Published 12:01 pm, Friday, November 20, 2009
Patricia Hemenway Cook, 59, who made the quantum leap from the Cabaret Theatre at Sacred Heart University to starring in "Evita" on Broadway and in the national touring company, died Nov. 17, 2009, at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, after a long illness.
The wife of C. Donald Cook, she resided in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport.
Several family members considered her the "Auntie Mame" of the Hemenway clan. Hemenway Cook's involvement with the theater was nearly life-long, punctuated by starring roles everywhere from the living room in the family home on Round Hill Drive in Fairfield, to Broadway. She studied dance under Irene Comer, a noted area instructor, and performed in recitals at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport.
Two decades later, when she starred as Eva Peron on Broadway, the white dress she wore for a balcony scene reminded her of a similar gown worn when she played Cinderella in a grade school production at St. Thomas School in Fairfield. At Roger Ludlowe High School, she was cast as Daisy Mae in Li'l Abner and as Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore, but those were mere stepping stones.
As a Sacred Heart University undergraduate, Hemenway Cook was among a handful of students (and a faculty member, Claude McNeal) who founded the Cabaret Theatre in 1970. After earning a bachelor's degree in English in 1972, she continued to perform at the cabaret, both on campus and, later, following its move to downtown Bridgeport in 1976. Combining social commentary with satire, the troupe performed 17 original musicals in four and one-half years.
After a summer at the Candlewood Playhouse, she made a career move to New York City. Within a year, after signing with an agent and gigs at the Little Hippodrome and on the TV soap, The Doctors, she found herself auditioning for the national tour of Evita. Among those who would decide her future was none other than Hal Prince, the musical's Tony Award-winning director, a man whose catalog of credits includes Cabaret, Damn Yankees and Fiddler on the Roof. Hemenway Cook once recalled how nervous she felt prior to the audition. "I stopped at St. Patrick's and said my prayers. Then they warned me that `he will most likely stop you. But that won't mean anything -- he's pressed for time.' "
Prince liked what he heard. Not only did he allow her to perform the entire rendition of "Rainbow High," but he asked her to sing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," "Buenos Aires" and other show-stoppers. The following morning, she was awakened by a telephone call informing her that she had not one but two parts in the show -- an aristocrat in the evening performances and the starring role of Evita in the matinees. Her rise in Evita was rapid. The road show sold out the 5,000-seat Masonic Temple in Detroit in its debut, and was a smash in Cleveland, Baltimore, Atlanta, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Within months, she was called to New York to star as Eva Peron in the Broadway production's matinee performances and play an aristocrat in the evening shows.
After more rave reviews, she was elevated to the lead role in the evening. Remembering those not-so-distant yesterdays, she said that it was "easier to perform Evita six nights a week instead of twice. Your voice found its comfort place with the score. You're so energized. The role is so challenging. I was constantly changing and improving it."
Struck by spinal meningitis and hospitalized in 1983, Hemenway Cook had time to rethink her theatrical career and assess her life. She enrolled in a course at Fairfield University, where she became the school's assistant director of special events. It was there that she met Don Cook, then the Stags' director of athletics. They were married on June 17, 1988.
During the late 1980s, Hemenway Cook returned to Evita briefly and performed with an international company in Geneva, Switzerland. A decade later, she added "entrepreneur" to her list of credits when she formed Hemenway Productions LLC. Her company presented the highly acclaimed Missoula Children's Theatre Camp at five locations in Fairfield County, including her alma mater's then-new William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center. The latter site was doubly apropos: Don Cook was now the director of athletics at Sacred Heart.
"I can't say I struggled," she once said. "I certainly had a Cinderella story."
In addition to her husband of 21 years, she is survived by two step-children, Christopher Cook and his wife, Camilla of Norwalk, and Dr. Courtney Stephenson and her husband, Dr. Stephen Stephenson of Charlotte, N.C.; and two step-grandchildren, George and Julianna Stephenson of Charlotte, N.C. She is also survived by two sisters, Betsy Redgate and her husband, Thomas of Fairfield, and Catherine Stone of Fairfield; a brother, Dr. Charles G. "Jerry" Hemenway Jr. and his wife, Carol of Fairfield; nieces, Cara Redgate, Mary Stone Creecy (Channing), Molly Hemenway and Sarah Lally (Bob); nephews, Patrick Redgate, Brendan Stone (Miyuki) and Charles Hemenway III (Tricia); and grand-nieces and grand-nephews, Matthew and Claire Lally, Kai Charles Stone and Charles, Benjamin and Elizabeth Hemenway.
Other survivors include a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Patricia Alice Cook and Don Harrison; their daughters, Rachel Harrison Anderson (Jeffrey), Erin Elizabeth Harrison French (Gregory) and Alexis P. Harrison; and their grandchildren, Lauren French and Luke Anderson, all of Fairfield.
She was predeceased by her parents, Charles and Margaret E. "Betty" Hemenway, and a nephew, Thomas Redgate Jr. A Mass of Christian burial will take place on Saturday, Nov. 21, at 11 a.m., in St. Anthony of Padua Church, 149 South Pine Creek Road, Fairfield, with the Rev. John P. Baran officiating. Interment will be private in Oak Lawn Cemetery.
Friends may greet the family on today, Nov. 20, from 4 to 8 p.m., in the Redgate-Hennessy Funeral Home, located at the corner of Main Street and Gorham Place in Trumbull.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in her memory to Sacred Heart University General Scholarship Fund, c/o Office of Annual Giving, 5151 Park Ave., Fairfield, CT 06825.
To send online condolence, visit www.redgatehennessy.com