Ensemble Theatre Company’s Cookin’ at the Cookery is a concert-style biography of blues legend Alberta Hunter, in which an 82-year-old Hunter (LaVon Fisher-Wilson) tells the story of her rise to fame and her late-in-life reemergence as a performing artist at famed New York club the Cookery. The show is a fairly simple theatrical vehicle designed to show off Hunter’s charismatic personality, her powerful voice, and her influence on early 20th-century blues. The two stars, Fisher-Wilson and Dayna Jarae Dantzler, play Hunter at different points in her life (Fisher-Wilson plays the older version of Hunter; Dantzler plays the younger version of Hunter, from age 10 to 50). These women (both with Broadway credits) bring a high-caliber vocal performance to the New Vic that deserved the standing ovation it received. Both sing the house down while playing a number of different roles beyond Hunter; the duet between Hunter (Wilson) and Louis Armstrong (Dantzler) alone is worth the price of the ticket.
The physical and technical elements of the show are attractive and serve the production effectively and efficiently, and it’s nice to see a performance that reaches into the house and grabs ahold of the audience. Cookin’ at the Cookery (written and directed by Marion J. Caffey) offers an enjoyable, toe-tapping evening of excellent music and a cast and band that exude genuine joy in the performance — a lightness of spirit that permeates the audience.