A Guy and His Dolls
BY Brandon Voss
July 30 2009 12:00 AM ET
What's your earliest Barbra memory?My family belonged to the Columbia Record Club, and one day the Funny Girl Broadway cast album showed up. I was 10 years old and doing my homework when I heard "Cornet Man," and I'm like, "Who the hell is that?" So I looked, and it said "Barbra Streisand," and I remember thinking, Oh, there's an a missing in her name! And that's what started the whole thing. But I've never read one of her biographies or any of that because it doesn't inform what I do. Like when I met Bette, she couldn't believe I hadn't seen Beaches. I've worked with Bernadette since 1985 and I've never seen The Jerk. I don't have that part of the gene -- the hunger for the whole library -- but I know what I know. And with any great star, you get all the information you need from them.
How would Barbra feel about you fraternizing and singing with famed Barbra drag impersonator Steven Brinberg?Oh, she knows all about it. Donna Karan was having a birthday party this past year and Barbra couldn't make it from the West Coast, so I got an odd call from Marty Erlichman, her manager, saying, "Barbra wants you to hire a Barbra impersonator and go to the party to mingle around the crowd so people think it's her." So I called Barbra at home, and I asked, "What kind of assignment is this?" She said, Richard, "I can't make it, but I don't want to let Donna down." I said, "These Barbra drag queens look like 'Funny Girl Barbra,' or 'Clear Day Barbra.' Nobody looks like you, so they can't just go mingle." She said, "No, no, I want them to perform!" I said, "Oh, well, that's a different story." I told her about Steven Brinberg, who I've known forever. So she and Marty hired him, Barbra actually wrote dialogue for Steven, and Donna's people even got some of Barbra's clothes out of a warehouse. The party was at Sandy Gallin's apartment on the night of the Sarah Palin debates, and Steven sang a few songs as Barbra, including the funniest version of "Kids" from Bye Bye Birdie because of Palin's kids. He was hilarious. I told Barbra, "You were a big hit and you don't even have jet lag." [ Laughs ] So yes, she knows about him and she knows I've sung with him. But I sing with the real Barbra all the time. I'm telling you this and I know it's surreal.
Openly gay film directors Todd Holland and Don Roos recently advised gay actors to stay in the closet at Outfest. Do you see the closet as a necessary evil?I don't see being gay killing anybody's career anymore. Look at Neil Patrick Harris. But I don't think it's about denial; I think it's more about finances and the people handling their careers. I guess if people want to be managed, they have to do what the managers say. But the young people today feel fearless. I taught a master class recently at UCLA, and there was this young kid who celebrated the fact that he was clearly gay with this hilarious song and monologue claiming he was gay, and I just thought, God, how fantastic is that? It's just a different time now. See, it's never enough at the time, but it keeps getting better and better. Young people today aren't worried like I was about being called a fag -- when you hadn't even acted on your sexuality yet, and you were too young to even know what it was, but that's how you were perceived. Growing up, I would say, "I'm going to go work on Broadway." And the other kids would make fun of me and say, "Oh, Dickie's going to work on Broadway!" Sure, now you go home and they want to throw you a parade, but is there satisfaction in that? Not really, because the pain never goes away.
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