Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Her Name Is Barbra

In the early 1960s, my parents took their first trip to New York City.  My father was working his way up the corporate ladder at Lockheed, and he was beginning to travel for his job.  This was a rare occasion where he was invited to bring his wife along.  My folks were put up in a swanky hotel, and decided they must see a Broadway show.  This is not because my parents were great theatre buffs;  neither of them attended plays regularly, until I dragged them into the theatrical landscape years later.  But back then, if you were a tourist in New York, you went to see a Broadway show.  They had no clue which show to see, so they asked the doorman.

"You'll never get into Dolly," the concierge said, "but go down the street and see if you can get into that one."  My folks did as they were told, and walked down the street to the Winter Garden Theatre to see a play they had never heard of, about a performer they couldn't remember, starring a woman whose name they could not pronounce.
"Hello, Gorgeous"
It was 6 or 7 years later that my father first told me this story, of the night my parents lucked into seeing Barbra Streisand, on stage, playing Fanny Brice in the original Broadway production of Funny Girl. (I wrote of this story and others several years ago, when Streisand first graced the Dance Party.) 
In rehearsal for Broadway's
Funny Girl.

The show brought the star national attention, but even back then, her face and voice were not recognizable to the majority of the country.  She lost both her Tony bids, to Phyllis Newman and Carol Channing, and her national exposure was limited to occasional appearances on talk shows.

Based on her star turn in Funny Girl, CBS approached the young Streisand to star in her own TV special.  My Name Is Barbra was broadcast on April 28, 1965, and was such a success that the network signed her up for 4 more specials.
Barbra's TV specials were Emmy bait.

Streisand produced one special a year for the next three years, programs which were critical and popular smashes.  She won Emmy awards, and produced Grammy-award winning albums based on those specials.
A Happening In Central Park,
her first concert special, showcased a legend in the making.
Despite the stage fright which kept her off the concert stage for many years, Streisand is always at her best in front of an audience.
In 1968, Funny Girl the film turned Barbra into a superstar, and she lost interest in television. 
Produced solely to fulfill her CBS contract, her
1973 special was her least satisfying.

It was to be 6 years before she reluctantly produced the final TV special required by her CBS contract.  Her subsequent specials have tended to be "Making Of..." documentaries, or later, filmed versions of her concerts.  She will be remembered primarily for her film work, and for her phenomenal success in the recording studio, but it should be recognized that her first widespread, national fame was a result of these television specials.

This week's Dance Party comes from My Name Is Barbra, which introduced her to the country.  She is young and green, but her performance is focused, and she is showcased beautifully.  I am not a slavish devotee of Streisand, but I will submit that her voice, in its prime (such as in the clip below), is one of the preeminent musical instruments of the 20th century.
Hilarious moments, full-throated production
numbers, and a healthy mix of melodrama:
Funny Girl was the perfect vehicle to launch
a superstar.

The clip below contains a medley of several songs from the stage version of Funny Girl, as well as an early rendition of Fanny Brice's "My Man," which is not included in the stage show but became a highlight of the film.  As she has aged, Barbra's voice has deepened, and she no longer has the range she once had, but no one can fault her for that.  Streisand turned 70 years old this week, and in her honor, enjoy this clip from her glory days: