He’s performed his one (wo)man show Simply Barbra around the world for well over a decade now, but for New York cabaret performer Steven Brinberg, the biggest honour came when the lady herself — Barbra Streisand — asked him to fill in for her.
The occasion was Streisand’s friend Donna Karan’s 2008 60th birthday party. The singer couldn’t attend, so she asked Brinberg to don his Babs wig and go in her place.
“Barbra basically directed my performance through someone else — she sent messages about what to sing, what to wear and what to say to Donna. If she came to see the show, I think she’d actually enjoy herself.
“She’s got a few years on me, so as long as I continue to do her, I’ll always be that much younger, therefore making her look that much younger,” Brinberg laughed.
That’s about as pointed as the humour gets in Simply Barbra, which is very much a love letter to the performer Brinberg has idolised since he was a little boy.
“I couldn’t imagine spending all this time in someone else’s skin if I didn’t like them, or if they were in some way unworthy,” he reasoned.
“Imagine a Paris Hilton concert, for example. That’d be a really short show! But Barbra’s done so much — 19 movies and 50 albums — that there’s so much material to work with.
“And she’s not just a great talent — she’s a great character to play. The nicest thing anyone ever said to me after a show was ‘I’ve hated her for 20 years — until tonight’.”
Even more impressive than his physical likeness to Streisand is Brinberg’s uncanny vocal mimicking.
“Cher’s easy, Liza’s kinda difficult, and Bette Midler’s really hard — I can’t seem to do her. But Barbra’s difficult because even if you can sound like her, sustaining that sound is tricky.
“My voice is naturally low so when I sing like Barbra, I’m really doing two things at once. I’m feeling the song as any performer does, but I’m also listening to myself the entire time so I don’t drop out of that sound.”
‘That sound’ will guide audiences through a veritable Barbra Streisand greatest hits collection, including Brinberg’s signature piece, a solo take on she and Neil Diamond’s 1978 duet You Don’t Bring Me Flowers in which he sings both male and female parts.
“And while this will be his third Simply Barbra Australian tour, Brinberg said audiences could expect to hear an up-to-the-minute show based in part on Streisand’s own life as she enters her 70th year.
“Anyone who’s seen me before will see a lot of different things this time. I’m constantly updating. Whatever happens to her makes it into the show, sometimes only hours after I hear about it.
“She’s still so busy now, and as long as she’s busy, I’m busy.”
INFO: Simply Barbra, Slide (Syd) June 20 – 22, Chapel off Chapel (Melb) June 28 – 30 and Riverside Theatre (Syd) July 6.