Thank You, Barbara Cook, for Entertaining Us

Long before songstress Barbara Cook was awarded Kennedy Center Honors for her life-time contribution to the performing arts earlier this month, my daughters were singing along in the back of the car to the song that became her signature: “Ice cream! He brought me ice cream! Vanilla ice cream, imagine that!”

With its clever, brain addicting lyrics from the 1963 musical She Loves Me, “Ice Cream,” plays in my head every time I think of Barbara Cook. The original Broadway cast recording, with Cook in the role of shop-girl Amalia Balash, just knocks my socks off. The story is based on the 1937 Hungarian play, Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo, and has seen various incarnations over the years; among them the 1940 romantic comedy, The Shop Around the Corner,  starring James Stewart; the 1949 musical, In the Good Old Summertime, starring Judy Garland; and You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 comedy with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

When the kids were growing up we listened to Broadway recordings for enjoyment; attended community theater productions; and watched the movies when they came out. I even bought tickets to random high school productions, many of which showcased amazing talent.

Barbara Cook

The Kennedy Center website had this to say about Cook’s vocal talent:  “Her voice is drenched in sunshine, and for more than half a century her singing has defined all that is best and brightest in the Great American Songbook.”

Theater experiences – even in the living room – help kids understand the human condition, stand in other people’s shoes. In The Music Man, they can sense the rising tension as Professor Howard Hill cons the people of River City into buying non-existent band uniforms and instruments. And in Oklahoma, they can feel the characters’ hopes of a better life.

The stories, characters and themes are of cultural significance; alluded to in magazines and books and talked about in college classrooms. We see the composers listed on concert programs, and recognize their music while listening to the radio or shopping in a store.

Annie Get Your Gun was a favorite of my youngest daughter. She’d really get into singing along with Bernadette Peters, who played wild-west performer Annie Oakley years after Ethel Merman created the role on Broadway: “I want a wedding in a big church with bridesmaids and flower girls. A lot of ushers in tailcoats, reporters and photographers.” What a great way for a little girl to imagine the future!

I remember singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in elementary school choir, but it wasn’t until I saw the Sound of Music some years later that I understood the song’s proper context.

On rare occasions we caught the stage production of Peter Pan with Mary Martin on television, and were taken to Never, Never Land with Captain Hook and the Lost Boys.

Musicals were a kind of artistic food that we made available to our family. We didn’t own dozens and dozens of recordings, but enough that our kids grew up with a life-long appreciation for the art form and its artists.

Born October 25, 1927, in Atlanta, Georgia, Cook created three important roles in American theater: Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein’s Candide (1956); Marion the Librarian in The Music Man (1957), which earned her the Tony award; and Amalia Balash in She Loves Me (1963). After being Broadway’s leading lady for a decade, Cook went into retirement and then re-emerged in the 1970s to perform concerts throughout the world. Now in her ’80s, she’s still wowing audiences.

Some years ago at Christmastime PBS aired a taped performance of She Loves Me,  starring Barbara Cook and Jack Cassidy. We haven’t seen it on TV since; but oh, what a treat.

And so to Barbara Cook, for the many times she has entertained our family, I say, “Thank you!”

Now listen as Barbara Cook sings “Till There Was You,” from The Music Man. It will take your breath away.

And here she is four years ago in Melbourne, Australia, singing “Ice Cream” from She Loves Me, FFG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *