Liza sings… Streisand – Liza Pulman at Live At Zédel, London (also shows on 22 May and 12 June).
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
When adding Barbra Streisand’s first album to the Chapman record collection in 1963 (still have it and it’s still sounding special 54 years later), little did we realise what this extraordinary talent would achieve, a genuine showbiz legend still going strong at 75.
Liza Pulman, one third of Fascinating Aida for 13 years, but going solo for the time being, brought her Streisand show to Live At Zédel for the first of three scattered evenings at a sold-out Piccadilly cabaret room, part of a nationwide tour that kicked off a few nights earlier in Coventry.
It was a nostalgic stroll down memory lane with the superstar who has been such a major influence on our musical lives.
Pulman never tried to impersonate – nor did she need to – as she has an excellent voice of her own and a polished confidence with anecdotes and witty linking repartee that other singers don’t rehearse well enough and often struggle with.
Many of the key songs in Streisand’s prolific career were among the 21 Pulman shoehorned into her 100-minute show – ‘The Way We Were’ and ’You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ were achieved with a beautiful simplicity, while Randy Newman’s exquisite ‘I’ll Be Home’ was a personal favourite.
Also highly recommended were a bossa nova arrangement by musical director Joseph Atkins of ‘On a Clear Day’ (which provided a welcome change of pace), and ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’, from her debut album and the first song Streisand performed on live TV. It still carries all the old magic.
Perfectly pitched as you might expect from someone opera-trained who has sung at Glyndebourne and with the D’Oyly Carte (but opera was never going to be her bag), Pulman didn’t just stick to the familiar standards, but unearthed more than a smattering of lesser-known material.
‘Miss Marmelstein’, her career-changing solo in the small part she had as a 19-year-old newcomer in her 1962 Broadway debut I Can Get It For You Wholesale, and the light-hearted ‘Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long’, from her 1966 album Second Hand Rose, were just two early gems many didn’t know or had long since forgotten.
Wholesale was the first of only two shows Streisand ever did on Broadway. The other, of course, was Funny Girl, the story of the very Jewish and distinctly plain 1920s entertainer Fanny Brice.
She brought the show to the West End in 1966 until she became pregnant and had to drop out.
Pulman recalled that when Fanny decided to have a nose job, the waspish Dorothy Parker commented she “had cut off her nose to spite her race”.
It was with Fanny and ‘People’ that Pulman appropriately chose to close a set which featured such diverse songwriting talents as Paul McCartney, Fats Waller, Jule Styne, Harold Arlen, Charles Trenet, Billy Joel and Carole King.
Fears that pianist Atkins’ six-man Stardust Ensemble, not all of whom could be accommodated on the slip of a stage, might be too much of a good thing thankfully proved unfounded. The power and purity of Putnam guaranteed that every word was crystal clear.
The band all deserve a shout: we had guitarist Andy Taylor-Vebel and Tom Mark (bass) operating on either side of the podium, while Steve Walker (trumpet and flugelhorn), Richard Pardy (reeds) and Dan Day (drums) swung mightily with Atkins from the stage.
Pulman returns to Live at Zedel twice more, on 22 May and 12 June, and says there’s every chance of Fascinating Aida reuniting and touring again next year. One of the Aida team, Adele Anderson, was in the Zedel audience lending support.
Meanwhile, Liza with a ‘Z’ as Barbra without an ‘A’ (or one of them anyway) sped by all too quickly. Streisand often gets tarred with being difficult to work with but there’s a charming side to her too.
Pulman tells the story of her actress mother, Barbara Young, auditioning for Yentl but not getting the part. Despite being producer, director, financier, scriptwriter and star, Streisand still found time to send a personal note, saying what a pleasure it had been to meet her and hoping their paths would cross again.
A classy lady who would surely approve of what the smart and sunny Pulman is doing with her legacy.