Let Me Tell You What I Liked About Barbra Streisand: The Invited Dress Rehearsal

She's got 36 expressions.  She's the greatest star.

She’s got 36 expressions. She’s the greatest star.

As you know (unless you live under a rock on the moon) Barbra Streisand is doing her first concert tour since 2006.  And I saw the dress rehearsal.  And you guys, there was a lot to like, and I’m going to talk about it.  But first, here’s what this post ISN’T:

A review of this concert or really anything about the content.  I wouldn’t even try.

A biography of Ms. Streisand’s illustrious career.  I wouldn’t even try.

I write about what I liked about shows I’ve seen, and I leave all the snark and the reviewing and the history lessons to other people.

Let me start by telling you how I got into her rehearsal in the first place, which kicks off this season’s first episode of:

Let Me Tell You What I Liked About:

Barbra Streisand’s Back To Brooklyn Concert:  The Invited Dress Rehearsal

In the spirit of this blog post–which will be long because there was a lot to like–I just turned on the Barbra Streisand Pandora Channel and grabbed a snack, and you should too.  A knish or an egg cream is appropriate.

What I liked #1: How I was invited. Not just THAT I was invited, but the WAY I was invited, and then what happened.

In my typical, glamorous fashion, I was minding my own business one night, watching Parenthood and eating kettle corn in mismatched pajamas under a Snuggie, when I got an email.

Hi Friends,

If you are receiving this, I am cordially inviting you to a dress rehearsal for:

BARBRA-BACK TO BROOKLYN.

There was more to the e-mail but I’d had a heart attack and had to be revived to read the signature on the bottom:

xoxoxoxo Richard Jay-Alexander

I’ll talk about who Richard Jay is and how I know him in a second.

Back to me and my kettle corn…nothing, I repeat NOTHING, will make you feel fancy faster than getting an invitation to see Barbra Streisand–for free–in a rehearsal.  I mean, how many people were invited?  100?  10,000?  5?  Who knows.  Who cares!  According to the e-mail–which seriously read a lot like a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka–I was allowed to invite ONE person (NO MORE, DON’T EVEN ASK) and be in Philadelphia at Temple University’s Liacouras Center by 1:30 pm (NO ONE WILL BE ALLOWED IN LATE).

Ahhh!  So excited!  Before you could even say “Evergreen” I’d fired back an email that said “YES!!!  WHEATLEY +1 WILL BE THERE”

I was going.  For sure.  Now to figure out who my plus one would be.  I mean, Charlie Buckett had 4 bedridden grand parents and a mother to choose from, but the clear winner was the grandfather who sprung from the bed and did a dance.  Should I audition people to go?  Should I accept bribes? All I knew is that I immediately felt compelled to take a Barbra Streisand “super fan”; some one hard core who maybe had slept in a tent to see her in Central Park a bajillion years ago.  Because, and full disclosure here, I did not grow up a Barbra Streisand super fan.  Don’t get me wrong, I have the red and black deluxe DVD box set–I sang “Evergreen” at my cousins wedding–it’s not that I don’t like and appreciate her, but with Barbra there are those people who hyperventilate at the mention of her name.  I am close to being super fan of Bette Midler.  I understand the difference.  It seemed to me that since I wasn’t a Barbra super fan, I should give a super fan the chance to go.  Someone who knew every word to Yentl, Prince Of Tides and Funny Girl.

Or

Should I invite my husband?

Well, clearly I had to invite my husband, right?  I figured he’d say he had to work and couldn’t go, and then I’d figure out what friend of mine was the best candidate…..but then I got a text back from my husband, “Cool!!”  He was going.  And you know, in that second I realized that my husband was better than a super fan because this way I wouldn’t have to worry about my +1 storming the stage and mortifying me.  Much better.

We drove to Philadelphia on a beautiful Friday, parked and got in line at the stadium at Temple University, which is where she was rehearsing (side note:  She was playing the 11,000 seat Wells Fargo Arena but rehearsing at the 10,000 seat Liacouras Center.)   Sizing up the length of the line to get in,  more than five golden tickets were given away.  The crowd was a funny mix of people who’d driven down from New York and local Philly residents; by the time we reached the front I’d made friends with a woman who was the head of the Temple University Law School Alumni Association and was invited because she was a large donor to the University.

The way it worked, you walked up to a table and they checked you in from a list at the door.  We reached the front by 1:20pm.  No problem.

