Thursday, November 15, 2012

cabaret review BARBARA COOK, McCarter, November 7

Barbara Cook is arguably the Queen of the American Songbook.  I don't know any other performer who is able to master every nuance of every lyric in the songs they sing like Cook can.  Having just celebrated her 85th birthday, the only thing slowing Cook down now is the slight toll that age is starting to take on her body as her voice is just about as clear and perfect as it has ever been.  In fact if you shut your eyes during her concert you would have no idea the person singing was 85.  However, the cane she is using to get on and off stage and the fact that she sat down during almost the entire concert only makes you realize how lucky we are that she is still performing and that her voice is not only holding out but still very clear, pure and strong and exceedingly beautiful.

There is pure joy in her singing that shows that she truly loves to do what she does.  That that joy spills over into the audience throughout her shows and she says she has no plans to stop doing what she loves to do.  For the past decade or so Cook has performed a lot of Stephen Sondheim and Irving Berlin songs in her concerts so it was interesting and somewhat refreshing that Cook has now turned to highlighting some other composers.  Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter were all represented with Carmichael getting special attention.   The majority of the songs she sang at her McCarter concert can be found on Cook's latest recording "Loverman."

A jazzy and upbeat "Let's Fall in Love" started off the evening that showed the simple joy that she brings to a song.  A lovely pairing of "I Hadn't Anyone But You" and "It Had To Be You" showed two ways to sing about finding your true love with the ache and yearning for love on display in the first song and the upbeat declaration of it in the second.

Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" received a lush interpretation from Cook that was followed by a fun and bouncy "Making Whoopee."  Carmichael's "Georgia, On My Mind" received an exemplary and very personal rendition from Cook considering she's from Atlanta.  The arrangement was rich and driving in parts but never got in the way of Cook's vocals that soared in several places.  Though she did say that singing the song is a little bit of a lie "as I couldn't wait to get out of there!"  Humor was actually present thought the show with Barbara telling stories of how her former musical arranger Wally Harper would always say "I love it when you talk dirty."  She also told about the time she was asked to replace Elaine Stitch that included a few blue words with her saying "now don't hate me for saying this" as well as a funny Bette Midler joke, both of which had the audience laughing out loud and Cook replying "I've become a sit down comic!"

A stunning pairing of "House of the Rising Sun" and "Bye, Bye Blackbird" showed two different sides to stories of "ladies of the night."  A very humorous collection of Country song titles that Cook found while searching You Tube one night like "If I Shot You When I Wanted, I'd Be Out By Now" introduced the funny song called "I Don't Want Love."  "When Sunny Gets Blue" received an exemplary rendition with Cook evoking a sultry, smokey jazz chanteuse and underscored with a stunning arrangement with a driving piano part.

The Billy Holiday hit "Lover Man" was given a lovely delivery by Cook and Cole Porter's "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)" received another upbeat jazzed up rendition by Cook and her band.  A simply stunning "Here's To Life" had Cook making every lyric of this song about a person looking back at their life but not giving up just yet completely personal and relevant.  The concert ended with a rousing "I've Got Rhythm" that gave each member of Cook's quartet a chance to solo. This was followed by an un-miked Cook encoring with John Lennon's "Imagine" that was the perfect end to a lovely evening.

Musical Director/Pianist Ted Rosenthal provided appropriate but not overbearing arrangements and accompaniment along with Cello, Reeds and Percussion.

If you get a chance to see Cook in concert don't miss it.

Cook in concert singing "Why Did I Choose You?"

Cook and Vanessa Williams perform from Sondheim on Sondheim on The View:

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