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Carnegie Hall, November 22
NY, Paramount Center for the Arts
Mark Jennett's review of
Barbara Cook's cd All I Ask of You
Sterling Silver/Robin's Egg Turquoise Star Pendant
Barbara Cook, gifted with a clear,
beautifully toned lyric soprano voice and ingenue good looks, was a megastar of the
Broadway musical stage for a decade in the 1950's and 1960's. She created three important
roles in the American musical repertoire: Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein's Candide (1956), Marian the Librarian in The Music Man (1957), and Amalia in She Loves Me (1963). Cook later shifted gears and
has since performed primarily in concerts and cabaret, with an emphasis on the Great
In her first San Francisco appearances since the 1970's, Cook is
offering a Mostly Sondheim program, based on the concept of Sondheim's 70th
birthday celebration concert last May, which featured not only songs by Sondheim, but also
songs that "he wishes he had written." It's a marriage made in heaven--but
sometimes heaven takes its time. Although Cook's rendition of "Losing My Mind"
was a show-stopper in the 1985 Follies concert at Avery Fisher Hall, she hasn't
returned often to Sondheim material. Onstage she refers to the songs with a degree of awe
as "art songs." But Cook's natural, seemingly effortless vocalizing along with
her intelligent delivery of lyrics seem ideally suited for the sophisticated musical
constructions and wise, witty lyrics of Sondheim.
Accompanied on piano by her longtime musical director Wally Harper,
with Jon Burr on bass, Cook opened for a demonstratively appreciative audience with an
upbeat "Everybody Says Don't" from Anyone Can Whistle. Utterly
confident and equally unpretentious, Cook chats about her material between songs, offering
interesting background and some humor in the bargain. She's equally effective at a bluesy,
regrets-song, like Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "I Wonder What Became of
Me," or their "I Had Myself A True Love," a lost-love number in which Cook
shows she still has the power to belt out a line.
Cook brought on a surprise guest, Malcom Gets (best known for Caroline
in the City), and together they did a sweet love duet, Arthur Schwartz and Ira
Gershwin's "There's No Holding Me." Gets gave Cook a chance for a breather while
he accompanied himself at the piano in "Another Hundred People" (Company)
and "So Many People," from Saturday Night, a show Sondheim wrote in the
1950's, never produced in New York until a brief run this year.
Cook continued with two superb numbers from Passion, "Happiness"
("I've never known what love was and now - so much happiness...") and
"Loving You" ("Loving you is not a choice, it's who I am."). Changing
the mood again to the upbeat (credit Harper for an impeccable sense of pacing), the still
funny and frothy "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" preceded a medley of "Not
a Day Goes By" (Merrily We Roll Along) and "Losing My Mind."
In the second half, Cook's offerings ranged from Irving Berlin's
"I Got Lost in His Arms" ("a perfect song..." she said, "I love
to swim inside of that song.") to an amusing "Hardhearted Hannah" to her
big song from She Loves Me, "Ice Cream." In the latter, Cook hit a high
note with operatic force and surprising accuracy--you ain't supposed to be able to do that
at 73. She accomplishes this, she says, with "a visualization trick. Hell--if it
works for pole vaulters, why not me!"
No one expects from Barbara Cook the bell tones of her youth. If the
years have taken some edge and power from her instrument, the same years have enabled her
to acquire an accumulation of musical skills, a breadth and depth of knowledge of her
songbooks. Her phrasing and diction are unsurpassed in the business and her relaxed,
poised stage manner grows out of confidence and long experience.
For all the skill that Cook brings to her performance, though, she
still makes it look and sound easy, natural. Her art makes her seem artless. And
that apparent artlessness accomplishes a small miracle: Barbara Cook is a convincing
ingenue at 73.
Francisco, December 29, 2000