Problem.

My name wasn’t on the list.

Shit.

Here’s the thing.  I totally understood how it could happen.  I’d fired an e-mail back within seconds of getting the invitation and my guess was that it had gotten lost in Richard Jay’s e-mail box.  I should have followed up with him, and I hadn’t.

At this point, I had two choices.

1)  Go home.

2)  Talk my way in.

Because I’ll tell you what wasn’t a choice: texting Richard Jay-Alexander, the co-director of this concert, who was knee deep in preparations for this concert and most likely WITH Barbra Streisand at that very moment.  NO WAY was I going to be that girl who sent the text, : Hey Richard, uh, my name isn’t on the list.  Can you stop what you are doing and come get me in?

No way.

Instead, I pulled out the e-mail I’d printed out just in case something like this happened–yes that very same Golden Ticket e-mail–showed it to them, name dropped, and voila.  Between an extra ticket provided by my new best lawyer friend in line, and a little sweet talking for the other ticket–we were in.

Whew.  Seriously. I was in and RJA (Richard Jay) was none the wiser.

What I Liked #2:  We were in the 10th row in folding chairs.  I know this because I did that tacky thing where I stood up and counted with my finger 7-8-9-10.  Ten!  Ten rows back!  There were video monitors, but baby, we weren’t going to need them.  We could see her loud and clear.  To give you a picture, the arena we were in seats about 10,000 people and for this rehearsal they put folding chairs on the floor and a smattering of people sat in the closest section of stadium seating.  I don’t know how many people were there, but our best guest-imate is about 500?  To give you an idea of how close we were, I saw Katie Couric’s tweet from her Barbara seat at her Brooklyn concert and we were closer than Katie Couric.  Wait, I’ll try to find the picture.  Hold on.  Restock on snacks.  Order in Chinese (that’s what I did and that was Barbra and her team’s celebration dinner after rehearsal.)

Found it.

Photo credit Katie Couric.

Photo credit Katie Couric.  We were closer, just sayin.

What I liked #3:  Richard Jay-Alexander’s pre-show speech.  Okay, here’s the part where I’ll tell you who he is and how I know him, but if you’ve read my post about Kristin Chenoweth, you already know.  Richard Jay, or RJA was my director for Les Miserables and he gave me my first big show-biz break.  He is also a great advocate of my book (and is in it).  Most recently he hired me to work on Kristin Chenoweth’s concert tour.  He’s champion of mine from way back, and he is kind to me–and this was a very unexpected surprise.  Anyway, Richard Jay is the co-director (along with Barbra herself) and he jumped onstage to remind us just exactly how lucky we all were to be there (that isn’t what he said) and he kept thanking us for coming, “About 10 of us have been trying to make her feel like she’s in a full arena, so we are so glad you are here!”  He also gave us a big talking to about putting all turned off cell phones away “not on vibrate, not out at all.  If we see it we will escort you out.” You set those rules, RJA.  I loved it.

So, needless to say, I have no pictures of the event at all.

What I Liked #4:  She made us wait.  The diva of all diva’s made us all wait for her to be ready.  I LOVED it. (Seriously).  We probably waited…I don’t know…45 minutes?  While we waited we people watched and tried to figure out who was who.  My sighting of the day is also:

What I Liked #5: Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway were directly across the aisle from us.  Who are they?  Shame.  Okay, here is a little history lesson.  But then come back.  Okay, so anyway, Rob and I were trying to figure out why they were there, and Nina Hennessey (former CATS cast and friend of RJA) told me that Liz Callaway is Barbra Streisand’s stand in.  She rehearses the band and does the rehearsals so Barbra can watch and rest her voice.  Apparently, Liz also travels with the tour and does the sound check for Barbra.  WHAT???  I love it so much.  I had no idea.  It’s the little things, people, they make me so excited and feel show-biz insidery.  Seriously, I could have watched Liz Callaway do sound check and felt like the trip to Philly was worth it.

But then Barbra Streisand came out.

Okay.

She’s awesome.

And she looks great.

so

What I liked #6 (has to be): Seeing Barbra Streisand in person (duh)

but even more

What I liked #7: Seeing Barbra Striesand in person and  in rehearsal.  Why?  Because she was a person and not the legend.  She was there to get work done–like getting the tech stuff right–and she wasn’t there to try to live up to expectations that come with paying hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for the ticket.  We got a FANTASTIC 3-hour polished show for free, but (for me, speaking as an actress/singer) the best moments were when she was rehearsing.

