American Songbook Series Shines with Barbara Cook
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Barbara Cook is a treasure! And we got to share the jewels and gems she brought us in song Thursday at the Disney Concert Hall for the American Songbook Series. Cook, who recently turned eighty-five, is still a superb talent. Though slowed down by back problems, Cook is planning her 90th birthday celebration and future engagements. She walked slowly onstage, with the aid of a carved silver handled cane, and had to sit during her ninety minute show, this gal still has a magnificent voice and can act a song with the best of them. Her songs tell a story, and her take is unique.
Barbara Cook was a 2011 Kennedy Center honoree, and got a Tony Award nomination for her “Sondheim on Sondheim”. For her eighty-fifth birthday, she did her seventh solo concert at Carnegie Hall and released her C D, “Loverman .” She performed at Feinstein’s at the Regency in New York, and was nominated the Drama Desk Award for “Barbara Cook’s Broadway.” And, mind you, these are partial credits and awards for an entertainer and Broadway Baby who has been “pounding her feet” for some sixty-something years. Her ist of credits would be far too long for this review.
Cook had her musical director and arranger, accompanist, Ted Rosenthal with her. They “breathe together” and are so in sync. Rob Berman, the New York based conductor, was the music director of The Kennedy Center Honors for six years and is an Emmy Award winner.
Our fabulous Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra played the Candide Overture in a tribute to Cook’s days when she performed Bernstein’s “Glitter and Be Gay” in her role as Cunegonde. Cook is known for that role, Marian the Librarian in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” for which she won a Tony, and Amalia in Bock and Harnick’s “She Loves Me” for which she received the Drama Desk Award.
Cook started a new career as a concert and recording artist in the 70’s with her Carnegie Hall debut in 1975 is known for her clear, lyric soprano voice and the empathy and feeling she brings to her songs. They are fine acting interpretations.
Barbara walked out in a black and blue plaid jacket over black top and slacks. She sat front and center, and turned the huge Disney Concert Hall into a more intimate space. She opened with a smooth and slow “Til There Was You.” She explained she had planned a schizophrenic, or rather eclectic program. She would give us gems from the past in her favorite standards, and she would also do an about-switch with jazzy upbeat and also bluesy numbers.
Barbara Cook held us captive for a full ninety minutes with no intermission. True to her word, she balanced the program with a good mix of standards and upbeat numbers with about nineteen songs. Some songs were done with her accompanist with piano alone, and at other times the full Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra joined her. Though she remained seated, her whole being was engaged as she tapped her feet or raised her legs. You could tell, she was itching to stand up.
She sang a jazzy and upbeat “Let’s Fall In Love” by Harold Arlen. In both her “It Might As Well Be Spring” and “Wonderful Guy” Cook captured the young, ingenue gal singing those songs. Gone was an image of an 85 year old who had to sit, and as I closed my eyes, there was a young fresh-faced gal with the hope, sweetness, and innocence singing about love. It was amazing how the years melted away and have not touched that marvelous voice. In Hoagie Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You”, the lights dimmed and the bright tone changed as Cook matured and sang with a darker tone and embraced each word and had lovely sustained notes to hold us. Another Carmichael standard was “Georgia,” and it smoked with whiskey smoothness. She quipped she could not wait to get out of Georgia and was out of place. She didn't have a happy childhood and felt “like a kid with her nose to the glass of life.” She moved to New York in 1948 as a twenty year old girl and knew it was her home. In that vein, she sang “The House of the Rising Sun” acapella and segued into a jazzy “Bye Bye Blackbird, with the full orchestra behind her.” She had trouble interpreting that song until she researched it and found it meant a “house of ill repute” and that was the key for her and why she links both songs. The gal was struggling and leaving to become a prostitute.
“Makin Whoopie” the song Eddy Cantor made famous from the 20’s was another departure for this song stylist. She acted it gloriously and had such fun and was literally bouncing as she sang. We needed that fun moment. In “No One Is Alone” from Sondheim’s “Into The Woods,” Cook created a haunting and almost reverent feeling that brought tears to my eyes. The lyrics are so beautiful. “No one’s here to guide you.” “Someone is on your side.” And her vibrato added meaning to the end with the lyrics,“No one is alone.” She came alive in “Sooner or Later” from Disney’s “Song of the South” originally done by Hattie Mc Daniel. Cook almost turned this one down and in her patter she explained she thought Disney wanted her to sound like a duck. Not so.
"If Ran Ramierz never did more than write this one song", “Lover Man” that was all he needed to write in Cook’s opinion. The ingenue had been hurt, and Cook’s song was one of lament and waiting. To brighten up the audience after pulling us in, she sang the upbeat “ Hallelujah. I Love Him So” and threw a little skat in. “If I Love Again,” Ben Oakland’s hit, was another tear jerker. She sang this stirring song with only piano accompaniment and again, her acting the story of the song brought huge applause. Huge. The orchestra started up and she flowed so naturally into a poignant “Here’s to Life.” “No complaints, no regrets." “All you give is all you get, so you give it all you've got.” Cook is “Still in the game for laughs, for love; here’s to life!” She kept us in an upbeat mood with “ I've Got Rhythm” and got a standing ovation.
Barbara Cook stood up, leaned on her cane for support and sang “Imagine” acapella, with no mic, and filled the hall with such feeling and emotion with the last refrain, “And, the world will live as one.”
The audience was hushed before breaking into a rousing standing ovation for this grande dame of song. It was such a perfect moment and the capper to a wonderful evening of Barbara Cook singing some of her favorite songs. The pacing was impeccable. Cook still has it and time has left her voice unscathed.
I heard Barbara Cook at her last performance at the Disney Concert Hall a while back, and other than her lack of mobility and having to sit rather than stand and engage her audience, I found no difference in her vocal quality. Not only does she still have a great “set of pipes” but her songs transcend and become stylistic acting jewels. I’ll be here for your next performance Ms. Cook.
The 2011-2012 season is ending and you can check the web site to subscribe on line at www.laphil.com/tickets/subscribe or call 323-850-2000. The Disney Concert Hall is at 111 S. Grand Ave. L. A. 90012 with convenient underground parking. You can create your own series out of classical, jazz, world music, songbook evenings. There are still a few more shows in November and December. “Deck the Hall” gives audiences Chanticleer, The Holiday Organ Spectacular, Don Tiki’s Hot Lava Holiday Show, Big Bad Voodo Daddy, and the well-attended family Holiday Sing-Along.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated