Musical Theatre Zen: The Barbara Cook Edition

One of my most indelible theatre memories is from the day Barbara Cook brought Mostly Sondheim to my town. (Can you imagine my surprise? Barbara Cook in my town?!) Anyway, I made a great to-do about it and had many of my friends come with me to see her in action. Cook is known for the way she inhabits a lyric. Her sound has darkened as she’s gotten older, but the tone is still exorbitantly clear and inviting. The atmosphere at a Barbara Cook concert is akin to visiting your favorite grandmother: intimacy, warmth and graciousness pouring out over the footlights.

There she was, one of the definitive musical theatre actresses of all time, interpreting the songs that Sondheim had written – and those he wished he had, at least in part. We had plenty of Harold Arlen, some a touch of Irving Berlin, and of course, the works of Sondheim himself. The highlight for me came toward the end of the concert when she discussed how three of the songs on the list were those which she originally sang in Candide and She Loves Me. The first, of course, being the death-defying coloratura aria “Glitter and Be Gay.” (“I ain’t gonna be singin’ that one tonight… I ain’t been a-goin’ to sing that for a loooong time.”)

The other two were “Tell Me I Look Nice,” a cute 5/4 number that was originally just before “Will He Like Me,” and of course, the one she recreated for us in concert, “Ice Cream.” This piece is one of the most impressive character songs I’ve ever heard, and is something of a signature for Cook. I can still recall the first time I heard the score to She Loves Me, one of my top three shows, and this was the song I played again and again. That night, four and a half years ago, I was nearer to Heaven than I could even realize at the time. And at the age of 75, her climactic high B natural rang out like freedom. Enjoy…

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