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Monday, April 19, 2010

Deeper Dish with Steven Brinberg (aka 'Simply Barbra')

I first saw the fabulous Steven Brinberg perform as Barbra Streisand at Don't Tell Mama in New York back in the mid-'90s, and the audience - including my partner and I - loved every moment of his hilarious but honest cabaret show. He poked fun at the legendary star but was never mean. My favorite part was his amazing rendition of the 1978 hit, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers", which he did as a duet with himself - singing as both Barbra and Neil Diamond. I still think of Steven whenever I hear the song.

Steven has performed as Simply Barbra all over the world as well as appeared on The Rosie O'Donnell Show and with composer Marvin Hamlisch. A two time MAC and Bistro Award winner, he has recorded two CDs - Simply Barbra Live in London (which features his Barbra/Neil duet) and Simply Barbra: The Duets Album, in which he sings with Karen Mason, Mimi Hines, Kaye Ballard and many others. And this Thursday, April 22, he will be bringing Simply Barbra to The Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Michigan, and on Sunday, April 25, he will be performing as part of the Lake Shore Salon Series in Chicago. I am so delighted to feature the talented Mr. Brinberg here on the Dish today to discuss his career and answer a few pop culture questions.

In honor of Barbra's birthday this Saturday (April 24), will you be performing any special songs at your shows this week?
I hadn't thought of performing any birthday songs. I doubt she would sing "Happy Birthday" to herself - well, maybe she would. It's hard to believe she'll be 68.

How did you first become Simply Barbra?
I was performing cabaret shows as myself, and I would sing snippets of other voices - Cher, Katharine Hepburn, Billie Holiday - but my Barbra was the most popular. One day a friend suggested that I do an entire Barbra show, but I was like "I don't even look like her and I don't know anything about makeup." But I finally booked a couple of weeks to perform as Barbra in New York - and the show just took off.

I could always do her voice. In high school I would sing along to her records and record myself. Then one day my dad found one of my tapes and thought it was Barbra singing - but I told him, "No, that's me!"

What is the most memorable moment you have had while performing as Barbra?
I would have to say meeting all the celebrities who have come to see the show - Liza Minnelli, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents. And also being able to perform all over the world - in Australia, New Zealand and England.

What is your favorite Streisand song to sing?
"People" - the way she did it in the movie of Funny Girl. Last summer I got to perform the entire score in a one night only benefit performance of the musical, so it was me playing Barbra playing Fanny Brice - the role she played for two years on Broadway. It was kind of surreal.

What is your favorite non-Streisand song that you sing as Barbra?
"Make Someone Happy" - but she sang it herself on her last album. I also like to sing "Another Winter in a Summer Town" from the musical, Grey Gardens. It's an absolutely beautiful song. The composer did send it to Barbra - but after he heard me sing the song, he told me, "That's probably as close as I'll ever get to hearing her sing it."

What's your favorite Streisand movie?
Funny Girl. I think it shows everything she can do. She dances in it, sings, looks gorgeous, and is funny and dramatic.

What is your favorite Streisand album?
People, which was her fourth solo album. Every selection is amazing. She sings "When In Rome", which Stephen Sondheim has said he wished he'd written. And I got to sing it for him at a concert for his 70th birthday, which was very exciting. The song is from an obscure musical, We Take the Town, that starred Robert Preston as Pancho Villa - but it never made it to Broadway.

If you were going to record a second Duets album, who would you love to sing with?
I have a long wish list - Liza, Bernadette Peters, Donna Murphy and, of course, Barbra herself.

Besides Streisand, what other music do you enjoy listening to?
I love musicals. I just moved to a new apartment so I now have all my musicals - from Annie to Zorba - on two walls. Once in awhile I like to listen to vintage soul from the '70s and pop music that has a melody. I love melodies - and Burt Bacharach.

Have you met Barbra?
No, but she knows me. Her manager hired me to sing at Donna Karan's birthday party - and through her stage director, she told me what to say at the party. We almost met when she was at the same play I was - but I lost my nerve to go over to her. She later learned that I was there and said, "Why didn't he say hello?" But I just wasn't ready to meet her.

In high school I was:
Tortured. Confused. Struggling.

The last good book I read was:
Leslie Caron's autobiography. It was a fun book to read - very candid but not bitchy.

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
The Carol Burnett Show was my favorite.

Today I never miss a television episode of:
30 Rock

The very first record album that I purchased with my own money was:
It was probably Barbra's Lazy Afternoon.

The last good movie I saw was:
I just saw La Mission with Benjamin Bratt. It takes place in the Mission district of San Francisco, and he finds out his son is gay. I thought it was very well-acted.

The last good play or musical I saw was:
The recent Encores! production of Anyone Can Whistle.

If I was asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
I'm getting bored by The Bachelor, so I'll say Jake Gyllenhaal.

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Barbra, Fanny Brice and Judy Garland.

What's next for Steven Brinberg?
Continuing to tour all over the place - and I'm hoping to perform again as myself. My real voice and look are so different than Barbra - but I'm not giving up Barbra. I would just like to be a boy also. I'd love to be a CSI killer and have people go, "Guess what else he does."

Thank you, Steven, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish.  To learn more about Steven, check out his website at You can also become a Facebook fan of Simply Barbra.

For tickets to Steven's performance at The Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Michigan, this Thursday, April 22, at 8 pm, go to, and for tickets to his performance at Chicago's Lake Shore Salon Series this Sunday, April 25, at 4 pm, click here.

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