I first fell in love with Barbara Cook when I was a small child and was taken to see Plain and Fancy. What I remember to this day from that show is Barbara Cook coming onstage in a turquoise Lincoln Continental. The car had a black leather interior and she was dressed to match - turquoise sheath dress with black shoes, belt and hat. It was my ideal picture of what being a grown-up woman should be like (still is). Even though, I saw her many times after that and realized what a beautiful voice she possesses, that picture of her has never left my mind.
Well, last night I had the privilege of seeing Barbara Cook at Las Vegas' astonishingly terrific Smith Center for the Performing Arts. She was in the Cabaret Jazz space, an intimate theater where the audience sits at cafe tables for four. It has the feel of what I imagine a 1940s supper club was like.
At 84, Barbara Cook, making her Las Vegas debut, is still in possession of a perfect soprano voice. Her interpretation of lyrics is spot on and she also has a great deal of wit and knowledge about her music.
Accompanied by a four--piece band - Don Sheldon, Kirk Smith and Albie Berk, all from LA and Ted Rosenthal, a Cook regular from New York - her voice is still, at age 84, clear as crystal, Cook sang a repertoire of her favorite songs. There was nothing from her most famous Broadway shows, The Music Man or She Loves Me, for example. Instead, her concert was a tour through the music she loves.
Her 75-minute set included, among others, "It Had To Be You," "The Nearness of You," "Makin' Whoopee," "Georgia On My Mind," "House of the Rising Sun," "Bye Bye Blackbird," "When Sunny Gets Blue," "I Don't Want Love," "Lover Man," "Let's Fall In Love," "If I Love Again," "I've Got Rhythm" and "Imagine." She talked about the composers and the songs throughout the evening, educating the audience with her fine musical knowledge.
It was a terrific, varied set. She pointed out that if Hoagy Carmichael - who wrote "The Nearness of You", - had only written that one song, "we'd still revere him." A native of Atlanta, she said she always thought Georgia On My Mind was about the state, not about a woman, which it actually was.
"It's kind of a bye when I sing that," she noted "because I couldn't wait to get out of Georgia. I was a little girl with my nose up against the glass of life. ..I used to dream about New York. In color. I was 12 years old the first time I went there on a school trip. We saw The Hot Mikado with Bill Robinson. "
She talked about her love of youtube and the country songs she's found there. The titles include "If My Nose Was Money I'd Blow It All On You," "If You Won't Leave Me I'll Find Someone Else Who Will," "I'm So Miserable Without You It's Almost Like You're Here" and (one that is actually a Jimmy Buffett song) "If The Phone Doesn't Ring It's Me."
She did not sing any Sondheim and gave a kind of shout-out to NY Times critic Stephen Holden when she noted he'd written, "For Chrissakes, Barbara, do some Sondheim."
That might have been nice, but even without a Sondheim song, during the show Cook proved she can scat with the best of them and knows when to sing a capella, as she did at the beginning of "The House of the Rising Sun."
In all, Barbara Cook's long-overdue Las Vegas debut was an occasion to be marked and cherished by all who love her music, her voice and, simply, her presence. She is a wonder.
Barbara Cook Will be at the Smith Center through Sunday. You can get tickets here: http://www.thesmithcenter.com/events/barbara-cook/ or by phone at 702.749.2000.