REVIEW: ‘Simply Barbra’ – simply amazing!

Brian Butler October 23, 2023

Cabaret performer Steven Brinberg has been under the skin of singing legend Barbra Streisand for several decades. And it shows: every hand gesture, bold stare, unique skipping up and down the vocal octaves – it’s all Barbra, and it’s magic.

Singer/pianist Nathan Martin takes to the stage at the intimate Ironworks Studios in Brighton and then offstage a disembodied voice starts on Sing A Song and Make Your Own Kind Of Music, and slowly she emerges, long hair with fringe, glittery top, black velvet skirt – it’s Ms Streisand, but of course it’s not: it’s Steven.

He’s got the tricky high pitch, but also the throatiness as he/she tells us of the anniversaries we need to know about. It’s the 30th anniversary of Barbra’s first farewell tour, the 40th anniversary of her film Yentl, the 50th anniversary of The Way We Were.

And so we’re into a torrent of famous songs, starting with Evergreen, which is pitch perfect as are many of the show’s items. There’s Steven’s own dark humour here too; the signature cup of tea on stage turns out to be Lemsip with added mushy peas. And we’re often reminded how many awards she won, the shows she turned down and the other performers she was too busy to see on stage. It’s all meant with love – not nasty just wicked adoration.

It takes a couple of songs for Steven to get firmly in the saddle but when he gives us Papa Can You Hear Me, Don’t Rain On My Parade and People – he’s got us hooked. Close your eyes and you’re in Streisand’s presence. It’s just uncanny.

Nathan gets to sing solo and with Barbra and he’s got a pleasant vocal range to match his skilful work on the keyboard.

And in Brighton there was the special treat of the incredible Debbie Wileman, who hopped out of her seat next to me to come on stage and just BE Judy Garland. She is a force to be reckoned with and I’ll certainly be seeking out her future shows. She just absolutely nails it in The Man Who Got Away, and then takes our breath away in duet with Steven in the mashup of Forget Your Troubles and Happy Days Are Here Again. And there’s one last gem in the show from Steven – Sondheim’s I’m Still Here, where every line of the song is sung in a different voice – from  a stunning Eartha Kitt, through Cleo Laine, Ethel Merman and Lena Hone to Julie Andrews, Bea Arthur, Billie Holliday, Katherine Hepburn and Carol Channing – it’s a tour de force.

And finally Make Someone Happy – which we’re told is Barbra’s personal philosophy – and clearly Steven Brinberg’s too.

Simply Barbra was at Brighton’s Ironworks Studios. Check out his CDs. If you’re in Birmingham you can catch the show on October 25 and 26 and in Bath on October 28.