November 15, 2006
Life Is A Cabaret . . . For Cook
The list is short when it comes to singers who can routinely pack the likes of Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.
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One such star is the legendary soprano Barbara Cook.
"Christ, I hope I'll be there," she joked groggily during a recent talk with The Independent. You see, Cook, who will perform her show No One Is Alone at Carnegie Hall this weekend, was suffering from a sore throat. Not to be daunted, she gamely talked to us about her decades-long career in showbiz and her upcoming concert at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center November 25.
"I love the intimacy of that theater," remarked the 76-year-old Broadway veteran. "It gives me the opportunity to do what I love . . . and that's to get personal with the audience."
Fans and Cook newbies will be treated to songs like "Something's Coming" from West Side Story in addition to a collection of Stephen Sondheim's other best work. The singer talked of a longtime association with the celebrated composer, whose New York career ran on a parallel track with Cook's since the early 50s. During that time, Sondheim was an up-and-coming lyricist and Cook was winning roles in The Music Man, Flahooley, The King And I and Oklahoma!, among others.
Although she never performed in a Sondheim musical, in 1985 the singer starred in a concert version of Follies at Lincoln Center during which she sang two Sondheim ballads, "Losing My Mind" and "In Buddy's Eyes."
"Stephen is a musical genius," she said. "His songs are beautifully written and layered with character. It's like being handed a great part in a play to perform over and over. And that's enjoyable because you keep discovering more and more about the meaning."
Cook's staying power in the business was proven with an unprecedented appearance early this year at Manhattan's Metropolitan Opera House. Breaking its tradition of featuring only classical singers, the venue hosted a concert by Cook along with four-time Tony Award winner Audra MacDonald and the multi-platinum recording artist Josh Groban. The concert sold out its 3700 seats within five days. Pretty remarkable, given the musical event was not even advertised.
Over the years Cook has garnered awards for her work including a Tony for The Music Man (in the role of Marian the Librarian) and a Grammy for her work in Follies.
She talked about the changes Broadway has endured over her longtime career. "When I got my start, there were many more shows and plays around. They all had big dancing and big chorus groups. Now performers are expected to sing and dance and to be good at both. Also, it's gotten so expensive to produce musical theater, so I think less risks are being taken. That's why you see so many revivals, because their success is more or less assured." The singer named The Jersey Boys as a current Broadway production that she's "crazy about."
Like many of her showbiz contemporaries, the years have not always been kind to the songstress. Cook has battled alcoholism (she quit drinking in 1977), survived divorce and wrangled with obesity. All this sorrow, she said, has only served to make her music more real. "Even within the last three or four years, I have a greater ability to communicate, I think. I have more courage to show the stuff . . . and it does take courage."
One of Cook's musical heroes, the late Judy Garland, also suffered from her share of personal demons but she points to the singer as her greatest inspiration. "As a young person I was so moved by The Wizard of Oz and its music. I loved the way [Garland] sang. I used to go see her in Manhattan at The Gold Key Club. She would just get up and give a spontaneous performance. You can't learn what she had -- it was a God-given ability to communicate through song. I told myself, 'I want to sing like that.'"
And sing like that she does.
Barbara Cook will appear at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center Saturday November 25. Tickets can be purchased by calling 288-1500.