Brooklyn Homecoming could Solve Barbra’s Career Problems
Barbra Streisand is set to return to her native Brooklyn on October 11 at the Barclays Center, where she will perform for the first time in her career. It might behoove her to showcase a medley from Gypsy as a means of silencing some murmuring backlash which has penetrated into the protective element of her generally unconditional fan base, that she may be too old to play someone in her early thirties, in the proposed upcoming film version. She might get away with it on stage–Ethel Merman turned out to be a ball of fun when she revivedAnnie, Get Your Gun at sixty. And while Streisand is not about to make the mistake of casting a Ryan Gosling to play opposite her as Herbie (he’d probably do it), there’s always the cautionary example of Lucille Ball in Mameto be considered or her own experience with the reception of The Mirror Has Two Faces.
Icon that she is, Streisand could conceivably circumvent the age question by the force of her personality—but then she risks turning herself into a kind of perennial hologram display. She has suggested that she will define the part by dredging up horrific memories of her mother. Such a psychodrama may be a fine way to sell movies, as Streisand knows from experience (she promoted Yentl as a search for her father), but maybe not so good an approach for acting in them. The Styne/Sondheim score is justifiably famed, although it does play into Streisand’s sometimes unfortunate tendency to depersonalize her tunes into anthems.
But the greatest obstacle to a tolerable Gypsy, thanks in part to the rather joyless material, both too acrid and prosaic an expose of the fading vaudeville circuit (the stripper trio seems to get older and more pathetic with each new version), is the near-impossibility of finding an appropriate director—someone competent and palatable enough to enrich the goings-on without giving in to the willful ugliness of the milieu or gussying it up with period décor. George Sidney (Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, Viva Las Vegas), with his showbiz feel for splash and glitter and broads, might have been ideal; or Blake Edwards might have brought a moral depth to the story. But now there’s practically no one within Streisand’s feelers who wouldn’t take the judgmental attitudes of Arthur Laurents’s libretto and run with them. (As to a bustling film about a stage mother with a powerhouse performance, look no further than Visconti’s Bellissima with Anna Magnani.) After Jonathan Demme and Steven Spielberg, I might go after the more modest directors Charles Stone III (Mr. 3000), Kenny Ortega (Hocus Pocus, This Is It) or P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding) for their bonhomie. Otherwise, she may as well end up with David Cronenberg or Lars Von Trier.
As Streisand seems to be intent on culminating her screen career on a high musical note, here’s what she should do: Sit on Gypsy for another decade and find some pre-tested property where aging up her role would bring something fresh to it. Since Marian the librarian in The Music Man is subsidiary, she’d have to go for the lead as the Music Woman. But there’s also Bells Are Ringing and The Pajama Game out there, and of all things,Hello Dolly!–but for that she’d probably have to learn how to dance.
Best of all by far is She Loves Me, the Broadway adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around The Corner, the most exquisite romantic comedy ever made, about two bickering co-workers, unaware that they are last-chance pen pals. The foolproof story works even in the reconceived You Got Mail. As a once greenlit movie to be directed by Blake Edwards, starring Julie Andrews, She Loves Me became the notorious casualty from the 1970 demise of the blockbuster musical, precipitated in part by the box office letdowns of Star, Sweet Charity, Paint Your Wagon and Hello, Dolly! Edwards’s Darling Lili provided the final nail in the coffin, whereby he was reportedly paid a million dollars to chuck the project, and we never heard from it again. Consequently, the Minnelli/Streisand On A Clear Day You Can See Forever was cut and rushed into theaters with practically no promotion.
By coincidence, Streisand might have once been considered for She Loves Me on Broadway, which opened between her breakthrough shows I Can Get It For You Wholesale and Funny Girl. The part always catered to Streisand’s screen image as an irksome but endearing ugly-duckling gadfly, but would now provide a new layer of resonance. Harnick and Bock’s score (their next show would be Fiddler On The Roof) is not popularly known but is lovely, with some standout numbers. And in the domain of buzz and publicity, She Loves Me comes with a secret weapon: the male lead would be perfect for that former song-and-dance man Elliott Gould, Streisand’s first husband. Oscars for the pair of them.
In 1993, a stripped-down, almost dinner-theater-like revival came to Broadway with a negligible cast–and with its minimalist script, it was still a charmer. The then upcoming Rob Marshall along with his sister Kathleen did the choreography, which included a sensational rendition of the show’s memorable Christmas crisis-shopping number. Even above Follies (Streisand is fifteen years too old for that too, but who’s counting?), She Loves Mewould be THE movie for her musical comeback. Sure, we’re curious about how she would approach Gypsy, but only in her interpretation of the tunes, not in the warmed-over travails of Mamma Rose. So, by all means, have Streisand exorcise it with a Brooklyn medley at Barclay’s Center, and, believe me, we will all be satisfied.
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