×
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

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content