There's something about divas that mere mortals can't quite grasp. Maybe it's the unconventional beauty, the chameleonlike reinvention, or the notoriously inflated ego. Like other divas who go by one name -- Cher, Liza, and Madonna -- Barbra is in a league of her own. She stays in the public consciousness whether she's being revered or mocked, unafraid to milk her popularity for all it's worth. (Tickets to her supposed "farewell" concerts reached a whopping $1,000 per show -- not bad for a working-class gal from Brooklyn.)
No one does Swan Lake like Babs in the 1968 musical Funny
Steven Brinberg sharpens his claws -- or more accurately, his press-on
nails -- in his cabaret homage to Streisand, Simply Barbra -- The New
Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.,
Sundays at 2 p.m. (through Sept.
screens Friday through Thursday, Aug.
31-Sept. 6, at 1, 4:15, and 8 p.m. at the
Castro Theater, 429 Castro (at Market),
Admission is $4.50-7.50
New Conservatory Theater Center, 25
Van Ness (at Market), S.F.
What is it about this funny girl that still manages to fascinate audiences? Steven Brinberg should know: He's the cream of the crop in Streisand "interpreters," as he likes to call his job. He's been doing Babs for over eight years in his Simply Barbra cabaret shows. Praised by critics as almost better than the real thing, Brinberg's certainly cheaper. He may pull out all the stops, donning Lee Press-On Nails and a bobbed wig, but his shtick is more than visual illusion. He's got the nasal inflections, breathy vocals, and prickly asides down cold -- "I'm both a singer and an actress. But I really prefer to be known as Barbra Streisand." In other words, Brinberg hits his Babs right on the nose.
Even if you caught his act in 1999 at Piaf's, the new show is worth seeing. Brinberg pores over the headlines, culling the latest news and gossip about Streisand. Simply Barbra -- The New Farewell Tour incorporates choice standards selected from Babs' voluminous oeuvre -- "On a Clear Day," "Memories," "Yentl" -- plus spoofs like "In Buddy's Eyes" rewritten as "In Brolin's Eyes." Although the show is parody as well as homage, Brinberg endeavors to present a "more down-to-earth Barbra, the way you wish she still was."
The Streisand lovefest continues with the digitally remastered rerelease of her most memorable movie, Funny Girl, the 1968 musical co-starring Omar Sharif, which earned Streisand her first Academy Award. The new print will be shown in a "road show" format, complete with soundtrack overture, intermission, and exit music. Even if you're not a Streisand fan, it's a trip to see Babs in a role she was born to play -- the vaudeville comedienne Fanny Brice, whose fairy tale transformation from a Jewish blue-collar girl to the star of the Ziegfeld Follies eerily mirrored Streisand's own meteoric rise (minus the gambler husband sent off to the big house). Streisand's performance of her signature song, "People," and the emotionally overwrought and slightly cheesy "My Man" are reminders of what good musicals are all about. Drag queens in search of inspiration need look no further than the Swan Lake parody, in which Streisand masters a perky pirouette -- a prime example that a true diva does everything it takes to get to the top.