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Barbra Streisand enlists pal Melissa McCarthy, Anne Hathaway and others for Broadway album

Sometimes even Barbra Streisand needs a little help from her friends. The 74-year-old stage and screen legend decided early on that her 36th studio album would feature Broadway duets.

So she called on some of her friends and favorite actors, including Anne Hathaway, Daisy Ridley, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine and Bradley Cooper, to bring her vision to life.

The result, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, is a quirky mix of surprising and entertaining collaborations pulled from hit musicals like My Fair Lady and A Chorus Line, as well more obscure productions such as Evening Primrose and Smile.

Despite the group effort, the album is still authentically Streisand.

“Records I have control over,” said Streisand, who was hands-on with every aspect, from song conception to directing each performance.

“That’s what I cared about as a young performer as well. I didn’t know about what salary it was,” she recalled. “I cared about creative control. That nobody can tell me what to sing or force me to sing or album cover design or anything that had to do with my creativity. It had to feel right to me.”

In a recent interview at the oceanside Malibu, California, studio where she recorded Encore, Streisand delved into her directing process with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

 

BALDWIN CAME READY TO PLAY

Streisand admitted that some stars took a little persuading. Alec Baldwin, for example, feared he didn’t have the vocal chops.

“And I said, ‘You’re a personality and it’s perfect for the song,” she said of her early conversations with the 30 Rock actor. “Will you try with me? Because if it’s really terrible we won’t use it. Will you experiment with me? Will you play with me?”

Luckily he agreed and the outcome is the cheeky, romantic duet, “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened,” from Stephen Sondheim’s lesser-known musical, Road Show.

“It’s hard work getting the notes right for people who are not singers, but I know they can act their way through it. They’ll get it and that’s the fun of doing this kind of project,” Streisand said.

 

FUNNY GIRLS UNITE

Streisand wanted a new twist on the classic “Anything You Can Do,” from Broadway’s Annie Get Your Gun.

So the Funny Girl star tapped fellow funny lady Melissa McCarthy to reimagine the song as comedic banter between showbiz frenemies.

“When I approached Melissa, the first thing she said to me was ‘I can’t sing you know’ and so she’s a little bit tone deaf,” Streisand explained. “But she compensates with so much personality and so much laughter and so much spontaneity.”

Streisand recalled how McCarthy struggled to hit some of the notes, but other times she nailed it.

“There are moments she sings and I go, ‘Melissa that was fantastic! You sang that beautifully!’ And she surprises herself,” she said.

 

WILLY WONKA REIMAGINED

“When I was a child I had imagination. I lived in Brooklyn. You know, I slept in the living room. But I imagined myself as somebody, as having something worthwhile to be noticed and somehow I manifested it. So I know anything is possible,” said Streisand.

This was the idea behind her heartfelt duet, “Pure Imagination,” from the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Streisand teamed with actor-filmmaker Seth MacFarlane for the dreamy ballad and penned a spoken-word introduction about imagination she hoped will resonate with modern audiences.

“The divisiveness, the violence, these are very sad times,” she said. “I just believe in the power of whatever it is _ faith, prayer, visualization … who knows what that can manifest?”

 

FOXX FOR THE FINISH

Streisand had full confidence that Jaimie Foxx would rise to the challenge of performing one of Broadway’s most-beloved songs: “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music.

“I did because I saw him get an Academy Award for playing Ray Charles. So I know he can sing,” she said. “His soulfulness, his great voice …. he was able to sing it in one session, you know. I mean he’s that good. So I was thrilled. I was thrilled to sing with him.”

Streisand closes the album with the soulful, moving duet, which she said is about “having dreams and taking chances.”

“Step-by-step we will get there,” said Streisand of her approach to any obstacle. “We will climb that mountain. You have to have faith in today’s world. Don’t you?”

 

On the Web

http://encore.barbrastreisand.com/

Will women see a break in Hollywood’s ‘celluloid ceiling’?

“Well, the time has come,” announced presenter Barbra Streisand at the 2010 Oscars, revealing that Kathryn Bigelow had won the best director prize for “The Hurt Locker” — the first woman in history to win the award.

It was a watershed moment in Hollywood, and many were hopeful — if not certain — that it would usher in an era of increased opportunity for women directors.

