Barbara Cook

Pages from the Arts: March 2017

In this month's review of books about performing arts and artists, Cathy Ritchie checks out Barbara Cook's memoir, a history of the Bolshoi Ballet, and a helpful primer on classical music.

published Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Editor's note: In Pages from the Arts, we'll review books that relate to what we cover on the site: theater, opera, classical music, dance, comedy, spoken word and film/TV with a stage connection. Look for our opinions on biographies, memoirs, histories, work about practice and theory, coffee table books and other tomes. These will be curated and mostly written by contributor Cathy Ritchie, Acquisitions Librarian at the Dallas Public Library. Ritchie also reviews books for the websites of the Dallas Public Library, Theatre Library Association, and the American Library Association’s GLBT Round Table, plus other publications.

Pages from the Arts will also include reviews from other TheaterJones contributors, and we encourage our readers to suggest and submit reviews, too. If you're reading a newish (let's say less than a year old) book that falls into a performing arts category, email editor Mark Lowry at and let him know you'd be interested in reviewing it. If you have written or contributed to a book that fits the mission, let him know that too, especially if there is a North Texas connection.

If the book is currently available at the Dallas Public Library, we'll offer that information.

In this edition of Pages from the Arts, Ritchie reviews a memoir from Broadway legend Barbara Cook, a history of the Bolshoi Ballet, and a helpful primer on classical music.


Photo: Mike Martin
Barbara Cook


Then & Now: A Memoir

Barbara Cook with Tom Santopietro

HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

ISBN 978-0-06-209046-1

237 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public Library: CLICK HERE



Barbara Cook turns 90 this year. This genuine “living legend” has contributed to and witnessed more than six decades of Broadway history, while also experiencing a personal history rich with marriage, motherhood, addiction, health challenges and occasional struggles simply to survive, not to mention a glorious late-in-life professional resurrection. Thanks to this forthright and engrossing memoir, fortunate fans and readers can experience the still-vital marvel that is both the living and legendary Barbara Cook.

She was born in 1927 Atlanta, enduring childhood sadness with the death of a younger sister and the departure of her adored father when Cook was only six. But Cook’s constant urge to perform led to tap dance lessons and singing at local events as a teenager, while working in offices for pay. When 20-year-old Barbara and her mother visited New York City, Mrs. Cook’s daughter decided to stay, for a try at show business.

In the early 1950s, Cook performed at the Tamiment summer resort in the Poconos where she met her “first and only husband” David LeGrant, a comedian and director. In 1951, Barbara Cook debuted on Broadway in the unique Harburg/Fain musical Flahooley.

Gradually, Cook forged her own stage singing style. She starred in Albert Hague’s Plain and Fancy in 1955 and then astounded audiences the following year with Leonard Bernstein’s Candide and the beyond-demanding Cunegonde aria “Glitter and Be Gay”; Cook compares her preparation for that role to “training for a sporting event”.

Along came The Music Man and onstage romance with Robert Preston, who became a beloved friend. For her “Marian the Librarian,” Barbara Cook won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Cook’s most glorious personal moment arrived with the birth of her only child Adam in 1959, though her marriage to David LeGrant eventually deteriorated.

After The Music Man and divorce, Cook moved on to the 1963 Sheldon Harnick charmer She Loves Me and a revival of The King and I, which she declares to be her “favorite and best performance”. However, her days soon darkened, due to panic attacks, excessive drinking, and continued weight gain. As her problems intensified, work became elusive.

But in the mid-1970s, after years of struggle finally leading to healthier choices and separation from alcohol, Barbara Cook found new inspiration on the cabaret stage and in the recording studio, after joining forces with Wally Harper, her accompanist and musical director extraordinaire. Since Harper’s death in 2004, Cook has continued to move audiences with her heartfelt song interpretations, eventually returning to Broadway in 2010’s Sondheim on Sondheim.

Cook tells her story with conversational honesty, while recalling experiences with fellow legends Oscar Hammerstein, Leonard Bernstein, Jack Cassidy, Elaine Stritch, Maureen Stapleton, Robert Preston, Stephen Sondheim, and Mary Martin.

In her final pages, Cook reflects on her evolving approach to performing the Great American Songbook—for example, the Rodgers and Hart classic “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”: “I recorded it in the 1950s, and while my voice was fine, I can sing it now with so much more feeling and drama, for one reason: I’ve lived.”




Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today

Simon Morrison

Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016

ISBN 9780871402967

512 pages

This book is available at the Dallas Public Library: CLICK HERE


On the evening of January 17, 2013, Sergey Filin, artistic director of the legendary Bolshoi Theater Ballet, was assaulted outside his Moscow apartment building by a man flinging battery acid in his face, blinding him in one eye. It was eventually revealed that Filin’s attacker was a hit man expressly hired by a Bolshoi dancer to injure him. The incident inspired worldwide headlines and artistic shock waves. Author Simon Morrison uses the crime as a jumping-off point for his massive history-cum-expose of the Bolshoi’s history and challenges, and its likely future.

The Bolshoi was born in the 1770’s, when dancers from a school run by a Moscow orphanage became part of a new theater company under the guidance of British  entrepreneur Michael Maddox. The group’s first century was hit-and-miss to an extent, but its fortunes and reputation improved when Alexander Gorsky became ballet master in 1900. The decades to come witnessed the creation or restaging of such classic works as Don Quixote, Swan Lake, and Giselle, helping the company rise to legendary status. As Morrison illustrates in copious detail, the Bolshoi’s history and development have been largely shaped by its choreographers, directors, and teachers.

Morrison recreates the company’s artistic and managerial struggles, while also examining the continual challenges posed to the troupe via the ebbs and flows of Russian history, e.g., the tsars, the Bolsheviks, Communism, Stalinism, and the Cold War, plus periodic creative censorship arising in those movements’ wakes. Along the way, readers learn as well about the hard-working, albeit frequently temperamental, performers who would represent the Bolshoi to the world at large. For example, Morrison devotes an entire chapter to the company’s greatest prima ballerina, the outspoken and flamboyant Maya Plisetskaya.

Balletomanes and Russian history aficionados will likely devour this book top to bottom, while general readers may find themselves “skimming” a bit, especially the sections devoted to the Bolshoi’s early years. But any skimming should be judicious, since Morrison offers fascinating stories and insights throughout his 500+ pages.

What keeps Bolshoi Confidential from becoming informationally burdensome is the author’s sprightly and entertaining authorial voice, punctuated with tongue periodically in cheek. By focusing to a large extent on the personalities of the company’s movers and shakers, while clearly interjecting the parent nation’s historical background as needed, Morrison keeps his epic tale valuable and involving, as reading audiences grab a glimpse behind the doors of a legendary arts institution.



Photo: University of Southern California
Robert Cutietta

Who Knew? Answers to Questions About Classical Music You Never Thought to Ask

Robert A. Cutietta

Oxford University Press, 2016

352 pp.

This book is available at the Dallas Public Library: CLICK HERE

$16.95 paperback | $8.79 for Kindle

Purchase on Amazon


Conventional wisdom says that each of us “learns something new every day.” Along those lines, I suspect even dedicated classical music fans and concertgoers will come away from this accessible, user-friendly book both enlightened and entertained. I know I did.

Author Cutietta, Dean of the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California and host of a weekly classical music Q&A radio program, shares actual questions from music-loving laypeople who have contacted him over the years. And his responses for this compilation are further bolstered by his consultations with professional performers and other music educators.

His chapter categories include “orchestras,” “composers,” “performers,” and “instruments,” along with a nod to “Opera and the Diva.” While Cutietta, perhaps unavoidably, now and then veers into heavier-duty music theory than some readers might find graspable, such instances are thankfully fleeting. The vast majority of this book’s sprightly content—despite some occasional unnecessary cutesiness—is easily browsed and absorbed, be it in small portions or large helpings.

Both solid and engrossing, this book is a sure bet towards keeping alive that old conventional wisdom.


» Pages from the Arts will appear on the second Wednesday of the month in TheaterJones. In upcoming editions, look for reviews of two new biographies of Van Cliburn, a biography of Gene Kelly, a beautiful tome about a current Broadway hit, and more.



  • February 2017: A Mary Martin biography, Joel Grey's autobiography, Jack Viertel's book about the structure of musicals, and a book about playwriting by T.J. Walsh of Trinity Shakespeare Festival
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Pages from the Arts: March 2017
In this month's review of books about performing arts and artists, Cathy Ritchie checks out Barbara Cook's memoir, a history of the Bolshoi Ballet, and a helpful primer on classical music.
by Cathy Ritchie

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