Funny Girl Is a Boy

If you're tempted to shout "Hello, gorgeous!" when you see Steven Brinberg onstage, go ahead. He won't mind. Having impersonated Barbra Streisand for the past five years, he's used to it.

"I've been a fan of hers since I was a kid," says Brinberg, who once imitated several stars in his own cabaret show but gradually settled on Streisand exclusively. He now enjoys a steady gig at Manhattan club Don't Tell Mama, and in November he begins a one-month run at a theater in London's West End. "You want people to feel like they've just seen Barbra, only Barbra has humbled herself and is now playing smaller rooms," he laughs.

Mind you, this is no drag show. Brinberg doesn't lip-synch to Streisand records, he actually sings. "I've been told if you close your eyes you would swear it was really her." Though he is made up to look like the star, he says, "I don't cross my eyes. I gently poke fun at her, in an affectionate way." Unlike other impersonators, Brinberg doesn't think he has to be possessed by the spirit of the celebrity he's emulating. "I'm not a method actor," he explains, "so I really get into character when I snap on the last nail and walk on the stage."

Brinberg brings his act Simply Barbra: The Wedding Tour to town Friday and Saturday as part of the Manhattan Nights in Miami performing arts series, which will feature a different A-list New York cabaret talent every other month through next April. Slated for future performances: Barbara Cook with Wally Harper, Mary Cleere Haran with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, and Australian actor-singer David Campbell, none of whom has ever played South Florida.

The creation of one-time actor and veteran Broadway producer (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon) Richard Jay-Alexander and his partner Ellen Wedner, Manhattan Nights came about when the producer took some visiting friends to see Haran's show at the Manhattan Theater Club. "Their jaws dropped," recalls Jay-Alexander, who for the past six years has lived almost full-time in Miami. After that experience, he decided his adopted home needed something similar and so set about booking acts into the Colony Theater.

"The thing about cabaret is that it really allows you to look and listen and exchange, and you really feel it's for you. There's an intimacy about it," says Jay-Alexander, who thinks that this special connection will still be possible in the 400-seat venue. Entertainment isn't the only the idea behind the series, however. A fourth of each show's net profits will be donated to community philanthropic and arts organizations such as the Florida AIDS Action Council and City Theatre.

The producer could think of no one better to start off Halloween weekend than the costumed Brinberg, a performer he deems "truly hilarious, a comic genius." The impersonator plays the present-day Barbra, and any changes in the singer's real life are incorporated into the show. For example, her recent marriage to actor James Brolin inspired the show's title, "The Wedding Tour." Before Streisand married, Brinberg would open with the tune "Wedding Bell Blues," substituting the name Bill in the lyrics with Jim. Now that Streisand has wed, he starts the evening with "Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady." Barbra the perfectionist, who has yet to catch Brinberg's lighthearted act, would surely approve.

"It's pretty glamorous," says Jay-Alexander of the series that's taken more than a year to arrange. "We're doing this in a really classy fashion. There is nothing cheap about it -- except the ticket price!"

-- Nina Korman

Steven Brinberg performs as part of Manhattan Nights in Miami at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 30 and 31, at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $35 for the Friday and Saturday shows; $50 for Saturday's show and the Halloween reception afterward. Subscriptions to the series cost $100. Call 305-573-1121.

 
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