photo by Karsten Moran
“Here’s to life/And dreamers and their dreams,” sighed Barbara Cook, spinning out the word “dreams” so that it lingered like the glow on the horizon after a spectacular sunset.
Although almost every performer over a certain age seems to have adopted “Here’s to Life,” by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary, as the summing-up anthem of a life lived largely on the stage, no one lends it more depth and tenderness than Ms. Cook. Singing it near the end of her new show, “You Make Me Feel So Young,” on Wednesday evening at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, she gently led it over the rainbow.
The lessons imparted by “Here’s to Life” are certainly familiar. The phrase “all you give is all you get,” expresses pretty much the same sentiment as the Beatles’ “in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
But when Ms. Cook delivered it in a tone of wistful certainty, emphasizing “all,” it became personalized; all meant all, a huge expenditure of energy over a lifetime, holding nothing back.
This is what Ms. Cook, now 83, does with songs, especially ballads. Her voice may not be the glorious soprano of old. But because she is profoundly invested in what she sings, the lyrics increasingly take precedence over the melodies. It’s not that she has lost her voice; far from it. But it has lowered and diminished in volume.
The show's spare arrangements, featuring her great accompanist, Lee Musiker, gave her ample space both to ruminate and to swing freely. His pianistic punctuation helped shape each song into a statement. Filling out her quartet were Jay Leonhart on bass, Warren Odze on percussion and Steve Kenyon on woodwinds.
“You Make Me Feel So Young,” 13 of whose 16 songs Ms. Cook said she had never performed before, is a show about aging, sex, regret, triumph, love and loss, all contemplated from the point of view of a mature woman who is not ready to drop out of the game. Two key ballads, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” and “When I Look in Your Eyes,” examine the comfort and sadness of intimate long-term relationships. Two others, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I’m a Fool to Want You,” describe being in the grip of erotic obsession, and Ms. Cook sings them from the perspective of someone who has come through the fire, remembers its flames all too clearly but still flirts with the possibility of approaching the inferno one last time.
The jauntier numbers, including “Wait Till We’re 65,” “Are You Havin’ Any Fun?” “Love Is Good for Anything That Ails You,” “I Got Rhythm” and the show’s title song, look squarely at the challenges of old age and recommend various defenses. High on the list are a sense of humor and the courage to take chances. No. 1 is love.
Attending a Barbara Cook concert nowadays is like consulting an oracle. She’ll advise you, to the best of her knowledge, on how to proceed. From there on, it’s up to you.