Six years later, though, the slate of best-director nominees is all male, as it has been every year since Bigelow won.

In fact, women have been nominated only four times in the Oscars’ 88-year history.

“Of course, the ‘Bigelow effect’ never materialized,” says Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. The Center’s latest annual study found that women comprised just 9 percent of directors on the top 250 films in 2015, the same as in 1998. Studies have shown similar disproportion for women in other key behind-the-camera roles.

But is the tide turning?

While recent attention has focused intensely on the #OscarsSoWhite campaign sparked by the lack of racial diversity in the Oscar nominations, some women in Hollywood are heartened — albeit cautiously — by recent developments that should benefit women and minorities, both behind the camera and in front.

“What we’re seeing is an undercurrent of anger over the lack of inclusion in Hollywood,” says Janice Min, a veteran industry observer who oversees both The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. “That conversation can only have beneficial effects on women.”

Min notes that the recent focus on unequal pay for women — sparked by Patricia Arquette’s fiery Oscar speech last year, then intensified by high-profile comments from Jennifer Lawrence  — has for the moment receded from the spotlight amid questions of racial diversity. But it’s all part of the larger picture. “Yes, there will be some parts of the issue that will be resolved first, and some later,” she says. “But the fact that discussion is happening at all is stunning. It’s a real revolution in Hollywood.”

A few recent developments have provided cause for some hope. The first, of course, is the pledge by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to double the number of women and people of color among its membership ranks by 2020. There is also an EEOC investigation under way into possible discriminatory hiring practices of women directors, prompted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

More recently, Ryan Murphy, one of the more powerful figures in television, said he aims to have 50 percent of all director slots on his shows filled by women, people of color and members of the LGBT community. “I personally can do better,” he told the Hollywood Reporter.

Still, cautions Lauzen, there is a huge gap between talk and action.

“While it appears to be a step in the right direction, at this point it is just a promise,” she says of the Academy’s move. And of the EEOC investigation, she says, “any hiring goals that may result will need to be mandatory, and there will need to be significant oversight. That would be a tall order and a move without precedent in the film industry.”

Lauzen’s report, “The Celluloid Ceiling,” found that in 2015, women comprised 19 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 250 domestic grossing films — an increase of 2 percentage points from last year, and the same as in 2001.

It also found that women in certain roles more traditionally identified with males — such as directors and cinematographers _ increased steadily as more films (the top 500, say, instead of the top 100) were examined, suggesting that on the biggest-budget films, “hiring decisions for these roles may be most susceptible to mainstream film industry biases.”

A bright spot, Lauzen notes, is that films with at least one woman director also employ greater percentages of women in other roles. “On films with at least one female director, women comprised 53 percent of writers,” Lauzen says. On films with male directors, women accounted for only 10 percent of writers. Films with female directors and writers also tend to have higher percentages of female characters, and especially female protagonists. 

Some high-profile Hollywood actresses have found they needed to become producers themselves to get the substantive roles they desired. “I was seeing a deficit in leading roles for women,” Reese Witherspoon told The Associated Press in a 2014 interview. “It was just the lack of complex characters, of interesting, dynamic women onscreen.” Witherspoon has produced both “Gone Girl” and, starring herself, “Wild,” both films with complex female protagonists.

And Halle Berry said recently that she’d set up her own production company in 2014 partly because she had found it difficult, since becoming the first black best-actress Oscar winner in 2002, to find the right substantive roles.

Actresses of color face a tougher climb than anyone, says Chris Rock, who will host the Oscars on Sunday. “Black women get paid less than everybody in Hollywood,” he recently told Essence magazine. “Everybody’s talking about Jennifer Lawrence. Talk to Gabrielle Union … talk to Nia Long. Talk to Kerry Washington. They would love to get to Jennifer Lawrence’s place, or just be treated with the same amount of respect.”

What will it take to change?

Lauzen says the issue is the mindset at the top. “Many of those with the power to shift the gender ratios — executives at the film studios, and leaders at the academy and at guilds — have not perceived women’s under-employment as a problem. In other words, there has been little real will to change.”

Attorney Melissa Goodman of the ACLU of Southern California, which last May asked the EEOC to investigate studios’ “systemic failure to hire women directors,” says she is hopeful for change.

