Tickets to see Barbra Streisand live are notoriously expensive, but there’s now another way to see Babs in concert.
That’s because New York-based singer, actor and writer Steven Brinberg is bringing his Simply Barbra show to Toronto for the first time. “Some say it’s Barbra at prices you can afford,” he jokes, while on the phone with the The CJN.
In it, Brinberg becomes Barbra and performs some of her greatest hits, including People and The Way We Were.
Unlike other such performances, Brinberg’s not lip-syncing; he actually belts out Barbra’s notoriously difficult repertoire. And while Simply Barbra is a comedy, Brinberg thinks it toes the line between satire and a tribute.
“I like to say I’m not in drag, I’m in costume. It’s totally clean, you can take a child to see it,” he says. “And I’m just playing her as a character, I’m not making fun of her.”
Brinberg’s great love is music, but he didn’t realize he could sing until he was in college. However, he realized he had a knack for voices at a young age and used to get in trouble for imitating his teachers.
He started performing Simply Barbra back in 1993 after doing a Babs impression as part of another act. A club owner, he recalls, suggested he do a full-on Streisand show.
His initial four-night run at Manhattan’s Don’t Tell Mama cabaret turned into a four-year stay and over the past 24 years, he’s brought Simply Barbra to 35 states and eight different countries.
Despite being a lifelong Streisand fan and her pre-eminent impersonator, he’s never performed for her. Although her managers did ask him to sing – in costume – at Donna Karan’s (Streisand’s best friend) 60th birthday party in 2008.
To get into character, Brinberg dons full makeup as well as long stick-on fingernails. He knows they’re essential for completing his transformation from a regular guy to the glamorous musical icon who will turn 75 this year.
“I could do the show I think in a tuxedo and just nails,” he says. “The nails are so descriptive.”
While Brinberg, who also toured with the late Marvin Hamlisch for 12 years, lost count of how many times he’s done Simply Barbra, he says he never tires of it, largely because of Streisand’s incredible catalogue of music.
He does a few other impressions in the show – including Cher and Katharine Hepburn – but he always brings it back to Streisand.
“I can do Cher I think as well as I do Barbra,” he says. “But I couldn’t see doing a whole Cher show because I would have to do all those silly dance songs.”
Part of his affinity for Streisand comes from their joint heritage. They’re both lifelong New Yorkers. He even sees a familial resemblance.
“I have a photo of my grandfather’s sister and she looks so much like Barbra’s mother, like they could have been sisters,” he says.
Regardless of the connection, after performing as her for nearly a quarter of a century, Brinberg is quite simply Barbra.
Simply Barbra runs until April 9 at the Zion Cultural Centre. For tickets call 416-755-1717 or visit www.musictheatretoronto.com