Barbara Cook is a legend of the theater, and although this was her second one-woman show at Lincoln Center in just three years, there’s no such thing as too much Barbara Cook. Given that she was in her late seventies at this point, the vocal sound she displays here is phenomenal, sounding better than almost any singer half her age.
In this show, she mixes a collection of classic Broadway standards with colorful and often hilarious anecdotes about her experiences with such fellow legends as Robert Preston and Elaine Stritch, proving that even if she couldn’t sing she would still be one of the world’s most enjoyable people to spend an evening with. Her amusement at the fact that her working years are now regarded as a ‘Golden Age’ is quite refreshing, and the tone she strikes…one of gentle nostalgia with just a hint of regret here and there…is perfect for a piece like this.
She performs her classic signature number “Till There Was You” and a lengthy sequence of songs from perhaps her most beloved cult flop, She Loves Me, but other than that she doesn’t really dwell heavily on her own Broadway career. She does reminisce about her performances in Carousel, where she had played both Julie and Carrie, saying “Carrie’s more fun,” (personally, I loved her Julie, but who am I to argue?), and singing the character’s showpiece, “Mister Snow”, in a rendition that could hold its own with Audra McDonald’s version.
She further explores the world of Rodgers and Hammerstein, providing a glowing rendition of “A Wonderful Guy”, a deeply, quietly sorrowful “This Nearly Was Mine”, and a dark, complex reading of “The Gentleman Is a Dope”. She also resuscitates some underrated gems like “Her Face” from Carnival and “Among My Yesterdays” from The Happy Time, her expressive performance of the latter being one of the show’s highlights. Perhaps to avoid comparisons with her last one-woman show,Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim, she only performs one Sondheim song, but her rendition of “In Buddy’s Eyes” is actually better than the one she gave on the famous concert recording of Follies in her prime.
She even manages to navigate the potential minefield of tampering with her sources’ lyrics, opening the show with an oddly appropriate rewrite of “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight”, joshing about the fact that the theater this show was mounted in had been doing King Lear with Christopher Plummer just prior to this. She seems to be especially fond of Jule Styne’s score for Bells Are Ringing, performing both the hilarious “A Perfect Relationship” and the devastating “The Party’s Over”, closing the show with the latter in what is probably the most moving finale to a one-person show in the entire decade. Concert/Cabaret pieces in Broadway theaters just don’t get any better than this, people.