“I’m optimistic that with time, our most important cultural product — our films and television shows — will increasingly come to reflect the diversity and diversity in viewpoints in our society,” she says. “In the meantime, Hollywood decision-makers must remember that they do not get a free pass to discriminate and violate civil rights laws.”

As for Min, she notes that despite some evidence of “diversity fatigue” — people at lunches and dinners who are saying, “enough with all this already” — she still thinks things are looking up.  “In a world where it’s always been all talk and no action, it’s pretty stunning to see action being taken.”

Besides, even where intentions aren’t the best, there’s always the fear of shame to get things moving.

“One of the things you can count on in Hollywood is a climate of fear,” Min says. “People will be motivated by fear of being shamed.”

Male actor takes on famous lead role in ‘Hello Dolly’

A Boca Raton, Florida, production of Hello Dolly is breaking ground with a male actor taking on the iconic lead role made famous by Carol Channing and Barbra Streisand.

Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre had to get special permission from composer Jerry Herman. The Sun-Sentinel (http://tinyurl.com/ncy7cx2) reports it will be the first production in the U.S. where the role of Dolly Levi has been played by a man. Danny La Rue took on the role in England in 1982. This time around, Lee Roy Reams is stepping into the part.

Reams is friends with the composer, who lives in Miami Beach, and decided to pay him a visit to get his blessing. It might have helped that the theater had recently done two of Herman’s most popular shows — Mame and La Cage aux Folles.

Reams has also starred opposite Channing twice in the Tony-award winning show and has even directed it.

“I love this show,” Reams says. “It was my second show with Carol Channing. When I was in Lorelei with Carol we became close. When they were doing a revival she called me. That voice. She said, ‘Hello Lee Roy. It’s Carol.’ Like I didn’t know. She said, ‘Look, I want you to play Cornelius Hackl. The director doesn’t know you, so you have to audition. But don’t worry, you got the job.’ “

Channing also asked him to direct the last Broadway revival in 1994.

The musical, which has won 10 Tony Awards since debuting on Broadway in 1964, tells the story of a matchmaker who sweeps into the staid lives of a Yonkers store owner and his staff, as well as two ladies in a New York millinery. Streisand played Dolly in the 1969 movie version directed by Gene Kelly.

“You know David Merrick, the original producer, wanted Jack Benny to play Dolly and George Burns to play Horace Vandergelder (Dolly’s romantic lead). They turned him down. Then he wanted Liberace to play Dolly and he turned him down. The idea has always been there. It was just finding the producer brave enough to do it,” he said.

Reams credits Marilynn A. Wick, the theatre’s founder, for taking the risk. The show runs through Dec. 6.

“The atmosphere is prime. It’s time. People are no longer being told what they should play,” said Reams. “People can play all kinds of roles now, regardless (of) their sexual orientation or ethnicity. I think we’re all more open to that now.”

Q&A: Barbra Streisand, the feminist, sings on

Barbra Streisand’s new album of duets only includes male singers, but it wasn’t a conscious effort to exclude females.

“Everyone we asked was … busy,” Streisand said. The performer almost scored one major diva: Beyonce.

“She had her people try to do a track of one of the songs from my movie, ‘A Star is Born,’ and it just, we didn’t have the time to finish it, to get it right,” she said. “We had to release the album. Maybe someday we’ll do a duet because she’s so great.”

“Partners” features Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, John Legend and Babyface, who produced the album.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Streisand talked about music, directing, women’s right and politics.

AP: Would you do an album full of female duets next?

Streisand: (Pauses) Possibly. I loved singing with Celine (Dion) and Donna Summer.

AP: What was the energy like in the studio for you and your guests?

Streisand: We were all nervous. Everybody was saying to me, “I’m nervous singing with you!” And I said, “Whoops, I’m nervous singing with you.” …I love that kind of nervousness. You know something’s being done for posterity. I guess that’s why I like making movies, too, because it lasts.

AP: How have you maintained your voice over the years?

Streisand: I don’t drink. I don’t like the taste of liquor. I like beer sometimes. I can do half a shot of vodka with tonic, but it’s always like medicine to me, alcohol. I don’t drink wine even. Maybe that has something to do with it. I smoked when I was 10 years old, you know on the streets, on the rooftops in Brooklyn because my stepfather smoked … gave it up when I was 12.

