Though not as old as Barbara, I was in my young prime when she was not only a lovely performer, but still mobile enough to be considered perfect for the lead in my then brand-new musical, now called SYLVIA WHO? by my actual producer, a (I thought) lovely man who rejoiced in its being all the work of one person, and introduced me to the audience at his backer's audition as the three people who wrote book, music and lyrics. Anyway, he went to New York to see Barbara who had to go Christmas shopping, so would not commit.
The long list of disappointments and abandonment that transpired after that-- none of his previous backers would come back, as he had been a bit of a scoundrel, robbing Peter to pay Paul, or in his case, Richard(Harris) to support Rex (Harrison,) will make for a fine tale of unthwarted resolve, should it ever come together. After that there were no more major supporters, except for my friends the Temples who loved it and came through with financing for the recording Rosemary Clooney did of the score-- her participation was in exchange for sandwiches for the musicians, because she, too, great generous spirit, thought it "what people needed to hear... They're just waiting for this." And of course they still are.
Anyway last night I went to see Barbara, whom I had seen in The Music Man when she was still adorable, that being the musical that most heartens me since it took Meredith Wilson more than fifteen years to get it on, which record I have since long exceeded. But the good news is that the only great thing about our economy is it's right for the musical-- makes it all make perfect sense. So maybe everything is a question of timing.
My take on the audience-- chock-a-block, not a spare seat in the whole many tiers of that great auditorium-- is that they both grieved for her loss(she apparently had one great love, which is more than a lot of people had, as I had) and supported her gain, the weight that would, of course, make it impossible even if she were still young to do a demanding musical, which SYLVIA WHO? certainly is. Her voice continues to be wonderful, and except for one ill-chosen (and not very good) song about how she loves to eat, the songs she sang were great.
Most moving was "If I Love Again," which really tore me apart though by that number I had waxed cynical, and her dismissal of Cole Porter had antagonized me, as he would have been a very good friend of mine, had I ever met him, as I did have the good fortune to do with Frank Loesser and Yip Harburg, both of whom were kind enough to endorse me as a talent. And I do, after all, have the same birthday as Irving Berlin, which I always considered validation from the universe.
But in any case, as I left after her last number and a standing ovation from the audience, and walked up the aisle, I noted one woman's face that was wracked with pain and adoration, as she was obviously torn apart by worship and the bond of lost something, love, maybe, youth, aspiration. Right after that, as i reached the last row and started to exit the hall, a musician came in named Pete Pizzi-something to give Cook the honor Bloomberg had accorded her, making her a living landmark of New York, and then lowered the level of the tribute by bringing on his wife to sing a song, which I could feel even that far away from the stage really must have pissed Barbara off. After all, it was her evening, and for him to capitalize on that audience to get a hearing for his wife was pushy and inappropriate. In my opinion, anyway, which grows stronger every day as I worry over a country that could be stupid enough to vote for Mitt. Oh, well-- that's show business.