Liz Smith: Celebrating Barbara Cook, “Dynasty” Redux on DVD
Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara
Broadway dimming its lights for Barbara Cook.
“PEARLS, and ruby rings …
Ah, how can worldly things
Take the place of honour lost?
Ah, how can worldly things
Take the place of honor lost?
Can they compensate
For my fallen state,
Purchased as they were at such an awful cost?
Bracelets … lavalieres
Can they dry my tears?
Can they blind my eyes to shame?
Can the brightest brooch
Shield me from reproach?
Can the purest diamond purify my name?
SO go the lyrics to “Glitter and Be Gay,” from Leonard Bernstein’s famous 1956 production of “Candide.” It was sung, with astonishing wit and technical virtuosity, by Barbara Cook.
(She performed this behemoth of trills and high notes a grueling eight performances a week! Luckily, perhaps for her, the show ran only two months, although it became an instant cult classic of its era. Later productions were more successful.)
Cook was, at this time, in the midst of her acclaimed reign as a delicious Broadway ingénue/leading lady in shows such as “Plain and Fancy,” “The Music Man,” “She Loves Me,” and lauded revivals of “Oklahoma” and “Carousel.”
Time and trouble would alter Cook, but her artistry endured, indeed it was burnished by adversity. By the time she stepped onstage at Carnegie Hall in 1975 as a concert performer, she was ready for an entirely new career, and the world — especially the world of New York cabaret — was more than willing to embrace her, and never let her go.
The Southern-born Barbara Cook died last week, age 89, in Manhattan, the city that had defined and deified her, and which she had come to represent at its best, in terms of talent, class, commitment to excellence, and a survivor’s instinct both elegant and gritty. And the loss of her was — and remains — a palpable thing.
To have seen her at any point in her career was a thrill. But it is unquestionably agreed upon that once free of musical comedy plots and costume changes and words that were not hers, she flowered. Her voice, that warm clear soprano, took on new shadings, more potency, more power to interpret, and a passionate poignancy. (Prepare to be emotionally demolished, for example, by Cook’s renditions of Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” and “In Buddy’s Eyes.”)
If you’re not familiar with Cook or you wish to become reacquainted, you might begin with her famous 1975 Carnegie Hall concert (somewhat hard to find, now). Or the equally famous return to that spot in 2001 for “Barbara Cook Sings Mostly Sondheim.” There was no area of the Great American Songbook in which Cook could not excel, and bring fresh quality and nuance. That she was an exceptional actress only enhanced her work as a singer. She inhabited each song, sometimes with deceptive ease. Like Ella and Frank and Doris Day and Bing Crosby, Cook’s voice could flow so easily and effortlessly, at its peak, that one might underestimate the art and soul.
I must also recommend two marvelous tributes that appeared in print about Miss Cook on August 8th. Stephen Holden in The New York Times and Charles McNulty in the L.A. Times.
Much better than we can, these articles truly salute what Barbara Cook conveyed with her beautiful voice and her great heart.
THIS ‘N That:
… ”AH, yes, the sterling Krystle!” In almost every episode of TV’s epic eye-shadow and shoulder-pad saga, “Dynasty,” Joan Collins, as Alexis Carrington Colby, etc, would make some sort of wisecrack, playing on the name of her nemesis, Linda Evans (aka Krystle Jennings Carrington).
Those were the good old days when “Dynasty” ruled on Wednesday nights and much of America — and the world — would come to halt for “dinner and Dynasty.” (This sounded even better in Britain, where it was pronounced “dinner and Dinasty.”)
Well, if you’ve a hankering for the over-stuffed 1980’s exemplified in “Dynasty,” be aware that CBS Home Entertainment and Paramount Home Video are releasing “Dynasty: The Complete Series” on October 10th. All nine seasons, 57 discs, 220 episodes.
Sure, the final three or four seasons lost steam — thanks in part to ABC launching the almost-equally-delicious (if unsuccessful) “The Colbys” off of “Dynasty’s” Nolan Miller-clad back. Still, there was always fun to be had. Joan Collins, in particular, managed to the end to make her mantra to John Forsythe — “I hate you Blake, and I’ll make you suffer no matter what!” — sound like she meant it.
The first four seasons, in particular, are high art in high camp with everybody either over or under acting hilariously.
Remember the eternally sullen Pamela Sue Martin as Fallon? Or the relentlessly slutty Sammy Jo, played with snarly abandon by Heather Locklear?
And of course, Diahann Carroll as Dominique Deveraux, “the first black bitch on television!” as Miss Carroll herself joyfully proclaimed. (In the first scene between Dominque and Alexis, Miss Deveraux shudders at Alexis’ offered goodies — the champagne “is burned … obviously frozen in the bottle at some point.” And the caviar? “This is Ossetra, and I prefer Petrossian Beluga.” No surprise that a few more episodes in they’d be slapping each other around.)
Sure there were men — Forsythe, John James, Al Corley and Jack Coleman as the often-gay-but-sometimes-not Steven Carrington. (Corley left after the first season, so the producers put the character in a fiery oil rig accident that returned him home, still very handsome and blonde, but looking entirely different in the person of Mr. Coleman. Back in those days, accidents didn’t disfigure, one just came back in an altered state of attractiveness.) And of course, there were all of Alexis’s lovers and husbands.
But the guys were just around as occasional eye candy and a respite from the phantasmagorical collection of silks, satins, beading and dead animals that were thrown at the ladies. (Especially Joan Collins, who bloomed under the excess — Collins never met a giant lynx collar, a turban, a Medusa-like wiggy wig or a carton of double-thick false eyelashes she could not wrestle to the floor and dominate, through sheer force of personality.)
I’m putting my order in now. I couldn’t possibly wait until October!
They say April is the cruelest month. Perhaps. But August is turning into the scariest. I need distraction.