Highlights include:

1)  Right from the top, a giant scrim was supposed to drop for her entrance and it didn’t go.  We got to listen to Richard Jay and the tech team working it out, knowing Barbra was waiting to make her entrance.  Just like in every tech rehearsal every actor from community theater to Broadway, to being Barbra Streisand, if the tech doesn’t work, you have to wait for it to be fixed.  She waited, we waited, they got it to work, we burst into applause, and out she came.

2)  In the middle of a song she said, “This stool needs to be higher” without missing a beat.  Here’s the thing.  She was totally NOT a diva about it.  Seriously.  It was just a fact and she said it because she didn’t want to forget.  I guess I’d heard she has a reputation for being controlling, but I’ll tell you, I thought she was astoundingly calm, cool and collected.  She was funny.  She never, ever gave any attitude or was anything but gracious, even if she screwed something up–which she did occasionally (and side bar, we’d know immediately when it happened because Liz Callaway’s hands would immediately fly to her face in alarm–which was so cute)–although she only went back and did a song over once.  She did apologize for messing up the finale, which was totally not noticeable unless you were the conductor, the band or any of the other singers….but we couldn’t tell!

3)  My favorite moment:  She didn’t make a costume change and rode up in the elevator still snapping her cuffs and saying, “Well that didn’t work”  and “We need good old fashioned hooks and eyes on this ladies.” She explained that she was going to “put a little curl in her hair” and other things, but that would all have to be cut.  She also forgot to strike a sequined cape she’d worn and eventually a stage hand who’d come out to set another stool ended up helping her with her cuff and striking the cape in the dark.  Such small things, but I absolutely loved seeing it all–what worked–what didn’t work–and how completely normal she was through all of it.

What I Liked #8: Seeing Barbra Streisand as a Mom.  As has been widely reported, her son Jason Gould sings in her concert.  The dress rehearsal was the very first time:

a)  They had ever sung together in public.

and

b)  The very first time Jason had ever sung in public.  Like, ever.

Here’s what was great–she was nervous for him and kept telling us he’d woken up with a cold and telling him to drink tea–and it was adorable.  The great news, he can really, really sing.  It was terrific fun to see that moment because, come on, the guy has been sitting on this voice for 45 years and we heard the moment he let it fly for his Mom.  Fabulous.

What I Liked #9:  Hearing Barbra Streisand talk–about anything (I loved all the patter)–but especially about her performance anxiety.  It was absolutely inspiring to hear her honestly talk about forgetting her lyrics in Central Park and how it caused a 27 year hiatus from singing in public (27 years!) and her journey back to the stage. Obviously using teleprompters helps with the lyric anxiety, but it was the deeper conversation about how could she ever live up to her own hype that was most fascinating and thought provoking and so human.  At the end of the day, she is the consummate professional.  A 70-year-old woman who doesn’t have to perform live anymore, but she does it for her fans and she does it beautifully.

Many thanks to RJA for the experience.

Me and Richard Jay-Alexander.

Me and Richard Jay-Alexander.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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5 Responses to Let Me Tell You What I Liked About Barbra Streisand: The Invited Dress Rehearsal

  1. Luisa says:

    GREAT post! Thank you for sharing this story. As an actor and singer I have recently started suffering performance anxiety, and being reminded that even the greatest go through it is phenomenally reassuring! :)

  2. S.Marc Jordan says:

    Re: Performance anxiety————–Al Jolson, who was considered the Ham of all Hams, had a vomit bucket in both wings and he used them before he went on every night………….and I'm probably the only one you've ever heard of who saw him in his last B'way show ("Hold On To Your Hats" — co- starring Martha Raye).
    P.S. I was 9.

  3. Amanda says:

    Hooray!!!

  4. Allison Waldman says:

    Great story and insights. Thank you for sharing. I saw both shows in Brooklyn and she was amazing. RJ has done a helluva job.

  5. Thanks,for this wonderful story.there is so many untrue stories out there,about this woman.she will never be able to correct it.i know so many people ,when they hear i like Barbra,the first comment is usualy ”The Diva”,negative meant.only people who really try do know The truth about her and not Reading all this …..lies,are able to look deeper,and recognize what for a very special lady she is,,with an amazing soul

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