Artists Pay Tribute To Barbara Cook

“A Tribute to Barbara Cook” was held yesterday at Lincoln Center Theater‘s Vivian Beaumont Theater. Sheldon Harnick, 93, who wrote the lyrics for one of Cook’s early triumphs, “She Loves Me,” spoke about her professionalism. Kelli O’Hara, Renee Fleming, Audra McDonald, and Vanessa Williams & Norm Lewis sang songs, some of them associated with Cook. Jane Summerhays, a longtime Cook intimate, told tales of how the Georgia peach Cook like to cuss, how she enjoyed late-night phone conversations, and how obsessed she was with Hugh Jackman (she saw him play Peter Allen 15 times) and the opera tenor Jose Cura. Frank Langella told of taking Cook to a dinner

party at the Fifth Avenue apartment of Barbara Walters, who asked Cook to sing. Cook politely declined, but Walters, who Langella said could “survive Kriptonite,” pressed on, finally getting Cook to do a number at the piano. The room was full of VIPs, not show people, and when Cook finished she sat next to Langella on a sofa and muttered, “Don’t you ever bring me to one of these fucking things again.” The spoken tributes were delightfully real; Cook wasn’t a phony so why should remembrances of her be? Her son, Adam LeGrant, was especially direct about his mother’s challenges: booze, weight, slim times financially. She was a woman of appetites, he said. It is testament to Cook’s artistry that none of the live singers at the event got near her for impact; video footage of her singing “In Buddy’s Eyes” at a rehearsal for a 1985 “Follies” concert was devastating, even though it was undercut by Elaine Stritch in the background, fussing and smoking and being her usual impossible self. Pace tua, Barbara!

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