Few performers have ever shined as long or as brightly as Barbara Cook, who will be making an all too rare local appearance in concert at Colden Auditorium as the closing show for the Kupferberg Center for the Arts 2013-14 season at Queens College.
Early on, Cook established herself as the original Marian in Broadway’s classic musical, “The Music Man,” as well as a string of other ingenue roles. She eventually turned her talents loose in clubs and concert halls. Now, well into her 80s, she’s still at it and has added a new layer to her voice.
“I’ve made it jazzier,” she said, in a telephone conversation last week.
The new style is perhaps, as some have noted, in keeping up with the darker quality that time has visited upon her instrument.
Cook said her latest program consists of “mostly songs that people know ... standards ... and some we hope are funny.”
Of today’s music, Cook conceded, “Some of it’s fun.” But the lyric soprano, known as much for her way with the words of a song as for the lilt in her voice, lamented that in many newer songs, “The lyric doesn’t seem to matter very much. It doesn’t give me much to work with.”
So, in her upcoming show, she’ll be sticking mostly to classics including “Cheek to Cheek,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “More Than You Know,” the kind of songs her base of fans tend to expect of her.
A Tony Award winner and a Kennedy Center Honoree, Cook will be saluted next month by the prestigious Drama League in recognition of her contributions to musical theater.
For a woman who has seen and done so much throughout her lifetime, Cook tends to find the simplest explanations for everything.
She chalks up her longevity in life and as a performer to good genes, crediting them for giving her “the energy to do what I do,” adding that “I love doing it.”
With all her experience on stage, her one admission might take some by surprise: “I get a little nervous” before every performance.
She said she does nothing special to preserve her voice, long recognized for its crystal clarity.
“I’m careful of keys, especially now. If it hurts, I don’t do it,” she said.
Asked how her life’s path has measured up to the dreams she had as a little girl growing up in Atlanta, she said simply, “I didn’t really dream. I just wanted the world to let me sing.”
As an entertainer, Cook has traveled across America and around the world, from Europe to the Far East.
“I was in China before it opened up,” she said. “I was in Russia when Gorbachev was in power. Very interesting.”
In 2004, she suffered a personal loss when her long-time musical director Wally Harper passed away.
“In the beginning, it was very difficult,” she said. “I miss him terribly even now. We talk about him every single day.”
For the past few years, Cook has found continued success with her new musical director, Ted Rosenthal, who will be accompanying her in the upcoming Queens College concert.
What goes through Cook’s head as she sings?
“Strong memories,” she said. “I try to live them again.”
And as she relives moments from her past, she takes her audiences right along with her.