Barbara Cook at Feinstein's and 'Music Man' at B&B

April 19, 2012
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Michael Feinstein has becomes more and more of a household name in Indianapolis by virtual of his role at the Center for the Performing Arts. But no matter how big he gets here, he’ll always be bigger in New York, where his cabaret shows have a beyond-cult following.

He even has a namesake club at Loews Regency on Park Ave. where some of the biggest talents in the world of cabaret perform. And on my most recent New York trip, I couldn’t resist stopping in since the legendary Barbara Cook was headlining.

A stunning soprano, she was the original Marian (the Librarian) in “The Music Man,” the first Cunegonde in “Candide” and in the original cast of “She Loves Me.” A rocky life followed, but success found her again when she developed a cabaret and concert act. At 84, she’s still going strong, even when gently mocking her own mobility difficulties with parody lyrics to “Stairway to Paradise” while staff assisted her up onto the stage.

Time to retreat with familiar Cook songs? Hardly. Cook conceived this show, titled “Let’s Fall in Love,” to showcase songs she hadn’t sung onstage before. That means no Sondheim. No Rodgers and Hammerstein. And nothing from her stage hits of yesteryear.

Instead, she stunningly tackled Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You” and “Georgia on My Mind” and gorgeously grafted “House of the Rising Sun” onto “Bye Bye Blackbird.”

Some of the more conventional tunes, including the title song, were less memorable. And I was hoping for more of the narrative ballads of which Cook excels. But when you’re taking the top name off your bucket list, it’s hard to quibble. Cook is a treasure. And I was honored to witness her art.

(Little did I know that, a few days later, the Center for the Performing Arts would announced that she’d be pairing with Feinstein for a concert in March of 2013. Consider that date circled, underlined, and highlighted.)

Oh, and if you do happen to be in New York and want to experience Feinstein’s swanky club but are daunted by the steep prices, consider stopping in for Broadway Ballyhoo. Billed as “a show tune hootenanny,” the late Thursday showcase features a set of songs from some of the best Broadway talent whose names you never heard of.

My visit included Morgan James from the current Broadway company of “Godspell” delivering a gorgeous “Lost in His Arms” (listen here), “Spider-Man” nemesis Patrick Page digging up “Have a Madeira My Dear,” Second City-trained Colleen McHuge nailing “Fine Fine Line” from “Avenue Q”. The songs—and the talent—change each week. For details on upcoming shows, click here

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Cook took home a Tony Award more than a half century ago for her role in “The Music Man” and the show has been popular ever since.

A staple in the Beef & Boards audience-pleasing rotation, it's back again (through May 25) in a production that seems cast and rehearsed with an emphasis on vocal talent. The leads sing expertly but time doesn’t seem to have been spent developing the romantic pull that is central making us care about the transformation of the conning Harold Hill and the shell-breaking emergence of Marian Paroo.

Still, the show is nearly foolproof, with a score packed with smart songs and colorful characters. And on the Beef’s stage (and around the auditorium), there’s enormous pleasure in the school-board-members-turned-barbershop-quartet, in the “waddayatalking” of the always-engaged supporting player Samuel McKanney, and in a smart theatrical coup that helps beef up the boys band for the climax.

 

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