AP: Was it weird singing along with Elvis Presley’s vocals on “Love Me Tender”?

Streisand: No, it just felt right. It felt natural. I met him. I talked to him. I wanted him for a movie.

AP: What movie?

Streisand: It was “A Star is Born” many, many years ago. His career was slightly in decline, he was overweight and I thought he was perfect to play that part. …It was fun to talk to him. He was talking about the process of how people don’t understand that you need time and quiet before you perform. And he was talking about a girl in his life who doesn’t understand that, and I said, “Oh you really have to explain that and tell her it’s not personal; it’s just that you need to be quiet before you go onstage.” But it was lovely to share these stories with each other.

AP: Are you planning to do more movies?

Streisand: I like directing. I’m planning to direct a move and also be in a couple of things maybe that I’ve meant to do over the years.

AP: Are you happy to see more female directors on the scene?

Streisand: Well, the problem is there aren’t more. I swear to God I read a survey a few months ago, like less than 6 percent of women are directing films today, and that was (the same as) in the time I did “Yentl.”

AP: Why do you think that is?

Streisand: I think women are still treated as second-class citizens. We still don’t get equal pay. Thank God I am in the music industry, so it’s a bit different, but I’m fortunate in that way. The average woman doesn’t get the same pay; she gets 77 cents on the dollar that a man gets. I’m so involved in women’s heart disease and trying to raise awareness and funds; Even in medical research, women are not treated equally. The research on women’s hearts is done in the last 50 years on men. …So since women are 51 percent of the population I think we should really have that represented in Congress as well.

AP: Speaking of politics, have you spoken to Hillary Clinton whether she’ll run for president?

Streisand: I would love her to run. I think we have advanced with Obama, and I think people are giving him a hard time, which is not fair because this Affordable Care Act is working and it’s going to help a lot of people. But it’s like Greek tragedy, you know, they always try to bring down the gods, bring down the kings, bring down the leaders.

AP: Do you feel like he’s doing a good job?

Streisand: I do. And it’s right to take your time going to war and so forth. He has to be thoughtful.

On the Web

http://www.barbrastreisand.com/us/partners

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Sally Struthers says hello to Milwaukee in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ gig

For baby boomers, Sally Struthers’ name conjures a host of memories from the groundbreaking 1970s television series All in the Family. Struthers played Gloria Stivic, the wholesome, idealistic wife of “meathead” Mike (Rob Reiner) and the daughter of armchair bigot Archie (Carroll O’Connor) and dingbat Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton). Caught between a sitcom marriage and the emerging feminism of her day, Struthers gave the nation its first liberated version of Miss American Pie, cheerfully speaking out against sexism, racism and homophobia as she helped set the dinner table. 

In recent years, Struthers has divided her time between TV series (Gilmore Girls and Still Standing) and stage work. She’s currently touring the country as matchmaker Dolly Levi in gay composer Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!

I spoke recently with Struthers about her Dolly, her career and her life. 

Gregg Shapiro: What do you enjoy most about playing Dolly Levi?

Sally Struthers: Oh, my goodness, Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! is one of the best roles ever written for a woman in the American theater. Dolly Levi gets to be brilliant and sassy and meddling and adorable and sing seven songs and manipulate a man into proposing to her and make other people fall in love and dress in beautiful clothes and have lots of monologues. The words are brilliant, the lyrics are brilliant. It’s such an entertaining show. There are so many beautiful people on stage dancing and singing memorable songs!

Do you have a favorite song that you sing as Dolly?

I think my favorite one to sing is actually in the second act. It’s “So Long Dearie.” It’s a very sassy vaudeville song done with a straw hat and a cane.

Have you met Jerry Herman?

Oh, yes, Jerry is a friend. His number is in my cellphone. He’s the reason I’m doing this. He hasn’t let anyone take this musical out on a national tour since Carol Channing (who originated the role on Broadway in 1964, when it won 10 Tony Awards). We fell in love many years ago when I did Mame. I played Agnes Gooch. He came to the show and said, “You’re the funniest woman I’ve ever seen. No one has ever played Agnes Gooch the way you played it.” That year, I won an Ovation Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Mame. When Jerry Herman said that I could go out with Dolly I felt like St. Peter had let me into the gates of heaven. That’s quite a nod.

