In Memoriam

Stephen Sondheim and Barbara Cook

I haven’t kept up with this blog for a while, but I couldn’t ignore the passing of one of the American theater’s legendary performers: Barbara Cook. She made her Broadway debut in 1951 and was an important part of musical theater history since then — originating iconic roles such as Marian the Librarian in The Music Man and Cunegonde in Candide.

The first time I saw Cook was her 1987 Broadway concert, which heralded the second act of her career. That evening remains among my top theater experiences. As she often did, Cook ended by offering a song without amplification, the way Broadway used to sound. I could hear every syllable with such clarity, even from my seat in the last row of the uppermost balcony at the Ambassador Theatre.

Years later, I got to meet her after a concert version of The High Life in which I performed. Cook, who had starred in the 1961 original cast, was ebullient in her praise of our cast. I was first out of the dressing room, so I was first to be enfolded in her large bear hug.

In 2005, I shared the stage with her during the marathon Wall to Wall Sondheim at New York’s Symphony Space. As part of the Juilliard Choral Union, I sang in the show’s final number. (I’m the one directly behind Cook in the photo.) She was the penultimate performer — proof of her status among actors and among Sondheim interpreters.

“Good night, my someone. Good night, my love.”

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