You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Barbara Cook Remembered by ‘Fiddler on the Roof’s’ Sheldon Harnick: More Than an Ingenue

When Barbara Cook had been hired to play the lead in “She Loves Me,” my image of her was based on the roles I had seen her play. I thought she was more or less an innocent ingénue. The first time I had a glimpse of her personality was when we were holding auditions for other roles in that show, and I was unprepared for the nature of the comments she made as she watched people auditioning, phrased in unexpectedly salty language!

One of my favorite memories has to do with a number Jerry Bock and I wrote for her during the out-of-town tryout of “She Loves Me.” We played the song for her one morning, and to our surprise, she said, “Why don’t we try to put it in tonight?” Jerry and I protested: This wouldn’t allow her enough time to learn the number. She replied: “The music is simple enough, and a fairly large part of the number consists of me writing a letter, so I’ll have the lyrics right in front of me on the page.” Against our better judgment, we allowed Barbara to put the number in that night. And not only did she perform it flawlessly — she stopped the show! That song was “Vanilla Ice Cream.”

I’ve tried to figure out what was special and distinctive about Barbara’s style of singing. When I listened closely to her performing her songs on the cast album of “She Loves Me,” I was surprised to find that she didn’t sing the notes exactly as written.

She took extremely subtle liberties with the note values, and those liberties not only helped to convey the meaning of the lyrics, they also invested the melodic line with a welcome tension. I doubt that this description captures Barbara’s magic — but then, magic may be impossible to capture in words!

Barbara Cook was a superb singer, a fine actress and, as a person, the soul of candor. I shall miss her in all three capacities.

Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof”) co-wrote the 1963 Broadway musical “She Loves Me,” which gave Cook one of her signature songs, “Vanilla Ice Cream.”

More Legit

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

  • Frozen review Broadway

    ‘Frozen’ the Musical Opening in London in 2020

    “Frozen” the musical is coming to London and will open in the West End in fall 2020. The Michael Grandage-directed Disney Theatrical Productions stage show has been on Broadway for a year. Grandage’s production is now set to re-open Andrew Lloyd Webber’s refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are behind the [...]

  • Nantucket Sleigh Ride review

    Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride'

    Anyone who doesn’t have a cottage on the Cape or the Islands, as they say in Massachusetts, might be puzzled by the title of John Guare’s new play.  “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” is no Revere Beach amusement park ride, but an old whaling term for the death throes of a whale that is still attached to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content