Streisand illusionists Jim Bailey and Steven Brinberg relive their most memorable brushes with Barbra.
In the last week of September, New York City again became Streis-Land as Her Divinity blessed the great unwashed with two final concerts at Madison Square Garden. I'm proud to say that I'm as big a Barbra fan as anyone; I went down the Stoney End with her and had the poster hanging from my adolescent bedroom walls to prove it. (Why do I always tell the truth?) But I'm wondering: Has anyone besides me noticed that Streisand is seemingly retiring from something she doesn't really do? Two concert tours in 30 years? She must be exhausted!
Anyway, all of the hoopla had me reminiscing about the first time I saw her perform live, here in Manhattan, during her 1994 tour. I was lucky enough to be invited by Liza Minnelli, so we had fairly good seats--front row, to be precise. There I was, seated with Liza, Jerome Robbins, Harry Belafonte, Amy Irving, Peter Jennings, and a terrifyingly weepy Richard Simmons in a puff-painted vest. The concert was truly splendid. Except for the much-maligned teleprompters teleprompting every lyric and "ad-lib" that came out of our funny gal, it was one of the most thrilling evenings I've spent.
After the show, Liza and company were schlepped backstage and invited into an all-white holding tank that was done up with miles of white fabric, candles, and columns. Imagine if Monticello had a locker room. (This was Madison Square Garden, don't forget.) Within moments, a door opened and she entered, making a beeline for Liza. This was it. My big moment. When I was introduced, I mumbled pathetically about the show being "great...really great." Barbra must have felt sorry for me, because she instantly softened and said, "I saw you out there smiling that big smile. It made me feel like I was doing OK." Well, that was it. For the rest of the night, every time she happened to look anywhere within fifty yards of me, I grinned like some kind of crazed Osmond, hoping she might smile her crooked smile again just for me. Instead, she began to look rather alarmed, clearly glad that there was enough security on hand to protect a small third-world country (or even Leonardo DeCaprio).
Recently, I talked with two performers who have built their careers out of a careful and precise study of some of our most glamorous superstars, and whose takes on Streisand are as different as black and white. Jim Bailey's illusion is dead-on perfect; he's the way she is. (Barbra herself was even in on the joke when she hired Bailey to perform at one of her private parties and no one caught on.) Steven Brinberg, on the other hand, has created an entirely new Streisand. His Simply Barbrais certainly based on a fantastic impression, but is hilariously funny and bitchy in the way we wish she was!
WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE BRUSH WITH BARBRA?
(Touring the world with his illusions of Streisand, Garland, and more; upcoming winter dates in NYC to be announced soon)
"I had just made an appearance on The Carol Burnett Show and had performed as Barbra. Of course, Barbra heard about it and got nervous. Since she was at CBS at the time, she pulled some strings and got a tape of the show before it aired. I heard that she liked it. A few months later, we were all at the Golden Globes and Carol introduced me to her. It was a big mob scene with all the photographers, so we couldn't really stand and have a conversation. She was being pulled away, but she said, 'You wear too much lip gloss!' And I said, 'You don't wear enough!' That was it!
"A few years ago, she wanted to pull a joke on her friends, so she invited me to her home to sing as 'Barbra!' She hid in the back of the room so nobody could see her. The audience bought it, too! The funny thing was that Carol Burnett was there, and saw Barbra peeking out from behind a drape, so she knew it was me all along. After I sang, Barbra was the first one up to give me a standing ovation."
(upcoming performance as Simply Barbra with Marvin Hamlisch and the Washington Symphony at Kennedy Center, and solo shows in NYC at Arci's Place)
"In 1986, I was lucky enough to attend her One Voice concert at the theater she built in her back yard. Even back then, she was talking about how much she didn't like singing live. I guess singing a foot away from her house made it easier.
"Only 500 people were in the audience. We all met at the Malibu Community Center and boarded vans with blacked-out windows so we couldn't see where we were going! Everyone was served dinner on her tennis court, then we were allowed to stroll the property, but if anyone was caught looking in windows they were politely asked to stop. Since I was a kid, I got away with murder and peeked in to see where she shot the Lazy Afternoon album cover. Robin Williams opened for her, and then she appeared. It was so weird sitting there and thinking, 'Wow! That's really her. It's not just a record!'
"It was such a special thing seeing her right there in her house--well, near her house. I kept thinking of all the I Love Lucy antics I could pull. I thought maybe I could faint and they would carry me into the house; then she'd come sing to me and wake me up. That did not happen."
Click here to visit Jim Caruso's website.