Have you met any of the previous Dollys, including Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey or Barbra Streisand?

I’ve met and dined with and hung out with Carol Channing. I saw Pearl Bailey do it, but never met her.

Are you like Dolly, a woman who brings people together?

I am! There are two couples that I know of, so far, that are married because I introduced them. There are lots of other people (I’ve gotten) together. I also take people into my house to give them a place to live, so my house is always full. I get myself involved in a lot of people’s lives in a way to try and help them. My sister said to me once, “How can you stand it with all those people in your house? Don’t you need alone time? Don’t you need your own space?” I said, “I have eternity to be alone in the grave. While I’m alive, I want to be around people. ”

With all of your theater work, you’ve probably developed quite a following in the LGBT community.

I know in my own personal life that I have as many friends that are LGBT as I do straight. If that translates into fans, as well,  then I’m thrilled. I don’t understand people that are afraid of other people! Because of their sexual persuasion or the color of their skin — what’s the matter with them? We all breathe the same. What’s wrong with people? I get so disappointed in people that are narrow-minded. I know they’re probably that way because they were raised by narrow-minded people. You learn bigotry on the knee of your parents. 

A 1971 episode of All in the Family was one of the first shows in prime time to feature a gay character. At the time, did you have any idea of the significance that episode would have?

I was just a young, naïve kid from Portland, Ore., who landed this role. I had never heard of these racial slurs, epithets. I would sit in the rehearsal hall on Monday mornings when we read the script dialogue for that week. Archie would say these words and I would say, “What does that mean?” I was told, “That’s what some people use as a derogatory term for a Spanish person or an Italian person or an Irish person or a black person.” I’d say, “Well, I’ve never heard that in my life in Portland, Ore. I come from a nice Lutheran Norwegian family. We don’t dislike anybody.” No, I didn’t understand the significance of any of it until I was way past it. I had to be in my 30s, 40s, 50s to look back and see just how groundbreaking that show was and therefore how fortunate I was to be a small part of it. It’s dumbfounding to me. I still will open a newspaper in any city I’m in and immediately go to the crossword puzzle page and sometimes it’ll say, “Actress who played Gloria on All in the Family,” and I go, “Oh, my God! I’m in the crossword puzzle.” My daughter, who is 34 years old now, when she was in elementary school you didn’t look things up on the computer, you had Encyclopedia Britannica and I bought her a set. One day she was writing a report in her room and she screamed, “Mom!” I came running and asked her what was the matter and she said, “Look.” She opened it up to “T,” and under television there was a picture of the four of us from All in the Family. She said, “You’re in the encyclopedia!” (Laughs). Who knew?

Streisand to perform at Oscars

Barbra Streisand will perform at the Oscars next month, the first time she’s performed during an Academy Awards broadcast in 36 years.

Streisand won the Academy Award for best original song for “Evergreen” in 1977. She also sang the theme from “A Star Is Born” that night.

She won the Oscar for best actress for 1968’s “Funny Girl.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also announced that British singer Adele will perform at the Oscars. She and producer Paul Epworth are nominated for best original song for the James Bond theme song, “Skyfall.”

The 85th Academy Awards air live Feb. 24 on ABC.

Barbra Streisand: ‘I love being a gay icon’

At age 70, Barbra Streisand remains very attractive, youthful and trim. Wearing a figure-hugging black ensemble at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, she’s in a great mood as she promotes her new movie “The Guilt Trip.” 

The story is about an inventor, played by Seth Rogen, who invites his mother on a cross-country trip as he tries to sell his new product while reuniting her with a lost love. 

As one of the few performers who has won an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony award, Streisand defines the term “living legend.” She’s been married twice, first to actor Elliott Gould from 1963 to 1971. They had one child, out gay actor Jason Gould.

Streisand married her second husband James Brolin in 1998. They have no children together, although Brolin has two children from his first marriage, including Academy Award-nominated actor Josh Brolin, and one child from his second marriage. 

What was it like meeting Seth for the first time? 

Seth, it turns out, sussed me out and he called people from the Focker movies. I thought he was adorable – so I thought, “This is interesting. Unlikely, which makes it interesting.” But we are both Jewish, I could be his mother. 

Who made whom crack up and laugh the most? 

