Barbara Carole Sickmen
The Society of Composers & Lyricists mourns the passing of our friend and colleague, Barbara Carole Sickmen, lyricist, composer, and playwright, who died peacefully on April 18, 2022, at her home in Manhattan. She was 78 years of age.
Born on May 21, 1943, to Gussie and Sidney Emansky, she grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. She was always musical, showing promise at an early age as a singer and pianist on her family’s Knabe upright piano. She was also a talented writer, winning a prestigious Emma Lazarus Award for her poem about the Statue of Liberty while in grade school. At age 15, her beautiful singing voice landed her a recording contract with Jubilee Records. Her song, “All I Want for Christmas is a Steady Eddie,” received a B+ rating in Cashbox Magazine, the leading industry magazine. She appeared on American Bandstand and in the Catskills at prominent hotels such as The Concord and Brown’s, opening for celebrated performers including Eddie Fisher, Alan King, Jerry Vale, and Buddy Hackett.
When she was 16, and a student at George Wingate High School, she met 18-year-old Ron Sickmen at the home of family friends. Within minutes, the two were playing a duet on the piano, something they continued for 62 years. On May 25, 2022, the couple would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.
After graduating from high school, she attended The Fashion Institute of Technology and worked as a designer of women’s evening gowns. She and her husband, an attorney, moved to Long Island in 1971 to raise their two children, Jeff and Elisa. In between PTA meetings and shuttling her children to cub scout activities, dance recitals, religious school, and ice skating lessons, Ms. Sickmen wrote plays and lyrics and composed music. In the 1980s, Ms. Sickmen wrote the book, lyrics, and music for a play inspired by Alice in Wonderland for Kids for Kids, a Long Island-based theater company. The musical. The New Adventures of Alice was a critical success. Another musical, The Prince of Poland, for which she was the playwright, lyricist, and composer, was accepted for a regional presentation at Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Ms. Sickmen attended Stony Brook University, earning a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts. While studying for a master’s degree, she worked as a teaching assistant for theater legends John Houseman and Martin Gottfried.
A longtime member of the Dramatists Guild, ASCAP, and Women in Theater, Ms. Sickmen worked with many celebrated members of the theatrical musical community. In 2009, when The Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts was seeking a dramatic stage musical based on the life of the iconic closeted gay entertainer, requesting that Liberace’s lifelong desire for privacy be respected, it asked Ms. Sickmen to submit a concept. When her portrayal of Liberace as “an entertainer who happened to be gay,” was accepted, Ms. Sickmen was lauded by the Foundation chairman as “a gift to the gay community.” She then approached two-time Tony Award-nominated book writer, Roger O. Hirson (Pippin), to write the book. Initially, Mr. Hirson resisted the offer, stating he had no interest in writing a conventional book musical. After Ms. Sickmen added two characters, gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, to the story, Mr. Hirson finally agreed to write the book. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Sickmen asked her colleague, Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line), to write the score. Although he was committed to several other projects, he and Ms. Sickmen met often to discuss her project’s musical structure. He’d often request that she show him a few bars of “dummy music” to see what she had in mind in terms of tempo and form while writing the lyrics. When he complimented her on a “dummy” melody, she’d say, “But Marvin, it’s only a dummy melody,” to which Mr. Hamlisch would reply, “It’s not so dumb.” Following Hamlisch’s untimely death, Ms. Sickmen assumed the writing of the score for Ben, Virginia & Me: The Liberace Musical using her “dummy melodies.” In the summer of 2017, the musical was presented with favorable reviews at The New York Musical Festival at the Off-Broadway Acorn Theatre on 42nd Street in New York.
Passionate about Broadway and all things musical, Ms. Sickmen was a longtime supporter of the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, where she and her husband, a member of the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, enjoyed spending summers aboard their yacht, “Fair Trial.”
Ms. Sickmen’s greatest love was her family. She is survived by her husband, her son Jeff, her daughter Elisa, her son-in-law Brian Zied, and her grandchildren, Spencer and Eli Zied.