San Francisco Pride, in its 45th year, is upon us, and Barbra Streisand is celebrating the 51st anniversary of her appearance on Broadway in Funny Girl.
What a match made in heaven, right? The gays and Barbra hitting milestone after milestone together. So, it seems fitting that during Pride weekend (June 27-28), San Francisco gays will be blessed with a little Barbra, or a facsimile of a little Barbra at Feinstein’s at the Nikko. To be exact, it’s Simply Barbra with Steven Brinberg, who has become the premiere Barbra Streisand impersonator after embarking on a career of portraying Barbra on stages across the world since the early 90’s.
Brinberg’s transformation into Streisand is rather uncanny, both physically and vocally. Over the past 10 years, Brinberg has become internationally known, performing Simply Barbra in England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Thailand, Spain, Mexico and Canada in more cities than even Barbra Streisand herself has performed. On U.S. soil, Steven has been able to transform into Barbra on stages that are very familiar to the icon herself, with performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, and Broadway.
Being a fan of Barbra Streisand for years has made Steven quite the walking Barbra encyclopedia, thus giving his Simply Barbra shows an authentication sometimes lacking in performances by celebrity impersonators. It’s one thing to be Barbra on stage, but Brinberg can conduct interviews as Barbra off stage with extreme, informative accuracy. I had a chance to talk with Steven Brinberg about his life as Barbra Streisand, and how being Barbra is someone he is “simply” meant to be.
BeBe: It’s been since the early 90’s since you started doing Simply Barbra? Steven Brinberg: Yes, my first show was at the end of 1993, and then I started doing the shows (regularly). And literally, when I started doing the shows, Barbra Streisand started doing concerts again, which she hadn’t done in 25 years. So, my show is always changing because she has kept feeding my show. Whenever something new happens in her life, it goes right into my show.
Well, you must have a direct news feed into Barbra’s life, because I have seen several interviews of you in which you are interviewed as Barbra Streisand and your answers are spot on and current. Not so much. I have just been a fan my whole life. I could seriously answer some questions about her that she couldn’t answer. I also have a good sense of how she would respond to things; like if she got a question she didn’t like and what she would say (to that). I am just in tune with her personality at this point. It’s funny, but someone once asked me to write Barbra’s autobiography in my voice as Barbra. I don’t think I could legally get away with that, but I suppose I could write an autobiography of my life as Barbra.
Have you ever responded to any questions about her son (Jason Gould) being gay? I usually don’t say anything about that in the show because it’s almost like everybody knows, except maybe someone in the middle of Ohio. They might be clueless. I try not to do anything that would annoy her.
You started as a kid doing voices, but when did you decide to go from simply a voice impersonator to a full-on Barbra Streisand impersonator? It took a long time because I could do the voice since I was in high school, but I didn’t start singing until I was in college. And even then, I was just singing as myself, in my own voice, which is deeper. But once I started singing and doing theater as myself, I would do voices in my shows where I would do Barbra Streisand, Cher, Julie Andrews, and Lena Horne. But then I just started doing the Barbra thing, and now I have done it in more places than she has done for considerably less money! <laughs>
Has Barbra been in one of your audiences? No, but she knows about me because I toured for years with Marvin Hamlisch, and Barbra’s manager hired me to do Donna Karan’s birthday when Barbra couldn’t make it. I went and sang at the party. She knows I don’t cross my eyes; I’m not cruel. I think she would like me as a person because I’d probably remind her of her son or somebody in her family, as she reminds me of my Mom or my Aunt.
What was it like working with Barbra’s good friend, the late Marvin Hamlisch? That had to be as close to working with Barbra as you could get. Oh yes, literally like a heartbeat away. What is kind of spooky is I had gone to Nashville where his new musical was trying out, and he wasn’t there, which I thought strange. So, a couple days later I left him a phone message about how much I loved the show, how I saw he wasn’t there, and said I hoped he was okay. And two days later, he passed away. And then, Barbra left him a message, and his wife said two of the last messages left for him were from Barbra and me. So, that’s another thing we have in common: our love for Marvin, which I would love to talk about with her someday.
Another thing I noticed that caught my attention is that your initials, S.B., are the reverse of Barbra’s, B.S. That includes the middle initial, too! I’m S.J.B. and she’s B.J. (Joan) S. Super spooky! She is into stuff like that. <laughs> I think she might like knowing that.
And the title “Simply Barbra is Steven Brinberg” features the same initials. The one who should get credit for that, believe it or not, was Sandra Bernhard. In her first big show, she talks about going to see Barbra in New York in Funny Girl, and she says back then she was “simply Barbra.” That just stuck in my head.
Not that you have made this distinction, but I know others have distinguished what you do from drag. You have said, however, that you think some people skip your show because they have a different idea of what it may be. Yes, there’s still drag phobia I find, even though we have come so far in the world. There are a lot of drag performers, and they are hilarious – don’t get me wrong – but they are raunchy and sometimes hostile to the audience, but that’s a part of the show. I enjoy those shows as much as anybody. But what I’m doing is much more in the line of what you had in the 1960’s with Charles Pierce and Jim Bailey. I would have done great in the age of Ed Sullivan and Merv Griffin. Somebody said that I’m not in drag, I’m in costume. But I say, I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me. <laughs> It’s all entertainment. Barbra Streisand has done an extremely great job of keeping her voice intact. She sounds just as good today as she did 40 years ago.
How do you feel your voice is going to hold up for you? Well, Barbra doesn’t smoke or drink and I don’t either. And I try to get enough rest. I’m just hoping for the best. I can still sing in the key that she used to. I can sing higher than she does now because, for me, the best place for doing her voice is how she sounded in the 70’s. I will always be that much younger than her so when she is 100, I’ll sound like she does now.
Steven, did you just throw some shade on Barbra!? (after some laughter) Think about it. Judy Garland is still popular and relevant after so many years that she has been gone (46 years) and Barbra is still here. She will be relevant after I’m gone.
If it hadn’t been for Barbra Streisand impersonation that you have been able to build a career on, what other person do you think you would have been the next likely person for you to impersonate in a career? I think the other voice that I do as well as Barbra is Cher. The reason I have never done a whole Cher show is because of the necessary physicality. You’d need a million costumes. And, a lot of Cher’s music collection is dance heavy. I’m still thinking one day of doing a show of Cher Singing Broadway with Cher singing standards. She has said several times that she would love to go to Carnegie Hall and just sing standards. I also love Liza Minnelli, but I haven’t quite gotten her voice down. But, I think Barbra’s the one I’m meant to be. I still enjoy doing her. It never gets old.
Steven Brinberg brings Simply Barbra to Feinstein’s at the Nikko for two-shows June 27 & June 28. For tickets www.ticketweb.com