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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Feinstein’s at the Regency


  Barbara Cook/Ph: Joe Kohen

As part of her late-career renaissance, Barbara Cook gives master classes in which she teaches young performers how to get across the lyrics and express the heart of a song. In her current engagement at Feinstein's, Cook is giving a master class in how to deliver an entertaining, at times moving, cabaret act.

The night I attended Cook was having a bit of an off night in the remembering-the-lyrics department. Instead of just brushing over a botched lyric, however, she went back and delivered it the way it was written. That showed how important the words are to Cook. It also reflected the fact that the 81-year-old who starred in Candide in 1956 and The Music Man in 1957 isn't just doing her greatest hits at Feinstein's. Instead, she's tackling new material( mostly) and is still challenging herself.

Early in the show she noted that she has seldom performed Cole Porter songs because she finds his lyrics "a little too arch." But she said she had found one she thought she could do and then delivered an intensely emotional rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin." Porter may not be her specialty, but she made the audience understand the passion in the lyrics and made the song her own.

Cook has always connected with the work of Harold Arlen and Stephen Sondheim, so it was no surprise that they are well represented in "Here's to Life." Her Arlen selections included the jaunty "You're a Builder Upper" (written with Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg) and the darker "Buds Won't Bud" (with Harburg). She followed the latter with a gorgeous performance of Sondheim's "No One Is Alone" and later put her stamp on his "Send in the Clowns."

Between songs Cook explained why she chose the songs she did, mentioned that she got married in Harburg's living room, and talked of the influence Mabel Mercer had on her. Invoking cabaret history, Cook recalled hearing Mercer at the Blue Angel in the late 1940s. Mercer's ability to communicate the meaning of a song clearly had a huge impact on Cook. Six decades later, Mercer's influence can still be heard when Cook sings-particularly when she takes on one of Mercer's signature numbers, "Goodbye John" by Alec Wilder and Edward Eager.

Unlike that melancholy tune, most of Cook's act was upbeat and jubilant. She caps the show with Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary's "Here's to Life" and follows it with a bouncy take on Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Him So." Whether the songs are happy or sad, music director/pianist Lee Musiker and the three other fine musicians (Peter Donovan, James Saporito, and Lawrence Feldman) provide first-rate support.

Cook-who sold out three concerts at Avery Fisher Hall for her 80th birthday and returns there on May 30 and June 2-still has a lovely soprano, and her decades of experience have made her one of the leading interpreters of the American songbook. Catch her while you can.


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