“Streisand: The Greatest Star”
Laurie Beechman Theatre – July 11, 18, 25
If you, like me, long ago grew tired of men in drag lip-synching to Barbra Streisand records and calling that an impersonation, have I got a girl for you. A Real Live Girl.
Carla DelVillaggio, an RLG based in Florida, made her New York debut this month in a tri-partite show about Streisand, and she was sensational. Not only can DelVillaggio look enough like Streisand, up to her nose and wig, to pull it off, she has the mannerisms and accent down pat. She uses Barbra’s arrangements and even some of her dresses, to the point that if the star were dead, you’d swear DelVillaggio was channeling her. (Don’t expect any reinterpretation or insight—that’s hardly the point of this tribute.) And anyone who can sing the wide-ranging Streisand songbook this well certainly has a terrific voice of her own. I can’t wait to see her in a cabaret as herself.
It takes three sets of almost two hours apiece (with intermission) to cover Streisand’s 50-year career with any sense of completeness. Each of DelVillaggio’s three evenings had a theme. The first, subtitled “Barbra: The Way She Was,” was concentrated solidly in the 1960s, when Streisand was in her 20s and at her most natural and charming. Appropriately, DelVillaggio’s only accompaniment for this segment was the subtle piano of Rich Siegel. Their satisfying collaborations included faithful recreations of such early Streisand chestnuts as “Second Hand Rose” (James F. Hanley, Grant Clarke), Fred Fisher and Billy Rose’s “I’d Rather Be Blue Over You (Than Be Happy with Somebody Else),” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner), and Milton Schafer and Ira Levin’s “He Touched Me.”
The second evening, “Streisand Songbird: Memories,” was largely devoted to her disparate and sometimes debatable output in the 1970s and 80s, including “The Way We Were” (Marvin Hamlisch, Alan and Marilyn Bergman), “Evergreen” (the Oscar-winning melody she wrote with Paul Williams lyrics for her version of A Star Is Born), “Stoney End” (Laura Nyro), “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” from Yentl (Michel Legrand, the Bergmans), and Bruce Roberts and Paul Jabara’s “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” her 1979 hit duet with Donna Summer. For this middle section of the triad, which I did not see, pianist Rich Siegel was joined by Eliot Zigmund on drums and Bob Renino on bass. Fortunately, this trio remained in place to back up week three, with rich results.
“Hello Gorgeous! Barbra—Back to Broadway,” the finale set, found “Barbra” at age 70, looking back on her own Main Stem career (with a couple of movie versions thrown in) and her recordings of musical theatre songs made famous by others. DelVillaggio sang three Stephen Sondheim songs: “Send in the Clowns”; “Children Will Listen” as part of a medley with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific; and “Somewhere” (Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim, from West Side Story). She reached way back to her own debut showstopper, Harold Rome’s “Miss Marmelstein” from I Can Get it For You Wholesale, and even further back to her favorite audition song, “Sleepin’ Bee” (Harold Arlen, Truman Capote, from House of Flowers). Abetted by her backup trio, a Hello Dolly! (Jerry Herman) medley and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl (Jule Styne, Bob Merrill) were particular knockouts. Enough audience members knew “Miss Marmelstein” well enough from the 1962 musical to chime in with the echo “Miss Marmelstein”s, uninvited and at the appropriate times, but not enough people remembered it well enough to make it quite the show-stopper for Carla it had been for Barbra.
“Don’t Rain on My Parade” was one of four selections from Funny Girl (stage or screen version) to appear in all three evenings. The others were the title song from the movie; the Fanny Brice signature song that was interpolated into the film, “My Man” (Channing Pollock, Maurice Yvain, Albert Willemetz, Jacques Charles); and, of course, “People.” These were all as astonishingly affecting as Streisand’s own renditions. Also included in all three sets was a funny send-up of the 1964 Streisand/Judy Garland television duet of Milton Ager and Jack Yellen’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Get Happy” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler), with “Barbra” singing live and “Judy” chiming in from a screen above the stage. The many audience members who had seen two or even all three of the evenings didn’t seem to mind these reprises, and certainly neither did I.
DelVillaggio here was self-directed, and sometimes her between-songs chat seemed a little silly, and occasionally redundant. A director might tighten that a bit for future engagements. Also, while the 15-minute intermission in each evening may be understandable (the Beechman wants to sell more drinks and food and DelVaggio wants to change clothes), it does break the rhythm of what is, after all, a cabaret act and not a theatrical piece. Still, it’s a pleasure to say “Hello, Carla,” and please hurry back here where you belong: on a New York nightclub stage.
About the Author
Robert Windeler is the author of 18 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.