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Musical Opening On South Coast This Week Tells Story Of Often Forgotten Jazz Legend

(ETC Photo by David Bazemore)
Dayna Dantzler, LaVon Fisher Wilson and George Caldwell. in "Cookin' At the Cookery: The Music And Times Of Albert Hunter""

It’s a musical about an incredible, but little known jazz legend whose career spans six decades, with an unusual pause in the middle. “Cookin’ at the Cookery: The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter” tells Hunter’s amazing story.

Marion Caffey wrote, choreographed, and directs the two woman show, which opens this week in Santa Barbara.

Lavon Fisher Wilson plays Hunter for most of the musical. Wilson has performed in a number of Broadway shows, including Newsies, Chicago, and the Color Purple. But, she says this is her most demanding role, because she is on stage for the entire production.

Danya Jarae Dantzler co-stars with Wilson. In addition to playing a young Hunter, she is on and off stage as a number of characters.

The real twist in the story is that the little known jazz legend who was born in 1895 had a booming musical career from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. When her mother, who was a performing partner, died in the 1950’s, Hunter stopped performing, and went to nursing school, working in the health care industry for 20 years. The hospital forced her to retire in the 1970’s, thinking she was 70, but she was actually in her 80’s. So Hunter returned to singing.

“Cookin at the Cookery” writer and director Marion Caffey says in the late 1970’s, she was offered a two week gig to perform at the famed Greenwich Village club “The Cookery.” She was a smash hit, and it helped revive her career, with a two week deal turning into six years.

She died in 1984, at the age of 89, but Caffey hopes his musical will help bring her amazing story, and music to new generations.

The Ensemble Theater Company production of “Cooking at the Cookery: The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter" opens this week, and runs through June 24th. There are Thursday and Friday night previews at Santa Barbara’s New Vic Theater, with opening night Saturday night.