Scenes from the Coliseum Sunday Afternoon
It was Sunday evening around 10.30pm when I looked at my watch while waiting in the wings of the Coliseum and wondered what the hell I was doing there. Sure it was Barbara Cook's 80th Birthday concert. Sure she was great. Sure we were about to go on to sing two minutes in the finale chorus of Make Your Garden Grow... But after being there since 3pm it was a bit of a stretch. Well the concert didn't start at 3pm, it just felt like it did.
Mind you there were more than just a few of us in the chorus that jumped at the chance to sing with Barbara Cook when asked a few months ago. Hell even if it was for just two minutes we were there. Some people in the chorus did ask "Who is Barbara Cook?" to which I replied "Wash your mouth". Well, in the four years I have been in London I have seen her perform twice and got her autograph but all that wasn't intentional. But she is one of the interpreters of the great American song.
Barbara Cook's 80th was a fund raiser for World AIDS day as well. Cook has been doing this concert in the US for the past few months and getting raves for it. And you could tell why. Cook was in great form and it is always a treat to hear her sing. You get a sense of a performer wanting to share something with you, sing without pretension and with a lot of experience. It was a pity what could have been a tight 90 minute show without intermission was padded out for another 90 minutes with a lot of filler. That filler included "stars of tomorrow", dancers out of time, and Elaine Paige.
Paige came on in the second act and started telling Cook how much she adored her since she was young. She did this by rubbing Cook's back in a creepy manner and telling a strangely incoherent anecdote about how she first heard her sing. As she kept telling and telling and telling the story, throwing in some lines such as she couldn't afford a proper seat so some man "stuffed her up the back" (what the...?) the story made less and less sense. She finally finished the story and then inflicted on the audience a tourettes-induced version of "I Know Him So Well" with a spontaneous scream singing of lines like "leahrned about the maaahn bufah ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh fehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhlll". This was then followed by a spectacle of "Cry Me A River" that was a cross between Judy Garland and Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest. It reminded me that she still is the worst thing you could ever see on stage. Seeing such a hammy screamer perform on the same stage as Cook has to be a crime. Actually seeing Paige perform on any stage surely has to be a crime. I was wondering if we can serve an ASBO on her for anti-social performances? Not even a theatre full of luvvies drunk on champagne from the interval could give her more than polite applause.
Fortunately Barbara Cook got back on stage after this horror and again she stopped the show. Alas it was getting close to our call so we did have to give up our box seats we had commanded for the second act and get back on stage. Even though we were in the finale, the show just wouldn't end. After many curtain calls the compere in a moment of dementia felt that it was time to get everyone to sing "happy birthday". A bit late since she turned 80 in October I thought . I think I got home by midnight. Well that was a night to remember...On our dinner break we walked past Cook's dressing room only to be told off by her assistant for making too much noise as she was having a nap after dinner. And dinner was salmon. Maybe omega-3 is the secret for longevity and preserving those pipes. It would have been better than that Mexican we had in Covent Garden I suppose...