Barbara Cook, who generates warm memories from her starry Broadway past and subsequent resurrection as a cabaret and concert singer, hit some emotional high points when she and her longtime music director Wally Harper took the Hollywood Bowl spotlight Friday night. Otherwise, routine lay like a heavy mattress over the Bowl — and we’re not even into the true dog days of August yet.
This is shaping up as a long, hot summer for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, working more pops weekends than usual, its music director Esa-Pekka Salonen on sabbatical, with no visiting orchestras around to give the Phil a midsummer breather.
It certainly didn’t sound terribly enthused by the leadership of Marvin Hamlisch, as a half-hearted rendition of the Overture from “Gypsy” (the second time this piece has opened a Bowl concert in July) was followed by two sleepy Hamlisch-arranged medleys of Cole Porter and Jerome Kern tunes.
Even Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” emerged draggy, square and lifeless — a considerable feat — and this from an orchestra that once played it with such fire under the composer’s direction in the 1980s.
Interestingly, the Phil’s playing audibly perked up under Harper during Cook’s sets; one reason may have been Harper’s far more imaginative arrangements.
Yet Hamlisch, the facile songwriter, finally brought some welcome charm to the table after intermission by making up some very clever, even funny, pop songs on the spot — music and lyrics — based upon title suggestions from the audience.
For a 72-year-old singer, Cook’s voice is in pretty good shape, and her ability to communicate in a straight-forward, ungimmicked way is unimpaired.
As “He Was Good to Me” merged into “Losing My Mind” (from “Follies”), the dramatic yet elegantly restrained longing in her voice drew us completely into the material, and she did a fine job unveiling a new, suavely harmonized Hamlisch song “I Cannot Hear the City,” from his forthcoming musical, “Sweet Smell of Success.”
Best of all was Cook’s 14-1/2 -minute medley of songs from “Porgy and Bess” — straddling a straight-arrow Broadway path between opera and jazz, striking emotional paydirt in “I Loves You Porgy.”
And though her rendition of her late “The Music Man” co-star Robert Preston’s proto-rap number “Ya Got Trouble” lacked pizzazz, it was a nice, roundabout way of revisiting the past (after all, doesn’t Marian the Librarian sing some of Prof. Harold Hill’s music elsewhere in the musical anyway?).