IT MAY BE BEST to consider "Barbara Cook: A Broadway Evening" a work in progress. Despite the abundant charms of its sparkly star, this uneven evening at Ford's Theater needs a lot of work if it's ever going to earn its title.
Cook, who played the coloratura sweetheart in "Candide" and "The Music Man," among others, long ago left the ingenue roles behind for the cabaret stage, where she became a Washington favorite as a superior Broadway revivalist and pop interpreter.
So it would seem a great idea to expand that pleasure -- listening to Barbara cook for two full hours. But though she looks and sounds better and more confident than ever, little of her clubby intimacy remains in this ill-fitting early stage of "A Broadway Evening," and the whole thing has oddly little to do with Broadway.
Directed by Thommie Walsh, it's a frayed crazy-quilt of a show, stiffly staged and sometimes downright dull. The songs in the first act are hastily stitched together with a series of trite memories about being a little girl enraptured by the moving pictures in Atlanta. This big little girl act wears out its welcome pretty quickly, and the movie theme hardly seems apt. How about some musical theater memories?
Act Two finds Cook trying on a Lily Tomlinish bag lady schtick, and though Cook's a fine monologuist, the material is mawkish.
There are several glowing moments throughout -- in particular, Rupert Holmes' melancholy "Wide Screen," a rapturous "Till There Was You" (which Cook inexplicably cuts short), and a "Blue Skies" that changes from sunny to blue. But the singer doesn't find herself till the concluding medley of songs from the core of her nightclub act, including softly stunning readings of Harry Nilsson's "Remember" and Carol Hall's "Ain't Love Easy."
Some of Cook's best material has been contributed by her longtime accompanist, Wally Harper, and other highlights include his vampy, campy "Cold Hard Cash"; the clever "Wrap Song," about Cook's encounter with MTV; and the quietly moving encore "In Between Goodbyes."
As always, Cook can be counted on for pure, refreshingly histrionics-free singing, with precise and delicate diction and phrasing. Though her silvery soprano takes the high notes with ease, it sounded most comfortable in the warmer and more expressive middle range.
Cook is supported by a trio of homogeneous female singers called Nicholas, Glover & Wray, and they are technically adept but superfluous in this setting. Since Cook pays them little attention, they can't help but look awkward and even a bit bored up there.
One wishes Cook well -- she's such a likable, talented performer. But on the proscenium stage, without the enveloping intimacy of a nightclub, the singer needs a show more carefully tailored to her talents and tradition.
BARBARA COOK: A BROADWAY EVENING -- At Ford's Theater through October 27.