Cookie Stark knows who she is. Her second professional, decidedly bespoke show, is perfectly tailored to her range, dark humor, and life experience. The performer has her audience in stitches. Sit down, omonna ‘splain it to you…after you been havin’ steak forra long time, beans, beans, beans! she begins, hands on hips, explaining choices to the front row. There’s a wink in her voice. A brief set-up leads us fluently into “What Can You Get a Nudist for Her Birthday,” a dirty little 8? bar ditty continuing the buoyancy.
Next comes a list of all too familiar worries, aggravations and concerns. Cookie admits to being “a natural born worrier.” Light repartee with musical director/pianist Jeff Cubeta works well to bridge and introduce. Self effacing quips throughout are witty and warm. An anecdote towards the end of the show featuring a snow storm that resulted in late delivery of what was to be a heat-and-serve dinner- and wasn’t, is related with infectious gusto.
“Ready to Begin Again” (musically Weimar, oom pah pah, then again lilting- a great arrangement) and “Feelin’ Too Good Today Blues” (a honky-tonk number-up go the eyebrows!) act as on onramp. Cookie invites us on her journey.
Though she excels in comic delivery, the artist’s show doesn’t rest on available laurels.
A slow, touching “The Dance of Life,” rises from the depths of experience. “My Favorite Year”- After all (she closes her eyes and nods) you were my favorite love/that was my favorite year – is deeply reflective, ending with an evocative hum. Intake of breath is emotional. She makes “Flings” sound wise, flirty, and utterly charming. “Music, Music, Music,” with a rhythmic shake of the shoulders, a nod of the head and a little hip action, is joyful.
“Nowadays” (from Chicago) has lyric emphasis in all the right places. You can like the life you’re living/you can live the life you like she sings saucily shaking her finger at an audience member. There’s a neat ragtime piano break. The big finish is brave. Occasional notes hit not quite on the head don’t diminish performance. Unlike many who persist in thinking everything rests with musicality, Cookie understands and communicates every word she sings- She’s 150% invested. It’s palpable. And enviable.
Jeff Cubeta solos on a jaunty “Tonight at Eight,” whose momentum increases with anticipation. One forgets how well he sings. And guest artist, Broadway veteran, Melanie Vaughn, theatrically delivers “Privilege to Pee,” which you have to hear to believe.
Cookie always manages to make me shed a fear tears. This time it was during “Look for Me in the Songs.” A lyric couldn’t sound or likely be more personal than this one and it shows. One can actually see a 16 year old within the vintage model. Love, hope and gratitude abide. A signature encore of “Here’s to Life” is the close second. Not many singers have the pith to deliver those sentiments with truth. Cookie does.
Musical arrangements are well textured and fun. Sequencing is masterful.
What Can You Get a Nudist for Her Birthday?
Musical Director/Pianist- Jeff Cubeta
Directed by Eric Michael Gillett
The Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street in The Westbank Café