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Absorbing Life’s Lessons, Happy or Sad
Barbara Cook Performs at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency

By Stephen Holden
April 16, 2012
Barbara Cook and James Taylor
Barbara Cook is performing “Let’s Fall in Love” at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, for which she learned 11 new songs. Ruby Washington/The New York Times
The only generic thing about Barbara Cook’s new show at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency is its unnecessary title, “Let’s Fall in Love”: unnecessary because everyone familiar with Ms. Cook’s voice is already in love with her. Ms. Cook, now 84, still has the goods. By that I mean a darkened soprano that is beautiful by any measure and the gift for conveying a profound empathy.

For her new show, she learned 11 songs she has never before performed. The most daring choice on Wednesday was a version of “House of the Rising Sun,” sung a cappella, that was steeped in resignation, joined to “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Researching “Bye Bye Blackbird” on the Internet, she said, she read that it was about a prostitute leaving the city to go home to her mother. Put together, the songs portrayed one woman returning to a brothel, the other woman fleeing one.

“Georgia on My Mind,” she emphasized, does not reflect any nostalgia she has for her home state. “I couldn’t wait to get out of Georgia and get to New York City,” she recalled, and described childhood games of sliding down red clay hills, then speculated about the laundry bills. Interpreting the once ubiquitous 1950s song “When Sunny Gets Blue,” she projected a picture of a jilted Southern belle who languishes helplessly until a new love appears.

Ms. Cook was accompanied by a fine quartet, whose excellent musical director and pianist, Ted Rosenthal, didn’t waste a note. As always with Ms. Cook, the show’s nuggets of musical tenderloin were the ballads. “I Hadn’t Anyone Till You,” “Lover Man,” “If I Love Again” and “Here’s to Life” were carefully parceled out for maximum resonance. In each she located its universal sweet spot and extended herself as if she were telling her own personal stories of happiness and loss.

I envision this romantic sage at 100, holding court like her idol Mabel Mercer to spellbound acolytes in an easy chair that is also a throne.