×
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

  • Ben Platt Variety Power of New

    Ben Platt on Coming Out and the Queerness of 'The Politician'

    Ben Platt never imagined he would one day star in a series like “The Politician.” “I didn’t think I could be a star of a show in general starting out. I think I was like, ‘I’ll do Broadway. I can be on stage and I can play Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Nathan Detroit [...]

  • Michael Jackson in concert in Milton

    Michael Jackson Musical to Open on Broadway in Summer 2020

    “MJ,” a musical based on the life and career of Michael Jackson, will open on Broadway in summer 2020. Preview performances will start July 6 before its official debut on Aug. 13. The stage show, which will include songs like “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and “Smooth Criminal,” was originally [...]

  • The Wrong Man review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Wrong Man'

    Credit songwriter Ross Golan for the seamless quality of “The Wrong Man,” his mesmerizing musical about a good man who deserves a good life but seems to attract nothing but bad luck. The show’s inventive book, music, and lyrics were all penned by this multi-hyphenate talent who was named 2016 BMI Pop Songwriter of the [...]

  • Kristin Chenoweth Broadway

    Listen: Kristin Chenoweth Wants to Write a Broadway Musical

    Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t just want to star in Broadway musicals. She’s thinking about writing one, too. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I think about it a lot,” Chenoweth said on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “I want someone to collaborate with me on a story I have, and it would be [...]

  • The Man in the White Suit

    West End Review: 'The Man in the White Suit'

    As a rule of thumb, when adapting something, changing the tone and/or style for the new medium is a wise move — so long as the rethink fits or improves the original. If only that were the case with this fitfully amusing but enervating stage adaptation of “The Man in the White Suit.” Once a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content