Cook has launched into a Jackman testimonial — hey, who’s winning the award here? — as she rhapsodizes about her good fortune in receiving the Kennedy Center Honors. She was hoping, she says, that Jackman would have been available to help fete her Sunday night, when the center tapes its annual, star-engorged tribute. Alas, Jackman sent word that he couldn’t leave his own show “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway,” one of the fall’s hottest tickets.
Cook, who turned a gob-smacking 84 on Oct. 25, says she understood why he couldn’t make it, but she also wants to, ahem, clarify his appeal for her. “So many people say, ‘Oh, you’re in love with him!’ ” the singer observes. “I’m not in love with Hugh Jackman. ‘Oh, it’s because he’s so sexy!’ No, that’s not really it, either.
“Here’s the thing: What I try to tell students in master classes is what we want is them. It’s so hard to believe that what the world wants is the intrinsic you on the stage. And that’s what Hugh Jackman’s got, in spades. He’s incredibly present.”
The same, of course, can be said for Cook. With her immaculate natural instrument and the ebulliently permeable sense of self she projects in her concerts, she’s the empress of “present.” “Everybody’s on her team,” says Jessica Molaskey, the musical-theater actress who with jazz guitarist-husband John Pizzarelli developed a cabaret act, for which Cook has been a mentor. “She’s an exquisite musician, and she just happens to have the most shimmering luster. Her voice has a quality that shimmers. And I haven’t seen it go away.”
Jackman, for his part, considers Cook “the greatest living example of acting through song.”
“Her technique is extraordinary, and she allows me to forget that I am an actor, and to just be a fan,” he says. “I first saw her giving a master class in Melbourne, and, to be honest, I consider every subsequent performance that I have seen her in as a master class.”
Though the Honors more often than not go these days to artists of both achievement and a certain magnitude of celebrity, Cook’s overdue selection is not one being relied on to boost the telecast’s ratings. She’s from an even more rarefied circle of recipients, those who earn a coveted seat in the president’s box based essentially on their art alone. Having begun her career as an ingenue in Broadway musicals, she gravitated during a rocky midlife to a second act as an interpreter of show tunes and other standards — the concert and cabaret existence for which she’s now more widely recognized. Such an eternally fresh, expressive exemplar of the form is she that when the Kennedy Center decided to establish in 2007 an ongoing series of evenings featuring the nation’s best cabaret singers, it asked Cook to serve as its talent scout and curator.