Barbara Cook and the art of song-styling in Kennedy Center concert
Barbara Cook, who made her Broadway debut six decades ago and has long enjoyed living legend status, looked a little unsteady as she made her way with a cane onto the stage at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater Friday night. (She told the audience she had been barely able to walk a few weeks earlier.)
She sounded a little unsteady, too, when she launched into her opener, "Let's Fall In Love," only to stop after a couple measures because she didn't like what she was hearing (or not hearing) through the monitors.
Even after things resumed, there were occasional unsettled moments, a few pitch slips, a bit of hoarseness. But you know what? None of that, absolutely none of it, mattered in the slightest.
First of all, Cook turns 85 this fall -- yes, 85. Many singers can't carry a tune well after 70. She still sets an amazing standard not just for vocal longevity, but also for artistic consistency.
Cook remains extremely important, even crucial, to our understanding of how to communicate through song. Any opportunity to be in her presence is to be treasured. It's that simple.
For about 80 minutes, the artist reaffirmed her stature (and her great sense of humor). Backed with sensitivity and stylish flair by pianist Ted Rosenthal and a trio of other first-rate players, Cook moved through a program rich in ...
A couple of ballad pairings yielded disarming interpretations -- "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" with "It Had To Be You"; "The House of the Rising Sun" with "Bye Bye Blackbird" (these last two, Cook explained, are linked by having to do with houses of ill repute).
Even good old "Makin' Whoopee" seemed to get a whole new life from the telling way Cook articulated words and shaped phrases. Several items from the vintage Streisand songbook, among them "If I Love Again," "The Nearness of You" and "Lover Man," also turned up on the list, all delivered with considerable eloquence.
For her unamplified encore, Cook delivered John Lennon's "Imagine" with an affecting tenderness, casting quite a spell over an audience reluctant to let her go.
Earlier in the evening, Cook told the crowd, "I'm so glad I can still do this." We're all glad, too. And very, very grateful.
PHOTO BY DARRYL BUSH COURTESY BARBARACOOK.COM