Barbara Cook's Broadway, Gielgud Theatre, London
Friday 28 May 2004
There is a memorable moment in Pam Gems's
Piaf when the Little Sparrow bellows into the stalls, "I'm still 'ere!" Barbara Cook is still 'ere, too, having survived the vagaries of a Broadway and cabaret career, as well as a recent throat infection that forced the cancellation of the early performances in this current run.
There is a memorable moment in Pam Gems's Piaf when the Little Sparrow bellows into the stalls, "I'm still 'ere!" Barbara Cook is still 'ere, too, having survived the vagaries of a Broadway and cabaret career, as well as a recent throat infection that forced the cancellation of the early performances in this current run.
"Be kind," she begs, confessing that she's not yet "100 per cent". But though the famous voice may be a little raggedy after illness, it can still soar like few others.
Her follow-up show to 2002's Mostly Sondheim, which was nominated for Tony and Olivier awards, celebrates the last golden age of Broadway - broadly the late Forties to the early Seventies. "I wish they'd told me it was a golden age at the time," she deadpans. "I spent most of it looking for work."
The great strength of her show is that it takes all but the cognoscenti a little way off the beaten track. From Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, we get, not the famous Streisand title song but the grey-pride number "Wait Till We're Sixty-Five". Similarly, there's the rueful "The Gentleman Is a Dope" from the lesser-known Rodgers and Hammerstein show Allegro.
Accompanied by her long-time musical director Wally Harper at the piano and Steve McManus on bass, Cook glides through an emotionally varied repertoire. Its share of hits ("It's Not Where You Start" and "Till There Was You") ensures that the whooping quotient stays high. It's at its best, however, when it dallies in "neglected" territory such as "It's a Perfect Relationship" from Bells are Ringing (not seen here in London since a revival in the 1980s). Of the comic songs, Cook electrifies "The Very Next Man", Sheldon Harnick's tale of a woman desperate to marry, a quirky counterpoint to Sondheim's "Not Getting Married Today" from Company.
Cook's between-numbers anecdotes are engaging and sweetly told. But her reminiscences of this so-called golden age are backed up solidly by her astute choice of songs. One musical juxtaposition is particularly bold. Segueing seamlessly from the classic "What'll I Do?" by Irving Berlininto Jerry Herman's "Time Heals Everything" from 1974's Mack and Mabel, Cook elevates the younger song and composer to the exalted company of the greatest work created for the musical stage.
This illustration of the epoch's importance, from one of the period's most respected vocal talents, is praise indeed.
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