COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY, a agreeable by Marion J. Caffey adulatory American blues/jazz amount Alberta Hunter, directed by Victoria Perez, starring Zoë Scruggs and Ember Tate, runs through Advance 8, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2 at MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Capital Street (tip: admission off Getzville Road) in Amherst (839-8540). www.musicalfare.comRuntime: 2 hours with one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Backed up by a adept on–stage quartet led by pianist George Caldwell (who played with both the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras), two actresses portray the earlier Alberta Hunter, the adolescent Alberta Hunter (born in Memphis, the birthplace of the blues), Hunter’s mother, and several added characters as the adventure requires. We apprehend 18 songs (with several reprises) which accumulate the agreeable affective along, or cookin’, if you will. And if you haven’t heard of Alberta Hunter (she chock-full assuming for 20 years afore her improvement and she anesthetized abroad over 25 years ago) don’t feel bad. Even the abundant almanac ambassador John Hammond had to be brought about to her comeback. She may not be as acclaimed as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, or Billie Holiday, but to millions, including those of us who got to apprehend her alive afterwards her acknowledgment to the date in the backward 1970s, she is appropriately beloved, abnormally for her signature styles including upbeat syncopated songs such as “I’m Accepting a Acceptable Time” and actual sexually-suggestive double-entendre dejection such as “Rough and Ready Man” or “My Handy Man,” a appearance of lyrics she developed aback she was singing cabaret-style in Chicago bordellos.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Not clashing the television alternation “The Crown” which takes three actresses to portray the activity of Queen Elizabeth II (now 93 years old), in COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY columnist Marion J. Caffey employs two singers to awning the 84 year activity of Alberta Hunter (1895 – 1984). One, Zoë Scruggs plays the earlier but ever-energetic Alberta Hunter who was a success in Chicago, on Broadway, internationally, and who toured with the USO through both WWII and Korea but retired in the 1950s to become a assistant for 20 years! Convinced to acknowledgment to the microphone primarily by Barney Josephson who endemic the Greenwich Village club “The Cookery” she developed a accomplished new bearing of admirers and was arrive by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter to sing at the White House in December 1978.
The added extra on stage, the adolescent Ember Tate, additionally sings and picks up a cardinal of account roles. She was abnormally absorbing dressed in a biscuit compatible as a USO accompanist and was abnormally funny assuming the older, angled over, white club buyer Barney Josephson (who, by the way, afore “The Cookery” endemic the club “Café Society” area Billie Holiday sang “Strange Fruit” for the actual aboriginal time).
Both performers accept acid their chops, with Zoë Scruggs, the babe of Lorna Hill, accepting developed up with Ujima Amphitheater area she performs regularly, in accession to a abandoned singing career beneath the name “Curtis Lovell.” Ember Tate is a alum of the absorbing Niagara University BFA affairs and is starting to become a MusicalFare regular. We appetite more! You can watch dress call footage here.
When both Scruggs and Tate amalgamate their choir in duets, it’s absorbing how they match, earlier and adolescent Alberta Hunter, and the aftereffect was thrilling. I was abnormally taken with the song “I’ve Got a Mind to Ramble.”
But, hey, the absolute agreeable acquaintance was aboriginal amount with George Caldwell at the piano, Rodney Harper on Drums, Mike Moser on Guitar, and the amazing Sabu Adeyola on bass. Note: any bass players out there? You artlessly charge appear one of the performances to apprehend Mr. Adeyola’s ensemble work.
The administration is, as it ALWAYS is with Victoria Perez, abiding and believable and absorbing with no awkward moments. I’ve said it abounding times before. I don’t apperceive how she does it (“iron anchor in a clover glove”???) but by God she gets abundant performances from every aerialist in every venue.
The set by Dyan Burlingame makes abundant use of the smaller, low ceilinged MusicalFare stage, with a blanket about aback featuring actual photos of Ms. Hunter, the bandage upstage, a active allowance set downstage larboard and a account table downstage right. Actual minimal, actual serviceable, aloof right.
And, we generally abundance acclaim on the Drozd sisters, Kari for apparel and Susan for hair, wigs, and make-up, but actuality they accept out-done themselves. Every amateur will acquaint you that accepting into the apparel and composition helps them to “be” the role, and you could acquaint that Zoë Scruggs was activity it and affairs it. On the added hand, Ember Tate got to ball about in a array of beauteous apparel as “Younger Alberta” and you could acquaint that she was, as the song appellation says, “Having a Acceptable Time.”
UP NEXT: On the MusicalFare capital date April 22 through May 24 it’s the 2014 Tony Award acceptable “best musical,” A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER, about abject Monty Navarro who finds that he is eighth in band to accede an earldom. He abstracts out that he could move up the ranks if assorted added ancestors associates were gotten, shall we say, calmly out of the way.
Then, for 2020, MusicalFare, one of the bristles bearing theaters who accept abutting calm as “All for One Theatre Productions,” will coact in a assembly of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, to be captivated at Shea’s 710 Theatre, Advance 12-29, 2020.
Lead image: L-R Ember Tate as Barney Josephson and Zoë Scruggs as the arguable Alberta Hunter | Photo by Bethany Burrows
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Appraisement System)
ONE BUFFALO: This agency trouble. A abominable play, a awful awry production, or both. Unless there is some absolutely acute acumen for you to appear (i.e. you are the ancestor of addition who is in it), accord this appearance a advanced berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no abundant shakes. Either the assembly is appealing far off base, or the comedy itself is problematic. Unless you are the array of actuality who’s blessed aloof activity to the theater, you ability attending about for article else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still accept my issues, but this is a appealing abuse acceptable night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will apparently be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the assembly and the comedy are of aerial caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would accomplish a absolute accomplishment to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a attenuate rating. Comedies that leave you anemic with laughter, dramas that absolutely blow the heart. Provided that this is the affectionate of appearance you like, you’d be a fool to absence it!
Peter Hall continues aggravating to amount out how “it” all works. For 20 years, as affairs host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he’s conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman’s terms, “what’s the big account here?”
As mentioned afresh in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter’s “Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred ‘everyman’s’ take.” And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his admired catechism of co-host Anthony Chase is artlessly “What’s goin’ on?”
A affiliate of Buffalo’s Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an accessory assistant for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.
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