Kennedy Center Tribute to Chita

For some inane reason or other I missed the Kennedy Center Honors in 2002, even though I knew Chita Rivera was on the dais. However, a good friend taped it for me just in case, so I had a save. (For you younger folk out there, this was before the youtube). About six weeks later, I was back from college in order to have my four wisdom teeth out.

After the surgery, I came home and waited for the painkillers to kick in (I was Violet Weston that weekend, kids…), I popped in this video to ease my discomfort as the novocaine wore off. That was a memorable morning kids, for various reasons (hear my brother tell the story of how I fell out of a chair).

In spite of the pain I was feeling, I picked myself off the couch and rewound the tape again and again. I still get chills seeing it.

Charlotte d’Amboise, Donna Murphy, Valerie Pettiford and countless dancers pay tribute to the Queen of the Gypsies.

Now this, Tony folks, is how you do a Broadway medley:

What About Barbara?

It was announced this morning that the Kennedy Center honorees will include Morgan Freeman, Twyla Tharp, Peter Townshend & Roger Daltrey of “The Who”, country singer George Jones and Barbra Streisand.

I can clearly understand why the aforementioned six would be honored for career achievements in their respective fields. But year after year I always have to ask the same question. Where is the Honor for Barbara Cook? I thought sentimentality would be on her side this year; what with her 80th birthday and subsequent concerts, possibly helped by the cabaret series she is hosting at the Kennedy Center this fall. Cook’s career as a musical theatre star on Broadway lasted from 1951 to 1972 with such shows as Plain and Fancy (Theatre World award), Candide (her “Glitter and Be Gay” is untoppable), The Music Man (Tony Award, Best Featured Actress) and She Loves Me (which gave her “Vanilla Ice Cream,” a match made in heaven). There were also flops such as Flahooley, The Gay Life (which offers one of her best performances on record), Something More and The Grass Harp. On the dramatic side, she was a replacement for Sandy Dennis in Any Wednesday and appeared in Little Murders and Enemies. During this time she was frequently seen in City Center revivals of Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, as well as many stock productions. Cook reinvented her career in the mid-1970s as a cabaret performer, carving a second niche out of her career that has kept her popular with the public and critics for decades now. Add to this list her appearanace as Sally in the 1985 concert of Follies and the London premiere of Carrie. She has since appeared in concert in various Broadway and concert venues, earning 2002 Tony nomination for Special Theatrical Event. (Do they still give that out?) Having seen Ms. Cook live in performance, it is one of the most intimate and warm experiences between a performer and audience. It’s almost as though you were visiting with a favorite grandmother as opposed to a concert. Hearing the honest emotion and depth she applies to any lyric is a master class in interpretation.

Barbara Cook has been in show business for sixty years and I think it’s about damn time she had a Kennedy Center Honor as well. Just my two cents…

Here are two Cook moments for you. The first is an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show where she sings the achingly beautiful “Magic Moment” from The Gay Life. The second is “It’s Better With a Band” from an appearance with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra back in the 80s.