Barbara Cook returns with “No One Is Alone,” her sixth solo concert appearance at Carnegie Hall. Working under adverse conditions — a throat infection that was very much apparent at times — the singer triumphed nevertheless. Cook considered canceling the one-night engagement, but she didn’t want to let down her fans. “Rather than not be here, I thought I’d get three-quarters of me here — or at least half,” she said. That proved more than enough.
The experience shed light on the secret of Cook: It’s not only the voice that makes her so good, it’s the acting beneath the singing. Take Kern & Hammerstein’s “All the Things You Are,” one of the most beautiful (and most difficult) songs in the Broadway repertoire. The lyric talks of “the breathless hush of evening that trembles on the brink of a lovely song,” and Cook — despite trouble sustaining all those whole notes — spread that breathless hush throughout the historic hall.
Eighty-minute set was built on 21 songs by Sondheim and his colleagues; nine by the master, the rest by Hammerstein, Bernstein or Styne with other collaborators (mostly Kern, Rodgers, Comden & Green).
Earlier Cook concerts have included songs from films and pop, but “No One Is Alone” was almost entirely show tunes, making it a special treat for theatergoers. While Cook has sung some of them in the past, others apparently are new for her.
The singer was backed by music director Eric Stern, with her longtime bass player John Beal and guitarist Jack Cavari. The four (including Cook) make beautiful music, that’s for sure. Stern and Cook put together a fine song assortment, arranged — as they should be, but aren’t always — to support and enhance the singer.
Cook topped “All the Things You Are” with “This Nearly Was Mine.” This “South Pacific” stunner is chock-full of long notes that need to be sustained. Cook didn’t have her full vocal power, but the acting turned this into a heartbreaking cry of love lost.
On a lighter side were three other Hammerstein songs: a surprisingly jazzy version of “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” a swinging “Lover, Come Back to Me” (Cook sings Romberg!), and “Nobody Else but Me,” sung with boundless joy, the weakened voice expertly skipping over the bubbly intervals like pebbles on a spring brook.
Sondheim was present, on the program and in the audience, with a wistful “Goodbye for Now” (from “Reds”), a poignant “I Wish I Could Forget You” (from “Passion”), Cook’s own “In Buddy’s Eyes” (“Follies”) and a pert one-gal version of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” (“Company”).
The patter was friendly and offhand, no doubt reflecting the lack of rehearsal time due to the singer’s indisposition. For example, she introduced “Some Other Time” by simply saying, “This is a beauty.” And was she ever right.
For her finale, Cook launched into “Make Our Garden Grow,” which she first sang 50 years ago, in “Candide.” Midway through, in came reinforcements — namely Kelli O’Hara (“The Light in the Piazza”) and tenor Sebastian Arcelus. For the climax, a hundred or so singers from three area choruses shuffled on. (They were dressed in studiously uncoordinated street clothes, ranging from professorial tweeds to white jogging suits. It looked like “A Chorus Line” for singers.) The rousing anthem by Bernstein and Richard Wilbur brought the audience to its feet.
Cook returned for an encore, Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle.” In the eighth measure her voice gave out and she stopped apologetically. After a disclaimer, she turned to pianist Stern and asked, “Where was I?” Seven hundred or so fans yelled back, in unison, “Relax, let go, let fly.”
“Oh,” said Cook. “They know the words.”