From Jon Nakagawa, Lincoln Center’s Director of Contemporary Programs (American Songbook, White Light Festival, Mostly Mozart Festival)
I, of course, love Sondheim and this is one of his iconic songs. However, Sondheim (or for that matter any composer, but especially Sondheim) is only as good as the person singing the song and Barbara Cook was the best. I first heard her perform this song at the Café Carlyle and, while I’d seen Follies and heard the song before, I’d never really heard it until then. The song sprung to life right before me.
Cook and Sondheim tell the story of someone losing their mind, but not to something nefarious, to love. Her interpretation of this song brings out all its nuances both lyrically and melodically, which is incredibly difficult. It’s walking that edge between being a crazy, loony showstopper of a song and the humanity, ecstasy, and pathos of being in love. Barbara Cook excels at this as do Sutton Foster and Audra McDonald, who are now charged with carrying on Barbara’s spirit—wonderful actresses and superlative musicians who can really understand all the different layers of Sondheim’s music, lyrics, and characters.