Not only, as she jokes, is this not a "Rodgers & Hammerstein" show; those songwriters are not the only familiar tunesmiths left out of the mix. Cook also eschews her favorite composer, Stephen Sondheim, along with Irving Berlin, Jule Styne, Lerner & Loewe, and many of the Great White Way's staples. (The Gershwins get a couple of numbers, including a spirited "I Got Rhythm," and there's the Harold Arlen-Ted Koehler tune that gives the show its title.)
Instead, Cook has chosen to include three so-called "list" songs in her act -- the trickiest kind for anyone to memorize, never mind an octogenarian. And despite a flub here and there, her delicious takes on "Makin' Whoopee" (complete with two verses I hadn't heard before), Dan Hicks' "I Don't Want Love" -- an ode to the joys of steak, tomatoes, and other mouth-watering delights -- and Cole Porter's tongue-twisting "Let's Do It" are smile-inducing highlights of the show.
What truly makes Cook special, though, isn't just how well her silvery soprano has held up, but the depth of feeling she brings to the material -- whether it be a classic ballad or something more unexpected, like a striking version of "The House of the Rising Sun" (performed a capella) paired with a verse of "Bye Bye Blackbird" or a heartfelt "Georgia on My Mind" (which Cook admits is slightly ironic, since she couldn't wait to get out of her native Georgia).
Consciously or not, Cook has selected four songs that some people (especially me) associate with Barbra Streisand -- "The Nearness of You," "When Sunny Gets Blue," and "Lover Man" (all of which were recorded on Simply Streisand), and the lesser-known 1933 gem "If I Love Again" (which Streisand sang in Funny Lady) and makes each one completely her own through her interpretative skills and gift for melody. It's as if no one else has ever sung them before -- or should sing them again!
Saving the best for almost last, Cook wrings every ounce of emotion from Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary's anthem to survival, "Here's to Life," before wrapping up the show with a stunning -- and unplugged -- rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," whose words continue to remind us of the possibility of a better world.
That said, for about 75 minutes, there's really no better place than Feinstein's, reveling in the consummate artistry of Barbara Cook.
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