If as we reported in our review of Barbra Streisand’s Netflix special and live CD that the diva herself has given up touring then thank goodness for the next best thing. The uncannily good Babs impersonator Steven Brinberg, who performs under the moniker of Simply Barbra, has no plans to hang up his microphone.
As he proved when he brought his ‘Simply Barbra’s Holiday Show’ to London as part of the ‘Christmas In Leicester Square’ season, Brinberg is simply sensational. He’s no drag act lip-syncing (as American drag queens tend to do) to Streisand’s songs, nor is he a mickey-taker parodying her tropes. He’s got the mannerisms down pat: A flick of the hair, an extension of those legendarily long fingernails, the eyes going wide as if startled by hitting notes that should be impossible to hit. But he’s playing tribute to a performer he clearly loves, celebrating the ego and eccentricities that make Babs such a stratospheric superstar.
Then there’s the voice, which is quite remarkable. Opening the show with Streisand’s typically unconventional take on ‘Jingle Bells’, Brinberg’s spot-on impression was gasp-worthy for people who haven’t seen him on stage before. His vocals were high and operatic, like Babs in her early days rather than the deeper-voiced Babs of that Netflix special, and if you closed your eyes you’d swear you were in one of the 1960s Greenwich Village nightclubs where the singer first made her name.
The setlist was heavy on Christmas classics plus the usual suspects like ‘The Way We Were’ and ‘People’, between which Brinberg bantered brilliantly – a couple of times adjusting a cup of Lemsip so that it sat just right in a very funny riff on the star’s reputation for perfectionism.
Proving himself to be far from a one-trick pony, he also did snippets from other holiday albums by the likes of Cher, Carol Channing, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. Most startling of all, though, was when he recreated the Streisand/Anthony Newley duet ‘Who Can I Turn To’ – flitting between her voice and his in a virtuoso display that the diva herself would be hard pressed to top.