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Barbara Cook recalls golden age of musical comedy

Barbara Cook: A Concert for the Theatre Music arranged and conducted by Wally Harper. Next to restoring some of Broadway's legendary musicals, how about sampling their treasures with one of the lustrous leading ladies from that golden age? In fact, how about ``Barbara Cook: A Concert for the Theatre''? Nothing could be more felicitous on a fine spring evening. Working with indispensable arranger-conductor-composer Wally Harper, Miss Cook has transformed her successful cabaret act into an amply satisfying stage entertainment - a potpourri of mostly show tunes with a sprinkling of pop standards.

From the welcoming ``Sing a Song With Me,'' by Mr. Harper and Paul Zakrzewski, Cook embraces the Ambassador Theatre audience with a warmth and enthusiasm that match her virtuosic performance. The vocalist and her band can have rhythmic fun with ``Sweet Georgia Brown,'' climaxed by a lightning costume change. They can gussie up ``Them There Eyes'' with a tuba counterpoint by bassist John Beal and a kazoo finale by Cook.

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The performance celebrates the comedy side of musical comedy as well as its romantic aspects. Cook has fun with such numbers as Irving Berlin's ``I Love a Piano'' and the Bernstein/Comden/Green ``I Can Cook.'' She can soar with the elation of Rodgers and Hart's ``Wait 'Til You See Him,'' share the smitten optimism of Arlen and Mercer's ``Come Rain or Come Shine,'' appreciate the welcome meteorological improvements of the Gershwins' ``A Foggy Day,'' and conquer what George Gershwin called ``the chromatic pitfalls'' of ``The Man I Love.''

She communicates the haunting vision of the Dietz-Schwartz ``I See Your Face Before Me,'' and the heartbreaking anguish of Stephen Sondheim's ``Losing My Mind.'' She is nowhere more at home than in tunes from the shows in which she appeared, witness particularly the delectable ``Mister Snow'' from Rodgers and Hammerstein's ``Carousel.''

Such numbers provide the natural openings for the customary personal reminiscences typical of such entertainments. From childhood, Cook recalls her love affair with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. (``I was in love with both of them.'')

There are anecdotes involving such glamorous personalities as No"el Coward, Gary Cooper (whose first greeting was ``Gosh''), and Robert Preston, remembered fondly from their long run in ``The Music Man.''

Of her recent successful London engagement, Cook tells what it was like to find herself making up before the same mirror used by John Gielgud.

She gives a nod to Ambassador Theatre history and pays special tribute to the legendary Mabel Mercer, from whom she learned so much.

But all this is incidental to the concert itself. Under the guidance of the assiduously attentive Mr. Harper, the musical performance is something to cheer. The warmth of the ovation at the curtain calls was a just accolade for Cook as a mature vocal artist at the top of her form.

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John Falabella designed the stylish setting. Joseph G. Aulisi created the glittery costumes, and Richard Winkler lighted the production superbly.

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