A Farewell to Musical Theater Treasure and A.C.T. Performer Barbara Cook

By Taylor Steinbeck

Tony Award­–winning songstress, Barbara Cook, died at 89 on Tuesday. Lauded for her crystalline lyrical soprano voice and emotional storytelling, Cook was Broadway’s star ingénue in the 1950s. From the mid-1970s, her solo shows and concert performances cemented her status as one of the leading interpreters of musical theater standards, with the New York Times naming her “the Mother Earth of the American songbook.”

Barbara Cook in 2009. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Cook appeared at A.C.T. in 2000 when her Tony Award–nominated cabaret act, Mostly Sondheim, was presented as a special New Year’s engagement. Playing at The Geary Theater for three nights, Mostly Sondheim showcased Cook’s rich vocals as she shared Stephen Sondheim’s classics with San Francisco audiences. Some of the numbers featured included “Not a Day Goes By,” “Happiness,” and “Losing My Mind.” In 2002, Sondheim told the Washington Post, “No one sings theater songs with more feeling for the music or more understanding of the lyrics than Barbara.” 

Cook’s prolific theater career spanned several decades, with her first gracing the Broadway stage for 1951’s Flahooley. She went on to win the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Marian the Librarian in the 1957 hit The Music Man. Other notable credits were Candide (1956), The King and I (1960), and She Loves Me (1963). After a 39-year absence, she returned to the Great White Way for Sondheim on Sondheim (2010). The veteran Broadway actress was honored as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2011.

Yesterday night, Broadway dimmed its marquee lights for one minute in Cook’s memory.

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