It seems that almost weekly I’m reading of the passing of a performer who helped define my youth and taste in theatre, music, and the arts. Yesterday it was the remarkable Barbara Cook – one of the greats of musical comedies in the 1950-60s. After a troubled period fighting depression, obesity, and alcoholism, during which her career waned, she return to the spotlight in a landmark concert at Carnegie Hall 1975 with Wally Harper. It was the beginning of a partnership that was to last until his death in 2004. And it also relaunched her as a premier cabaret and concert singer. She was to continue to perform until into her 80s and made her last Broadway appearance singing the songs of Stephen Sondheim in 2010.
Here she is in one of her most famous role – Marion the Librarian in one of the most delightful musicals in the canon, Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man.
I was fortunate to see her on stage back in 1966 when the Lincoln Center brought it’s magnificent revival of Showboat to the stage of the O’Keefe Centre. It was one of the largest shows to tour with a full size showboat sailing on to the levee with a dream cast of the time: Constance Towers, Stephen Douglas, William Warfield, David Wayne, Margaret Hamilton, Rosetta LaNoire, and Barbara Cook. It was probably one of her last “ingenue” roles, her subsequent appearance in book shows were in more mature roles.
But in her concert career she both twitted and celebrated her years as Broadway’s leading ingenue. And no where was it more celebrated than in her version of “Ice Cream” from She Loves Me. Here she almost 40 years after she created the role of Amelia and she hits that last high B with the same panache and accuracy as she did back in 1963.
Tonight the lights on Broadway will dim in tribute to her and perhaps, if you believe in that sort of thing, the stars in heaven will gleam a little brighter.
On this day in 1173: construction of the campanile of the Cathedral of Pisa (now known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa) begins; it will take two centuries to complete.