There's no reason to sing the blues in Brentwood, because Alberta Hunter, channeled by Ann Duquesnay and Montego Glover, is there to sing them for you. Marion J. Caffey's play with music concerns the life of Alberta Hunter, a renowned blues singer who captivated audiences from Chicago to Broadway to Europe for more than 40 years before becoming a nurse at 60. Forcibly retired in 1977 at age 82, she made a triumphant comeback at The Cookery in Greenwich Village, subsequently touring, writing, and singing for another seven years.
Duquesnay, as the elder, and Glover, as the younger Hunter and every other character in the blueswoman's life, spark brilliantly to the inspiration of the singer's unique artistry, letting it all hang out in their soaring versions of some of the standards in Hunter's repertoire, including her own "Downhearted Blues" and "I've Got a Mind To Ramble." Both women give great, big bad blues from their amazing instruments, heavy on the low notes, weighed down by the sad ones, and more than a bit naughty. In their duet of "When the Saints Go Marching In," Glover seems to channel Louis Armstrong on one of his gruffest, lowdown days. With little time for personality changes, Glover highlights Hunter's life from childhood through the early years, her USO appearances, her retreat to Europe, international recognition, and her White House appearance.
Caffey's direction and choreography are exemplary; her book, however, slows down to a mushy crawl with unspecific mother-daughter bonding scenes that halt the momentum. The band, under music director and lead pianist George Caldwell, with Gerryck King on drums, Tony Dumas on bass, and Ron Muldrow on guitar, keeps the show hopping in a jazzy mood.
"Cookin' at the Cookery: The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter," presented by Geffen Playhouse at the Brentwood Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Bldg. 211, L.A. Tue.-Thu. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 4 & 8:30 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. June 23-Aug. 1. $30-48. (310) 208-5454.