Robert Windeler, Bistro Awards

Carla DelVillaggio -By Robert Windeler
“Streisand: The Greatest Star”, Laurie Beechman Theatre  –  July 11, 18, 25

Carla DelVillaggio as Streisand:
The Greatest StarIf you, like me, long ago grew tired of men in drag lip-synching to Barbra Streisand records and calling that an impersonation, have I got a girl for you. A Real Live Girl.

Carla DelVillaggio, an RLG based in Florida, made her New York debut this month in a tri-partite show about Streisand, and she was sensational. Not only can DelVillaggio look enough like Streisand, up to her nose and wig, to pull it off, she has the mannerisms and accent down pat. She uses Barbra’s arrangements and even some of her dresses, to the point that if the star were dead, you’d swear DelVillaggio was channeling her. (Don’t expect any reinterpretation or insight—that’s hardly the point of this tribute.) And anyone who can sing the wide-ranging Streisand songbook this well certainly has a terrific voice of her own. I can’t wait to see her in a cabaret as herself.

It takes three sets of almost two hours apiece (with intermission) to cover Streisand’s 50-year career with any sense of completeness. Each of DelVillaggio’s three evenings had a theme. The first, subtitled “Barbra: The Way She Was,” was concentrated solidly in the 1960s, when Streisand was in her 20s and at her most natural and charming.

Appropriately, DelVillaggio’s only accompaniment for this segment was the subtle piano of Rich Siegel. Their satisfying collaborations included faithful recreations of such early Streisand chestnuts as “Second Hand Rose” (James F. Hanley, Grant Clarke), Fred Fisher and Billy Rose’s “I’d Rather Be Blue Over You (Than Be Happy with Somebody Else),” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Burton Lane, Alan Jay Lerner), and Milton Schafer and Ira Levin’s “He Touched Me.”

The second evening, “Streisand Songbird: Memories,” was largely devoted to her disparate and sometimes debatable output in the 1970s and 80s, including “The Way We Were” (Marvin Hamlisch, Alan and Marilyn Bergman), “Evergreen” (the Oscar-winning melody she wrote with Paul Williams lyrics for her version of A Star Is Born), “Stoney End” (Laura Nyro), “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” from Yentl (Michel Legrand, the Bergmans), and Bruce Roberts and Paul Jabara’s “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” her 1979 hit duet with Donna Summer. For this middle section of the triad, which I did not see, pianist Rich Siegel was joined by Eliot Zigmund on drums and Bob Renino on bass. Fortunately, this trio remained in place to back up week three, with rich results.

“Hello Gorgeous! Barbra—Back to Broadway,” the finale set, found “Barbra” at age 70, looking back on her own Main Stem career (with a couple of movie versions thrown in) and her recordings of musical theatre songs made famous by others. DelVillaggio sang three Stephen Sondheim songs: “Send in the Clowns”; “Children Will Listen” as part of a medley with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific; and “Somewhere” (Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim, from West Side Story). She reached way back to her own debut showstopper, Harold Rome’s “Miss Marmelstein” from I Can Get it For You Wholesale, and even further back to her favorite audition song, “Sleepin’ Bee” (Harold Arlen, Truman Capote, from House of Flowers). Abetted by her backup trio, a Hello Dolly! (Jerry Herman) medley and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl (Jule Styne, Bob Merrill) were particular knockouts. Enough audience members knew “Miss Marmelstein” well enough from the 1962 musical to chime in with the echo “Miss Marmelstein”s, uninvited and at the appropriate times, but not enough people remembered it well enough to make it quite the show-stopper for Carla it had been for Barbra.

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” was one of four selections from Funny Girl (stage or screen version) to appear in all three evenings. The others were the title song from the movie; the Fanny Brice signature song that was interpolated into the film, “My Man” (Channing Pollock, Maurice Yvain, Albert Willemetz, Jacques Charles); and, of course, “People.” These were all as astonishingly affecting as Streisand’s own renditions. Also included in all three sets was a funny send-up of the 1964 Streisand/Judy Garland television duet of Milton Ager and Jack Yellen’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Get Happy” (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler), with “Barbra” singing live and “Judy” chiming in from a screen above the stage. The many audience members who had seen two or even all three of the evenings didn’t seem to mind these reprises, and certainly neither did I.

