SECOND UPDATE, Wednesday: Adding a rare video of Cook singing Janis Ian’s “Stars,” a song and interpretation that speaks volumes about this incomparable talent. Although the song falls outside her usual Broadway ken, it is her story, and this cover captures so much about the star.
UPDATE, 1:45 PM: The marquees of Broadway theaters will be dimmed Wednesday, August 9th at exactly 7:45pm for one minute, in memory of Barbara Cook.
“Barbara Cook was an unforgettable talent with a voice that dazzled audiences and kept them coming back over her 50-year career. With charisma, determination, and perseverance she made a remarkable contribution to theatre and inspired fans around the world,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League. “She will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with her family, friends, and colleagues.”
PREVIOUSLY: Barbara Cook, whose performance as Marian, the lonely librarian who falls for the huckster musical instruments salesman “Professor” Harold Hill played by Robert Preston in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man endeared her to generations of Broadway audiences beginning in the 1950s, died Tuesday morning in Manhattan. She was 89.
Adam LeGrant, her son and only immediate survivor, said the cause was respiratory failure.
In addition to her performance in The Music Man (1957), for which she won the Tony Award (the film, however, went to Shirley Jones), Cook was celebrated for her role the preceding season as Cunegonde in Candide, the Leonard Bernstein musical adaptation – an opera comique, really – of the Voltaire novel. In it, the young star sang the vocally treacherous “Glitter and Be Gay,” whose deliberate echoes of Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria in The Magic Flute made it a mountain for later sopranos to attempt.
On a lighter note, she starred in 1962’s She Loves Me, the Sheldon Harnick-Jerry Bock adaptation of The Shop Around the Corner. Although Harold Prince’s original production was a failure on Broadway, Cook’s songs from the show – notably “Ice Cream” and “Dear Friend” – have stood the test of time, with the former becoming one of her signature numbers in performance.
Over the course of a six-decade career, Cook soared, fell and rebounded, in recent years as one of the most celebrated cabaret stars of her time. With her astounding vocal range, crystalline enunciation, expressive interpretations – and, always, plenty of inside patter – Cook was a one-woman encyclopedia of the Great American Songbook. Her repertory traversed not only Broadway’s Golden Age but embraced composers and lyricists from Stephen Sondheim to a new generation of musical theater artists. Her association with Sondheim came late, with a 1985 concert performance of Follies, but quickly evolved into a deep and mutually respectful friendship.
Her other significant starring vehicles included Broadway revivals of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Show Boat and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel and The King and I.
“Barbara was not only one of the most talented people I have had the pleasure to work with, she was one of the loveliest and funniest as well,” author and director James Lapine told Deadline. “She was dedicated to the work and she had little patience for those who weren’t. A sad day.”
Cook, Atlanta born, began performing in concert and cabaret beginning in the 1975, in part due to lifelong struggles with alcoholism, depression and her weight — all of which she addressed frankly in her recently published autobiography, Then and Now. After finishing the book, in spring 2016, she began working with Lapine and director Tommy Tune on a concert adaptation through song and narrative, but the show was aborted early in the rehearsal process.