Musical Director: Joseph Atkins
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Monday is the new Friday at the Lyric Theatre and for tribute acts this is fast becoming a key West End destination for a variety of touring shows dedicated to well-known artists. Giving the cast of Thriller an extra night off, with past shows already being dedicated to Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel and, this week, to Liza Pulman’s show about Barbara Streisand.
This is “not a life story, not a tribute show and not an impersonation” of Streisand, Pulman announces at the top of the show, instead it is a celebration of her work, told using 21 songs spanning a career of more than five decades – but really it is all of those things, mixing biographical detail with a selection of Pulman’s favourite numbers. Collaborating on new arrangements with the leading lady, the show is supported by The Stardust Ensemble under the directorship of Joseph Atkins, who also plays piano and accordion during the show.
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand has no structure as such, although an early hint of chronology soon gives way and instead Pulman moves between different kinds of song, demonstrating her own impressive vocal range. Trained as an opera singer, her ability to sing across the scales is showcased in almost every number, rapidly moving from very low to high notes with the same ease as Streisand and building plenty of personality into the delivery.
Act One is 10 songs opening with Don’t Rain on My Parade and You’ve Got a Friend before discussing Streisand’s early career in the theatre with Miss Marmelstein and Sam You Made the Pants Too Long where Pulman is able to develop the sharp Brooklyn accent while borrowing her hero’s characterisation. By the time we get to the powerfully sung New York State of Mind and You’ll Never Know recorded by the 13-year old Streisand, Pulman and Atkins have established a clear pattern for the music, as old-style soft jazz turns into a big band number.
There’s no doubting the range and quality of Pulman’s voice but the orchestration and arrangement begin to sound quite similar. A lot of songs start low and sultry, explode in the middle with a big sound created by the six-piece band to support Pulman’s voice, and end with one of the singer’s characteristic long notes. Less is more with an instrument as powerful as Pulman’s, so when the show departs from this formula in Act Two with The Way He Makes Me Feel, I’ll Be Home and Neil Diamond’s You Don’t Bring Me Flowers it really connects with the audience and allows her voice to fill the room.
It is an intimate show, one in which Pulman makes for a genial host. Clearly, a super fan like many in the audience, across the evening even the rehearsed corniness of the jokes become quite endearing. The traditional approach to staging would perhaps work better in a more intimate venue where the show’s cabaret-like feel would help to build the atmosphere much sooner.
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand combines a varied song selection from across her portfolio with Pulman’s strong and controlled vocals that, despite her original disclaimer, often sound very like Streisand in tone and style. While the structure could be more inventive, and the musical choices more diverse, there is a lot here for fans of both singers to enjoy.
Runs until: 15 April and then touring | Image: Contributed