Well, it was more unexpected for me probably, and I am more serious, so that’s funny. But the director, Anne (Fletcher) and writer Dan (Fogelman) used to throw us things. They would say, riff on your cousin and we would just laugh. And he copied my iPhone – I was the one with the iPhone. But he would show me things and he asked me if I had a Twitter account and I said, “I don’t know,” (laughs) so he looked it up, and I have a Twitter account! Which I only use for political purposes. So I didn’t know it was beyond that. I wouldn’t know how to find it on my phone. Seth is very handy. 

You must know that a lot of gay people are going to see this movie. 

We hope! I would love that. 

How do you feel about the label “gay icon” and your own son, do you think that he considers you an icon? 

He doesn’t see me as an icon (laughs), he sees me as his mother who touches his hair too much. No, I love being an icon to anybody. Equal rights, you know? 

What gives you the greatest satisfaction as an artist and what does it mean for you to be part of a project like this? 

I prefer things that are private, so I love recording and I love making films as a filmmaker, because it uses every bit of what you have experienced or know, whether it’s graphics, composition, decorating, psychology, storytelling, whatever it is – and it’s very, it’s a wonderful thing. 

This movie has a great balance of comedy and drama in it and it has some real heartfelt moments 

This is good, thank you.

What was the hardest thing you had to do in the film? 

Eating steak. (Laughs.) For a person who doesn’t like steak, that was the hardest thing. 

What do you think is the secret to your success and what have you done right? 

I don’t make that many movies and I don’t make that many appearances, so less is more. And so that keeps a little mystery or something. I don’t know, I like to stay home a lot. I like to do other things too, like decorate, build. 

How much contact did your son Jason Gould have with Seth when he was thinking about playing the role. 

Actually, he was very important in my decision to make the movie, because he was recovering from back surgery and he was in bed for a few days after, and I brought the script over and we read it out loud. It was interesting. Actually his father was in the room too, isn’t that funny? We were both there coddling our son, so he became the audience and Jason was reading all the parts to me and he said, “I think you should do it, mom.” And I really trust his integrity and his opinion. He has great taste in whatever he chooses to do. It’s amazing. So he clinched the deal. … I was thinking at the time, should I be playing Sarah Bernhardt or trying to get movies made as a director – and it’s very, very hard. It’s not the same as when I last made a film. They are not interested in love stories or any movie that’s sort of over $15 million, but it can be $100 million, that’s OK. Two hundred million is OK to lose (laughs), but the movies that I am used to making or liking, what draws me are movies that cost $18 million (or) $20 million. They are not interested in those movies. So it is a different time and I don’t like it as much. 

I have to imagine you get sent so many scripts. 

I don’t.

You don’t, or they just don’t make it to you? 

See, everybody thinks like you. She must get so many scripts, why would I send her that, she will never get a chance to read it, and meanwhile I go, “Where are the scripts?” 

What ultimately was it about reading “Guilt Trip” with your son that connected with you? 

Mothers develop guilt trips. I mean, when I was working a lot and I felt guilty as a parent that I couldn’t pick up my son every day from school, bake him cookies and that kind of thing, and so I know that feeling. I know that feeling a lot. And so you try and compensate and everything they do is great and they sense that guilt, children, and they are going through their own rebellious time and having a famous parent is an odd thing. And so I thought it was an interesting thing to investigate this. Dan wrote this lovely script and it just felt like it was meant to be for me to come back to work in a starring role, rather than (spend) six days on a movie, but it was time to challenge myself again. Of course, I made it very difficult for them to hire me because I kept wanting an out in some way, so I made it really hard. I really don’t want to schlep to Paramount, it’s two hours each way, so I said, “Would you like rent a warehouse and build the sets in the Valley? No more than 45 minutes from my house?” (Laughs.) And they said yes. Then on all these Focker movies, I had to get up early, and I am not an early bird, and Seth says it’s very hard to be funny at 7:30 in the morning. He’s right. I said, “So you can’t pick me up till 8:30,” ’cause that’s like a normal time to get up for me ’cause I love the night. My husband and I stay up till two, three in the morning, so we don’t function that well at six in the morning. And they said OK.

What do you want audiences to take away from the film? 

I want them to be moved, I want them to identify, I want them to see themselves in the movie. I want them to get closer to their children, a lot of things. And more. 

