Barbara Cook (1927-2017) spent half her career creating iconic ingénues in Broadway musicals and half as a concert, cabaret performer and recording artist. She was a highly lauded teacher. Acknowledged for warm, wide range vocals and exquisite interpretations, Cook was an inspiration to the generation that followed. Our host tonight calls the performer’s voice “the eighth wonder of the world.”
Deborah Winer first knew Barbara Cook as Adam’s mother at Rudolph Steiner School. When Winer “got into” the business, she and the artist became friends. Her affectionate, firsthand experience helps give this concert a feeling of real intimacy. Numbers are bridged with fond recollections and anecdotes.
With Mark Hummel an MD/ Pianist who worked with Cook, proper due given to her longtime, influential MD and friend, Wally Harper, and nine, count’m nine, talented vocalists, many of whom played roles the honoree originated, festivities felt truly gala. As directed by Mark Waldrop, characters were often ably personified beyond cabaret expectations. To my mind, five vocalists stood out.
Christine Andreas; Karen Ziemba
One of Cook’s best known and most highly lauded roles was Amalia Balash in Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock’s She Loves Me. Manifesting equal parts distress and longing, Christine Andreas steps into character the minute she stands before us. “Will He Like Me?” is thoroughly empathetic. The phrase “world of love” virtually embraces. A sigh between the last “will he” and “like me” is perfect. Cook’s special, later career relationship with Stephen Sondheim began in the 1980s at Lincoln Center’s concert of Follies. Andreas’ “In Buddy’s Eyes” shows us the whole of Sally, not just a moment.
The multifaceted Karen Ziemba seems to especially enjoy quirky material. Though these songs sound simpler, character naiveté is assuredly not. Her Amalia exudes nervous anticipation during “Dear Friend” (She Loves Me). Sentiment is sweet and credibly understated. The eclectic “My Dog Loves Your Dog” (Ray Henderson/Jack Yellen/ Irving Caesar)…If our doggies love each other/Why can’t we?… is adorable without being saccharine. Ziemba manages lines like …Bow wow wow, I love you, He’d gladly give’r/His last piece of liver… and even panting without displaying a moment of ham.
Natalie Douglas; Rebecca Luker
Natalie Douglas wowed with both her selections this evening, keeping a lid on 11’o’clock number capacity. An infectiously happy “It’s Better with a Band” (David Zippel/Wally Harper) showcased the vocalist’s ability to swing between octaves with jazzy ease. At the other end of the spectrum, “We’ll Be Together Again” (Frankie Lane/Carl Fischer), both hands clasping the microphone stand, was beautifully hushed/shadowed and eloquently phrased.
Wally Harper not only encouraged Cook to stretch her repertoire, but occasionally wrote her special material. “The Ingénue” (with David Zippel) is a wry, complicated, scene-in-one filled with show biz and artist specifics exemplifying what Winer notes was Cook’s “gut self awareness and sense of humor.” Rebecca Luker handles the number with personality, verve and focus. Appealing backup vocals are supplied by Deborah Winer, Mark Hummel, and Mark Waldrop. Luker’s rendition of the musically intricate “My White Knight” (Meredith Wilson from 1957’s The Music Man for which Cook originated Marian the librarian) is also wonderful. Her splendid voice is in pristine form.
“We couldn’t end the celebration without paying tribute to Barbara as Cunegonde in Candide.” (Leonard Bernstein/Hiugh Wheeler). Newcomer to New York, Amelia Berry just played the role at The New Zealand Opera. Berry is an extraordinary talent; savvy characterization expressive and droll, celestial vocal exhibiting shiver-inducing range, extreme control and seemingly effortless performance. Brava.
Exemplifying Cook’s determined optimism despite a rough, poverty-stricken childhood, Aisha de Haas first performs a sassy number, but more surely comes into her own with a caring, reflective version of “When Sunny Gets Blue” (Marvin Fisher/Jack Seagal). KT Sullivan’s lilting jazz lullaby precedes blossoming of her actress persona with “Wait Till You See Him” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) sung as palpably besotted as any ingénue.
Linda Purl offered a song from the 1946 revival of Showboat (Cook played Magnolia in the 1966 revival) and “When You Wish Upon a Star” (Leigh Hairline/Ned Washington) with a nod to 1988’s Disney CD. Purl is a barely restrained bundle of energy who works at connecting with the audience. Laura Shoop, who has also starred in She Loves Me, recreates a highly animated “Vanilla Ice Cream” from the musical.
“Barbara wanted to know above all that she touched and moved people…” About the experience of success, she wrote, “The journey and the process are the thing…”
The show is expertly produced, deftly written, and fun.
All unattributed quotes are Deborah Grace Winer
Performance Photos by Maryann Lopinto- Opening: Finale
Barbara Cook and Deborah Winer- Courtesy of Ms. Winer
Further Interest? – Deborah Grace Winer wrote-The Night and The Music: Rosemary Clooney, Barbara Cook, and Julie Wilson Inside the World of Cabaret
A Celebration of Barbara Cook
Created, Written and Hosted By Deborah Grace Winer
Mark Hummel- Music Director/Piano
Director- Mark Waldrop
Featuring Christine Andreas, Amelia Berry, Aisha de Haas, Natalie Douglas, Rebecca Luker, Linda Purl, Laura Shoop, KT Sullivan, Karen Ziemba
Feinstein’s/54 Below June 17, 2018