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Barbara Cook brings tuneful act to Flushing

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Legendary Broadway actress Barbara Cook continues to serenade audiences with her silvery soprano well into her sixth decade of performing, and has no plans of stopping. “Retire? Retire to what?” Cook said. “I love singing. And as long as I can do it, I will.”

Cook brings her act to the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College Saturday for an evening of tunes from Broadway and the great American song book.

“They are mostly popular songs,” Cook said. “I’ll be doing ‘I Remember You,’ ‘I’ve Got the World on a String’ and ‘Glory of Love.’ You know the one that goes, you’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little, until the clouds roll by a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”

Cook had the world on a string in 1948 when she moved to New York City from her native Atlanta. She yearned to sing on Broadway, even though she had never seen a live theatrical performance before.

“It was from the movies,” Cook said. “I wanted to do shows with music, just like in all the movies I’d seen.”

It was not too long before Cook was on stage singing “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” as Ado Annie in the 1951 City Center’s revival of “Oklahoma!”

She returned to City Center in 1954 for another Rodgers and Hammerstein revival, playing Carrie Pipperidge in “Carousel.” This led to the role of Cunegonde in Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” in 1956.

“Candide” was not a commercial success when it debuted, but Cook earned a lot of buzz from her show-stopping rendition of “Glitter and Be Gay.” It was also the part that branded her Broadway’s queen of the ingenues — a title she characterized as dubious at best.

“Yes, I’ve always been called an ingenue, but you know I did not play ingenue roles,” Cook said. “That was just something that was hanged on me.”

The following year, she created the iconic role of Marian the librarian in “The Music Man,” opposite Robert Preston. One could argue that Marian was an ingenue, but she is constantly being reminded that, at least by turn-of-the-20th-century standards, she was an old maid.

One of her favorite roles was most definitely not an ingenue but rather a widow with a young son in the 1960 City Center revival of “The King and I,” co-starring Farley Granger.

“It was a beautiful production at City Center,” Cook said. “I just loved it. We were not the likely people to be cast in it.”

In between musicals, she stepped into a couple of non-singing roles in straight plays, including the female lead, Patsy Newquist, in Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders.”

“It was a good role,” Cook said. “People got to see me do something besides sing.”

The black comedy set in the bad old days of 1960s New York City involves a series of murders and ends with a trio of characters shooting a rifle at pedestrians from the window of Patsy’s apartment.

Although the show barely lasted a week on Broadway, it later became a smash hit during an Off-Broadway revival a few years later.

At 86, Cook admits her days of eight performances a week are behind here.

“It would just be too difficult to go through the rehearsals,” she said.

But that doesn’t keep her off the stage completely. She has regularly gigs at spots around the city, including 54 Below, and on the road, like Saturday’s show in Flushing. “I do find a lot of concert work,” she said.

If you Go

Barbara Cook

When: Saturday, May 10, at 8 pm

Where: Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing

Cost: $45 - $69

Contact: (718) 793-8080

Website: www.kupferbergcenter.org

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