DelVillaggio here was self-directed, and sometimes her between-songs chat seemed a little silly, and occasionally redundant. A director might tighten that a bit for future engagements. Also, while the 15-minute intermission in each evening may be understandable (the Beechman wants to sell more drinks and food and DelVaggio wants to change clothes), it does break the rhythm of what is, after all, a cabaret act and not a theatrical piece. Still, it’s a pleasure to say “Hello, Carla,” and please hurry back here where you belong: on a New York nightclub stage.

Mark Dundas Wood, Simply Show-Biz

Storied Bon Soir Niterie Reopens with Turn by Talented Faux-Barbra
by Mark Dundas Wood, Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Simply Showbiz
The Bon Soir, back in its heyday.

In Intimate Nights, his 1991 book on the history of New York cabaret, writer James Gavin described the celebrated (some would say notorious) Bon Soir nightclub:

“[The] fabled café opened on September 6, 1949, in a basement on 40 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. Much of the Bon Soir’s appeal came from its out-of-the-way, almost illicit feeling. A walk down thirty-one steps led to a square black room owned and run by the Mafia, where blacks and whites, gays and straights mingled without a trace of tension. On one side of the room was a gay bar. Those seeking a highbrow atmosphere had to look elsewhere.”
Among the entertainers who performed at the plaster-walled club were Phyllis Diller, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, and Larry Storch. But the Bon Soir is best remembered for the early performances of Barbra Streisand between 1960 and 1962. The nightclub closed in 1967, after hobbling along with performances by mediocre Borscht Belt-style performers. Streisand, meanwhile, had moved uptown to Broadway—en route to Malibu.

Last week, reported that Streisand fans had been thrown for a loop with reports that the Bon Soir was reopening and that Barbra Streisand herself would be singing there on Monday, June 4. The news was only partly true. The “square black room” that Gavin described has in fact been refurbished. It’s part of the new locale for a club called The Pink Elephant. But the woman who reopened the room was not Streisand but rather a young singer named Carla DelVillaggio, who impersonates the mega-diva.

“Je m’appelle Carla.”

I attended the second show on Monday thanks to an invitation extended to by the show’s producer, Chip Duckett. My companion and I descended a dizzyingly lit staircase down to a small bar area where customers drank a grapefruit-based concoction called—what else?—a Bon Soir. These beverages were served by tall, elegant and stunningly beautiful young women.

Just before 9:30 audience members were ushered into the refurbished room. The bright, elephant-pink tablecloths on the small tables and the soft pink lights projected on the bottles behind the bar may have suggested the 1960s, but a 1970s influence was also evident, most notably in the form of a DJ booth and a large Deco-ish fixture that seemed to be a modified disco ball.

The following day I spoke with Duckett, who told me that—at least for now—the Bon Soir will function as a cabaret only on certain nights (notably, Mondays) and that the audiences for its shows will mostly be invited guests. There won’t be long engagements by headliners. Instead, for the time being, the space will feature special one-off events.
As for Carla DelVillaggio, she is a slight young woman with more than a passing resemblance to Streisand. On Monday she dressed in a recreation of Streisand’s ultramarine-blue sailor dress, accented with a bright red bow. DelVillaggio has the Barbra shrug down pat, and is especially adept at recreating the infectious Barbra giggle. She proved deft also at coping with shouted comments from a raucous, liquor-lubed audience–including one notably crude remark having to do with Funny Girl composer Jule Styne.

DelVillaggio sang a string of early songs from the Streisand repertoire, including “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?” and “When Sunny Gets Blue” (the latter featuring a lovely solo turn by pianist Rich Siegel). DelVillaggio demonstrated a spooky ability to channel the icon—at times you would swear you were seeing a hologram of a teenage Streisand. DelVillaggio even captured the star’s particular way of narrowing her eyes while singing, during moments of intense concentration.

Did she sound like Streisand? Yes. When she talked, that is. DelVillaggio has a pleasant and expressive singing voice. But nobody has ever quite been able to capture the peculiarly raw yet crystalline sound of Streisand at 19 or 20—not even the more seasoned Streisand herself at 33 or 34. But that doesn’t mean the show wasn’t a good one. It was highly entertaining, and people seemed to go away happy. Duckett bubbled with excitement.

The follow-up? Next Monday at the Bon Soir will be a concert (and EP release celebration) for Broadway performer Matt Doyle of Broadway’s Spring Awakening. And in July DelVilaggio will have an engagement at the Laurie Beechman Theater in midtown Manhattan, performing three different programs of Streisand music.