You look so beautiful in the film and here today, what is your secret? 

No, if you knew all my self-doubt, my God! I kind of like the child part of me. Maybe it reflects in my face or something (laughs). I don’t know. 

You can sing, you can act in drama or comedy, compose, write, direct, you do everything well. What can you not do well? 

I can’t cook, I can’t cook at all. I mean, I would not know how to make coffee. Or boil an egg – maybe I could figure that one out. I took cooking classes, I know how to make chocolate soufflé. But just ask me if I want to make chocolate soufflé. I would rather have somebody else make the chocolate soufflé and I eat it. Because I found, when I took cooking classes, when I tried to cook, put it that way, it was never appetizing to eat. I mean, I didn’t want to eat it. The joy was gone. My hands, I was always filthy with the stuff and how do they keep their hands clean enough, and then cooking and cleaning up, I don’t like that part. 

Who is the person that you want to tell you the absolute truth about your performance in this picture? Whose opinion means most to you? 

Just one person? 

Yeah. 

It’s hard, it’s between my husband and my son, and my manager of 50 years, I mean that’s a long relationship. I trust several people.

Well, let’s just say your husband. 

Let’s just say that. I don’t like to be schmeicheled, you know what that means? How would you describe that, it’s a great Yiddish word. It means smeared. I like the truth. 

Phyllis Diller dies at 95

Phyllis Diller died this morning in her Los Angeles home at age 95. She faced the end, fittingly, “with a smile on her face,” longtime manager Milton Suchin told The Associated Press.

Diller, who suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1999, was found by her son, Perry Diller. The cause of her death has not been released.

“We lost a comedy legend today,” Ellen DeGeneres wrote on Twitter. “Phyllis Diller was the queen of the one-liners. She was a pioneer.”

Barbra Streisand tweeted, “I adored her. She was wondrous spirit who was great to me.”

“I’m beyond saddened by the death of Phyllis Diller. We were friends,” Joan Rivers wrote, Rivers adding that she and her daughter had lunched with Diller last month

The queen of one-liners, with a trademark cackling laugh, Diller didn’t get into comedy until she was nearly 40, after her first husband, Sherwood Diller, prodded her for two years to give up her advertising career. Through it all, she was also a busy mother of five.

Her husband managed her career until the couple’s 25-year marriage fell apart in the 1960s. Shortly after her divorce she married entertainer Warde Donovan, but they separated within months. Through both marriages and other relationships, “Fang,” the permanent  fictional husband of her stand-up routines, remained.

“Don’t confuse him with my real husbands,” she quipped. “They’re temporary.”

Diller worked steadily for decades, in nightclubs and on television. She built her stand-up act around the persona of the corner-cutting housewife (“I bury a lot of my ironing in the backyard”) with bizarre looks, a wardrobe to match (by “Omar of Omaha”) and, of course, her faithful Fang.

Time magazine wrote in 1961: “Onstage comes something that, by its own description, looks like a sackful of doorknobs. With hair dyed by Alcoa, pipe-cleaner limbs and knees just missing one another when the feet are wide apart, this is not Princess Volupine. It is Phyllis Diller, the poor man’s Auntie Mame, only successful female among the New Wave comedians and one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a ‘standup’ act of one-line gags.”

She also appeared in movies, including “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number” and “Eight on the Lam” with Bob Hope. She starred in an ABC sitcom about a society family trying to stave off bankruptcy, “The Pruitts of Southampton.”

Diller’s looks were a frequent topic of her humor, and she did everything she could to accentuate them – negatively. She wore outrageous fright wigs and deliberately shopped for stage shoes that made her legs look as skinny as possible.

“The older I get, the funnier I get,” she said in 1961. “Think what I’ll save in not having my face lifted.”

She felt different about plastic surgery later, though, and her face, and other body parts, underwent a remarkable transformation. Efforts to be beautiful became a mainstay of her act.

Commenting in 1995 about the repainting of the Hollywood sign, she cracked, “It took 300 gallons, almost as much as I put on every morning.” She said her home “used to be haunted, but the ghosts haven’t been back since the night I tried on all my wigs.”

