It’s a bit of a giveaway, really, calling a show Liza Pulman Sings Streisand – lo and behold, Liza “lie-sah not lee-sah” Pulman does sing Streisand, and quite a lot of it, though as she points out, there’s no point even attempting to go through the entire back catalogue – there’s simply volumes and volumes of Barbra Streisand’s recordings over half a century. And she’s still going: a new album, not discussed in this show, is to be released soon, called ‘Walls’, which will include a mashup of ‘Imagine’ and ‘What A Wonderful World’, the former made famous by John Lennon, the latter made famous by Louis Armstrong.
But this production is about looking back, and there are plenty of references to Streisand’s younger years, including stories about when she hit the big time playing Fanny Brice in the Broadway production of Funny Girl, and even earlier than that, an appearance on ‘The Judy Garland Show’, where Garland had, apparently, graciously welcomed Streisand and palpably recognised that this was a singer and performer on the ascendancy. The show begins and ends with iconic songs, ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and ‘People’ respectively. In between are many other songs, including ones I’d not come across before, and one or two that I hadn’t previously associated with Streisand, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?’ being a case in point.
It is a celebration – to call it a ‘tribute’ would be most inappropriate – of a successful American, but done in a very British, understated manner – there is no set to speak of, and no attempt at trying to emulate Streisand (for there is only one Barbra Streisand, y’see). There isn’t even a wig. The six-piece on-stage band, led by musical director Joseph Atkins, are a well-drilled outfit, and this is a slick production: the interactions and asides are evidently well-rehearsed (why not give every audience pretty much the same level of banter?).
A nice balance is struck between educating (for want of a better word) the generalists (like yours truly) who are of course somewhat familiar with Streisand, and maintaining interest amongst what might be called ‘specialists’ but are probably best called ‘fans’ or ‘supporters’. Pulman does so wonderfully, mostly (if not entirely) because Streisand’s fan base can never hear certain anecdotes enough times.
Part of the appeal for this production is the alternative musical arrangements, giving some well-known tracks a fresh twist. And Pulman’s voice is in fine form, and though she deems her training to be an opera singer to be a “waste of time”, it must have been of some benefit even if her days of raising her voice unamplified above an orchestra are behind her. Careful, as though this were a broadcast of the BBC’s ‘Elaine Paige on Sunday’ radio programme, to namecheck composers and lyricists of each song, Pulman is clearly enjoying herself, and the show is a pleasure and delight to witness.
There will, as Pulman acknowledges, be those who might come away a little disappointed that a particular tune in the Streisand repertoire wasn’t included in the line-up. But what is served up is a broad selection of songs that captures versatility and emotional depth in equal measure. Standing ovations are getting more common these days, such that they are starting to lose their previous impact, but this one was truly deserved. An engaging and entertaining show from beginning to end.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Acclaimed singer and comedienne Liza Pulman celebrates the legend of Barbra Streisand with her fabulous band, in this hugely successful and critically lauded five-star triumph.
Having played to packed houses across the country and two sell-out performances at Wilton’s Music Hall, Fascinating Aida’s Liza Pulman squeezes history, warmth and humour into this ‘world class show’ (Encore Radio).
Alongside her musical director Joseph Atkins, Liza ‘bewitches us with sheer vocal virtuosity and emotional expression’ (British Theatre), bringing not only her exceptional voice and compelling storytelling, but her own personal slant on Streisand’s life and music.
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand at 7.30pm on 15th October at The Other Palace Theatre, London
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand
The Other Palace
Sunday 28th October & Sunday 11th November 2019