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Arts Beat: Honoring Alberta Hunter, readings and a busy Kleinhans

Despite its plot-spoiling title, Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" remains a classic in American theater. The story of Willy Loman's shattered American dream comes back to life beginning Jan. 31 in the Ellicott Creek Playhouse (55 Ellicott Creek Road, Tonawanda), with a production by the Niagara Regional Theatre Guild. Dawn Marcolini Newton directs Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.

It continues through Feb. 16. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 general, $18 for seniors, students and veterans and $12 for ages 12 and younger. For an advance ticket discount ($17 general, $12 for students, seniors and veterans), call 716-260-2310 before the day of the show. Visit niagaratheatre.com.

Celebrating Alberta Hunter

The financial folk advise us that "Past performance doesn't guarantee future results," but audiences might consider ignoring that caution when it comes to the return of "Cookin' at the Cookery." The musical celebration of the life of blues great Alberta Hunter played to sold-out houses at Studio Arena (now 710 Main) in 2002; MusicalFare is bringing it back starting Feb. 5.

The show tells Hunter's unusual life story, starting with her early success in the 1920s as a singer and songwriter, performing with Fats Waller, Eubie Blake, Louis Armstrong and other legends. For this production, pianist George Caldwell will lead an onstage quartet in Hunter's hits and the music of her time.

And what a time she had. Hunter was a top blues singer well into her 50s, when her mother died. Grief-stricken, she gave up her career and became a nurse. Later, her obituary in The New York Times said: "Miss Hunter worked as a scrub nurse for 20 years, never missing a day, never revealing anything about her past. In 1977, the hospital, under the impression that she had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, made her retire. She was actually 82."

Hunter, who said she was "bored to tears" at home, was rediscovered that same year when she sang at a party for her friend, Mabel Mercer, who also was still performing. That ignited Hunter's second career as a nightclub singer, with an open-ended gig at the Cookery in Greenwich Village. She continued singing until her death in 1984 at age 89.

"Cookin' at the Cookery" was written by Marion J. Caffrey and directed by Victoria Pérez. The theater is at 4380 Main St., Amherst (Daemen College campus). Tickets are $47 (musicalfare.com).

Read and hear all about it

Talking Leaves bookstore and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center are joining for two big events next week, one introducing a new novelist and the other featuring a noted literary editor and critic. Both are free and held in Cinema at Hallwalls (341 Delaware Ave.).

At 7 p.m. Feb. 4, Hallwalls will host a celebration of author Gabriel Bump and his first novel, "Everywhere You Don't Belong." The book is the story of Chicago teen Claude McKay Love, who is forced to come to terms with issues of race, both the good and the ugly, in modern America. Author Arthur Flowers describes Bump's writing as "literary blues, raw and rowdy and big and brawling, yet smooth and polished and crafty." The event is co-sponsored by UB's Exhibit X Series. Readers who later will be able to say "I knew him when ... " will be able to meet Bump for free and buy his book at the same time.

The next night, at 7 p.m. Feb. 5, the same team brings in poet and critic John Freeman, former editor of Granta and current editor of Freeman's literary review, to discuss his latest book, "Dictionary of the Undoing." In his book, Freeman writes about the importance of language as a defense against falsehood, misrepresentation and deceit. Joining him in the discussion will be PUSH Buffalo head Rahwa Ghirmatzion and Eric Gansworth of Canisius College; Sam Magavern of the Partnership for the Public Good will moderate.

Something's old, new at Kleinhans

Tickets are already getting scarce for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's pops concerts this weekend. On Jan. 31, the group Hotel California joins the symphony for "The Music of The Eagles," a classic rock concert featuring as many of the band's hits as they can fit into one show. On Feb. 1, the honoree is the Queen of Soul, when the orchestra pays tribute to Aretha Franklin with "RESPECT." Vocalists Coco Smith, Ramika Lawrence and Corwyn Hodge will perform hits from across the decades. Both shows start at 8 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall (3 Symphony Circle). Ticket prices vary; go to bpo.org or the Kleinhans box office.

With the Albright-Knox Art Gallery fenced off for construction, the Art of Jazz was left looking for a new temporary home. It found one in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans, where the inaugural performance of the Art of Jazz at the Philharmonic debuts at 3 p.m. Feb. 2. The Christian Sands High Wire Trio will perform a tribute to Erroll Garner (he played "Misty"), with Sands on piano. Tickets are $34, $29 for BPO subscribers and Albright-Knox members; $20 for students, at kleinhansbuffalo.org or the box office.

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