Diller recovered from a 1999 heart attack with the help of a pacemaker, but finally retired in 2002, saying advancing age was making it too difficult for her to spend several weeks a year on the road. “I have energy, but I don’t have lasting energy,” she said in 2006. “You have to know your limitations.”

– From AP reports

Brinberg is ‘Simply Barbra’ in Overture performance that benefits OutReach

If Steven Brinberg ever has the chance to meet Barbra Streisand, the performer he’s been impersonating for nearly 20 years, his first question for the superstar would be about Chinese food.

“Barbra grew up in Brooklyn and as a girl worked as a cashier in a Chinese restaurant,” says Brinberg, a native of the nearby Riverdale section of the north Bronx. “She likes to eat and I would want to know if she has ever found an old-fashioned chow mein parlor like the ones we probably both remember.”

Brinberg will soon have the chance to explore some of Madison’s Chinese restaurants when he brings “Simply Barbra” – his tribute show to the protean artist – to the main stage at the Overture Center for the Arts on March 30.  Creating a stunning illusion with the use of costumes, mannerisms and impeccable vocal imitation, Brinberg will bring Streisand to life for a 75-minute tribute through the artist’s greatest hits and those that might have been.

“Barbra Streisand is an iconic figure in entertainment and has been for many years,” Brinberg says. “If you’re going to do a show about someone, she has to be fascinating.”

Streisand, who turns 70 on April 24, has fascinated Brinberg since he launched his first “Barbra” show in 1993, just months before the legendary singer announced her comeback tour. Brinberg, who attended New York University and The New School, has always been good with voices. A brush with a karaoke machine, a cassette recorder and a sheaf of Streisand songs set him on his career trajectory.

“My father was always the nosy type and when he found a cassette tape with my name on it, he just plugged it in,” Brinberg says. “He thought it was Streisand singing, and I thought, ‘Maybe I could do this.’”

Brinberg is one of only two male Streisand impersonators who does his own singing rather than lip-synching to Streisand recordings. “Hers is such a unique voice that it’s hard to do properly,” he says. “I want to do her justice because I am such a fan.”

Brinberg doesn’t break his Streisand character during his show, but he does do other voices. During the current tour, he performs “Alfie” and has Barbra imagine what other singers would do with the material. The results include measures sung by Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt and Cher.

“When I tour England I also do Julie Andrews because they love her so much there,” he says. “I could probably do Cher better than I do Barbra, but her music is generally dance songs, and those are not something you can do standing there in a beautiful gown.”

Some of Brinberg’s most memorable moments have come from accompanying composer and pianist Marvin Hamlisch, who has also served as music director on some of the real Streisand’s tours. Thanks to Hamlisch, who was impressed by Brinberg’s CD of Streisand songs, the singer almost got to share the stage with his idol for a New Years Eve performance.

“Marvin’s idea was for Barbra to say something like, ‘You know I’m so busy I almost wish there were two of me,’ and then for me to come out in full costume and makeup,” he says. Unfortunately, the performance was too far along in its production phase, and singer Lauren Frost was already booked to portray a younger Streisand, so the idea was shelved.

However, Brinberg immediately went on to perform with Hamlisch in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., coming on as a surprise guest to sing “The Way We Were,” “People” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” He’s also performed on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and met more than his share of celebrities, including Liza Minelli, Alan Cummings, Michael Feinstein and Patricia Neal. He even stood in for Streisand when the singer couldn’t make it to her friend Donna Karan’s birthday party.

Brinberg’s Madison show will include some numbers Streisand hasn’t sung, including “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” and “Make Someone Happy.” Brinberg knows Streisand is listening, because she has recorded songs that he’s performed as her. And he also knows that impersonating the singer has changed his life.

“Barbra says she’s shy, but I think I’m more shy,” he says. “Sometimes, when I get in a tough situation, I think ‘What would Barbra do?’ And that helps me out.”

Having spent his career as “Simply Barbra” has never caused Brinberg any regrets, he says.

For an actor, I know there are three great roles to play,” Brinberg says. “Hamlet, God and Barbra Streisand. I am very lucky.”

On stage

Singer Steven Brinberg performs “Simply Barbara” on March 30 at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts. For details visit overturecenter.com. Use the code OUTREACH when you purchase tickets, and $5 will automatically be donated to support the critical programs provided by Madison’s OutReach Community Center.