Sheldon Harnick, Barbara Cook



by: Sandi Durell

JKC_151025_0571 Adams

Lee Adams

The National Arts Club was filled with supporters, fans and friends of Encompass New Opera Theatre on October 25th as they honored Tony nominated Barbara Cook, legendary soprano and leading Broadway star, on her 88th Birthday, and Lee Adams, a wordsmith and journalist whose lyric writing hobby led to “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1960 and two Tony Awards (Birdie and Applause) with collaborator Charles Strouse, sitting front and center.

Encompass Artistic Director Nancy Rhodes was all aglow (as she should be) along with Michael Kerker, both producers of the evening’s stellar entertainment. Midge Woolsey (Thirteen/WNET and WQXR Radio) was among the hosts as one after another star-studded performances amazed an eager audience. Jason Graae, currently touring his Jerry Herman show, flew in for the occasion opening with “Applause” (Alex Rybeck-piano), adding his clever humor, charm and impersonations of a multitude of famous personalities, as he kept the audience in stitches. The lovely Karen Ziemba sweetly sang “How Lovely to Be a Woman (Birdie);” Marc Kudisch credits Adams and Strouse for his start in the business, having played the role of Birdie and, with guitar in hand, and backups from Jered Egan on bass and Alex Mandell on Cajon, offered up “One Last Kiss.”

With Jon Weber on piano, KT Sullivan sang a beautiful rendition of “One Halloween/But Alive” (Applause) followed by Karen Mason (Chris Denny – piano) and a dramatic, powerful “Lorna’s Year”/”I Wanna Be With You” (Golden Boy) telling Lee Adams how she loved that “big ugly guy” lyric. Lovely Penny Fuller presented a complete vignette in “Welcome to the Theatre” (Applause). It was then time for Charles Strouse to say a few words, sit down at the piano to sing and play “Put On A Happy Face” (Birdie) and the well-known theme song from “All in the Family.” He also gave insight into a new musical he’s working on based on Marty with a song entitled “My Star.”

Lee Adams accepted his Award, offering up some information about critics and how they killed Birdie – especially Brooks Atkinson from the NY Times – when it opened, but it not only survived and got a Tony Award in 1960, but is still going strong.

After this first half of the program dedicated to Lee Adams, it was time to introduce the performers for a tribute to a happy looking Barbara Cook, and hear songs from her repertoire beginning with her co-star in Sondheim on Sondheim, Erin Mackey with “This is All Very New to Me” (Plain and Fancy), followed by the incomparable Rebecca Luker who said she was cast right out of college, and singing “My White Knight” (The Music Man). Malcolm Gets sat down at the piano to play and sing “Another Hundred People”/”So Many People” (Company).

With some poignant words and thoughts from Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic), praising Charles Strouse and Sheldon Harnick as game-changers, he introduced the 91 year old Mr. Harnick (who now has three shows in revival “Rothschild & Sons,” “Fiddler on the Roof” with “She Loves Me” due in 2016). A lifelong friend of Ms. Cook’s, he had written a parody to “She Loves Me” praising her negcromancy (magic). Amanda McBroom said that her self penned song “Errol Flynn” was the first of her songs that Barbara Cook ever sang, as she offered up the telling tale.

David Zippel reintroduced Jason Graae who sang the witty “The Ingenue” – a song Zippel (lyrics) had written with Wally Harper (music). Harper was Barbara Cook’s long time accompanist. Samantha Britt, a stunning soprano from Encompass, sang an expressive homage from Candide “Glitter and Be Gay.”  Once again, Rebecca Luker returned with Broadway’s 12th Phantom, Ted Keegan, to offer up “Two Many Mornings” (Follies). Beth Ertz was music director/pianist for the evening unless otherwise indicated.

This was a night that will long be remembered saluting two of the American Musical Theater’s great luminaries!

Photos: JK Clarke

Montage by: Sandi Durell