Barbara Cook

The Champion Season: A Salute to Gower Champion

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Gower Champion was a dancer, a choreographer, and a director of musicals; he was not a songwriter. Therefore, the idea of organizing a club act (or a record album) consisting of songs from shows he was associated with is, strictly speaking, dubious. The best way to salute Champion would be to present a selection of the dances he performed and created. But Barbara Cook is a singer, not a dancer, and the show tune is her area of expertise. After beginning this live album from the Café Carlyle with a medley of songs from two shows Champion directed on Broadway, "We Love You Conrad" (rendered as "We love you, Gower") from Bye Bye Birdie and "Before the Parade Passes By" and "It Only Takes a Moment" from Hello, Dolly!, Cook notes that, among his more prominent credits, Champion once directed a regional production of Annie Get Your Gun, adding, "and that gives us a perfect right to do this next Irving Berlin song," "I Got the Sun in the Morning." Not so much a right as an excuse, one might carp, but Cook has a perfect right to sing any show tune she likes, on any pretext she chooses. And if the basic concept is suspect, you can't say the singer hasn't done her homework. This is very much an act, not just a collection of arbitrarily selected songs. Cook went out and interviewed people who knew and worked with Champion, and in between songs she provides anecdotes and insights into his career that will be gobbled up by show music fans. Those same fans, who have been in Cook's corner for decades, of course, will enjoy not only her treatments of the familiar standards, but also (and perhaps especially) the songs drawn from unsuccessful shows like The Happy Time and Mack and Mabel that have been little heard since those musicals closed decades ago. In Cook's warm, knowing interpretations, "Among My Yesterdays" and "Look What Happened to Mabel," among other lost gems, shine again. This intimate performance (the instrumentation is restricted to piano and bass, while the Café Carlyle is as tiny a listening room as it is tony) is both a musical accomplishment and a fascinating history lesson. Who cares if there's no dancing?

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