Sunday, May 09, 2004

Cookin' at the Cookery (Cleveland Play House)

'COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY' pleasant evening at CPH

Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Janis Joplin, Lena Horne, Alberta Hunter. You probably have heard of the first five, but who was Alberta Hunter? Interestingly, before any of the other divas on the list, there was Alberta Hunter.

Hunter was a super star! So, why haven’t you heard of her? Once a star of Broadway, the Casino de Paris, and the London Palladium, Hunter gave it all up at the age of 60 to become a nurse. She surprised everyone when, at the age of 82, she made a comeback in 1977 at Greenwich Village's THE COOKERY. Thus, the title of the show.

Now, more than a decade after her death, Hunter has made yet another comeback, this time as the subject of an award-winning Broadway play ‘COOKIN' AT THE COOKERY.’ The musical is told "in the key of the blues" by two actresses and four musicians performing soul-shaking renditions of Hunters' classic blues and jazz tunes including "Rough and Ready Man," "I'm Having a Good Time," "Down Hearted Blues" and "The Love I Have for You."

The show is a demanding vehicle for the two actors in the show. The duo playsnumerous characters from the singer, to her mother, to Hunter as a young girl, to Barney Josephson (the owner of the Cookery), and the legendary Louie Armstrong.

Gail Nelson, who sings and acts the lead role, and Carla Woods who plays the majority of the character roles, both have good voices and develop believable characterizations.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY’ is a pleasant evening of theatre. There is not enough drama to make this a great play, not enough challenge to make it outstanding theatre, but the singing is nice and the story is pleasant enough.