March 1 to 24, 2005
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Great Recipe for Cookin’
Times are good for theatre in south-western Ontario: London’s Grand Theatre has hit the mark with “Cookin’ at the Cookery”, while in Sarnia, a new professional theatre has opened, offering great fun with “Suds”.
If you’re any kind of a jazz/blues fan, don’t miss “Cookin’ at the Cookery”. If you’re a fan of interesting biographies, you’ll enjoy “Cookin’” too. It’s the true story of African-American singer Alberta Hunter – a fascinating woman portrayed by two excellent actresses/singers.
Miss Hunter was born in Memphis in 1895. At age 15, she moved to Chicago and lied about her age so she could sing in nightclubs. In 1917, she was the most popular blues/jazz artist in the windy city, eventually moving on to Broadway roles, making records, and achieving fame in Paris and London. By the time she was 60, good parts on Broadway were hard to come by, so she lied about her age again, went to school and became a nurse. She worked until her supervisor thought she was 70 and she was forced to retire. In reality she was 82. A call from the owner of the ‘Cookery’ nightclub convinced her to return to her singing and she enjoyed a revived career in jazz from 1977 until her death in 1984 at age 89.
The Grand is fortunate enough to have the author of “Cookin’” here to direct and choreograph this production. Marion J. Caffey has written a very clever script using a combination of various characters, narration, and songs to tell the story. The cast of two, Ernestine Jackson and Janice Lorriane, each bring Alberta Hunter to life – Ms. Jackson with her mature voice and Ms. Lorraine with her comedy and dance. While Ms. Jackson, for the most part, plays Alberta, on occasion she also has the part of Alberta’s mother. Ms. Lorriane plays many parts in addition to the young Alberta, including the hilarious elderly nightclub owner. She also does an amazing Louis Armstrong imitation.
Ms. Jackson is from Manhattan and was recently on Broadway herself, playing in “A Raisin in the Sun”. She also originated the Alberta Hunter role in New York. You might recognize her from spots on “The West Wing” and “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”. Ms. Lorraine, from Brooklyn, is also reprising this part, having played it in Winnipeg and Toronto.
The two women are magic together, and their singing and story telling makes a wonderful night out.
“Cookin’ at the Cookery” continues at the Grand Theatre in London until March 24. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.