On the eve of the final performance in London of the STREISAND EUROPEAN TOUR 2007 -- I sat with Richard Jay-Alexander, at The Dorchester Hotel to talk about the Tour and the work.
Craig Hall (BarbraNews.com) and Richard Jay-Alexander at Barbra's Final London show on her 2007 European Tour. Photo by WalterMcBride/Retna.
When did you first meet Barbra?
It was in the early 80's. I was in AMADEUS on Broadway, with Amy Irving. Amy came into work one night and told me she had been asked to read for Barbra Streisand for a film called "Yentl." "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, by Isaac Bashevis Singer? I asked. I told her I'd seen the play and that she must go read for it. Amy got the part and later invited me to celebrate one night, after our show, with Barbra and Cis Corman. I remember we went to ORSO. That was the first time I ever laid eyes on Barbra. I didn't really talk much, as it was Amy's night.
Months later, in the midst of filming, Amy got some days off and came and stayed in my apt. in New York and told me about the process of making the film and Barbra’s work ethic and level of commitment. I was fascinated. My appreciation of Barba always came from the work and her mesmerizing intensity, both as a singer and actress. Now I was hearing about her as a Director. You can imagine ….
I met her again when she attended LES MISERABLES on Broadway. I was the Associate Director and Executive Producer of the original Broadway production. Now mind you, these are just coincidental meetings. They are simply polite.
Then, in 1993, Marty Erlichman came to my office in New York (on Jay Landers’ recommendation) – and Marty thought it would be a good idea for me to meet Barbra at her New York apartment, with both he and Jay present. At that time, they were apparently considering or having some talks of possibly doing a TV Special, as she hadn't done one for quite a while and were looking to various possibilities for ideas or something fresh. At this time, there was no talk in the air (or the press) about touring of any kind. I remember my palms were sweating on the way to her apartment. I got out of the cab a few blocks away from my final destination and walked the rest of the way. It was very daunting for me, even though I'd been a working professional for years. I remember thinking to myself … Was I intelligent enough? Could I string a conversation together? When I did arrive, the first thing she said was, "Hi, I'm Barbra." I laughed and said, “Yeah, I know.” She was so charming and I also remember thinking how smart she was.
Later that evening, Barbra, by coincidence, was coming to see PUTTING IT TOGETHER, a Sondheim Revue starring Julie Andrews. It was a show I was working on, so I was able to look after her backstage. I also remember, by chance, it was the same night Amy and Liza Minnelli came. After the show and after Barbra visited with Julie, I escorted her to her car and said “Goodnight” and she thanked me for the assistance. That was it.
Photo: Amy Irving and Richard Jay-Alexander by Linda Lenzi
Did you attend the 1993/4 Vegas shows? BARBRA STREISAND: THE CONCERT (Barbra's return to the stage)
Yes -- I remember flying to Las Vegas and being in the Airport, and thinking that just about everyone was flying out to Vegas to see this show and ring in the New Year. Streisand … LIVE. You really can't underestimate the magnitude of imagining she would be on a stage and you would be in the audience with thousands of people – all having some sort of story … a connection … as to why the HAD to be there. It was pretty exciting.
Being there … was an EVENT … it was a bit overwhelming because no one in that audience ever, in their wildest dreams, thought she would ever perform live in concert again and the rumors of her fear of live performing had been alluded to for years. I remember being moved to tears and getting “chills” as she sang “Happy Days Are Here Again”... hearing the key change... and the strength and velocity of that voice I only knew from recordings, film or television. I was totally watching her performance. I had seen Sinatra and just about everyone else perform live … but this was different. This was visceral.
move forward to 2000...
You weren't involved with TIMELESS until after the Millennium shows -- Did you see those?
No, I hadn’t. I can’t remember what I was doing, but I was probably working elsewhere.
So how did you get involved?
I was on vacation in Provincetown, with my lawyer Mark Sendroff, Bob Mackie, Ray Aghayan and other friends. I think it was July and I got a phone call from Barbra's manager.
Yeah. Marty. To someone like me, he is a giant in his own right. So he asked me if I was available in September to work on her tour. Without missing a beat, I said "Yes". Marty asked me when I'd be home from vacation -- and I said Monday. He said "OK, We'll talk then.” I remember opening the Sunday New York Times that weekend and seeing the 'double truck' ad for the concerts in New York and L.A. If memory serves … it read something like, Two Cities, Two Nights, One Voice .. Last Time.
So, off to L.A. I went and learned as much as I could, and as fast as I could, about the show she had created. I really wanted to be ready. They had done Vegas, to ring in the year, filmed it and went to Australia. I watched and listened to anything I could get my hands on and Marty was great about getting me preparatory materials. Also, Jay was so helpful, as he had worked on TIMELESS as well, and we were good friends, having worked together on other projects that were Broadway or recording oriented, with other artists.
So when you started work on TIMELESS, did you have many things to change, as the show was already set from Las Vegas?
Well, we had to find some new backup singers (girls) for the show. The original girls weren't available or something. I can’t quite recall. There were also two Overtures written. The legit version, and also a tap version, which featured Savion Glover originally. We had hired the hottest new classical dancer in New York for Overture ONE and when I got to L..A., it was decided that the TAP Overture was going to stay intact. I panicked and had to find a new tap dancer….fast! I came across Mark Mendonca. He was great, and by sheer luck just happened to live across the street from me In L.A. and had done the tour of FUNK/NOISE. Perfect. AND … his wife was expecting … twins!!!! Nice guy and FAST worker. I had been “tapping” since Fourth Grade, but this was ridiculous! We were also going to have new choruses of singers for some of the bigger numbers.
Barbra’s original set had been reassembled at Culver Studios and it was huge and impressive … and intimidating …. But she had an amazing team of people assembled and everyone helped me learn it.
I remember welcoming Barbra back to her set and she met the new cast members and reunited with her former acting cast members – Lauren Frost, Alec Ledd and Randee Heller. Also, Bill Ross was the Musical Director and Conductor and he was a “newbie” to the show, as Marvin Hamlisch had originated TIMELESS with Barbra and Kenny Ortega. I thought Bill was just amazing, as were the orchestra … many of whom had played on many of Barbra’s recordings. Everything was, simply put, First Class.
Rehearsals were a lot of fun … and FAST! I remember teasing Lauren that she had gotten too tall for the role (of young Barbra) … that’s a Broadway thing … measuring kids, etc. She and I would laugh. All the original actors were very nice to me. Don’t forget, they had been directed already by Barbra and Kenny. You have to move steadily forward, but know your place when you come into a situation like this. The sound, light and design team were also great to work with and patient with my playing “catch-up.”
I still see Lauren – she did a benefit for me in New York and she and her parents came to the Concert Tour in the U.S. Alec I see on occasion, in L.A., and he, too, came to the concert. Randee and Mark I haven’t seen at all … sorry to say.
I take it you knew quite a lot about Barbra when you started on TIMELESS?
Actually, I didn’t know a lot about her, but I certainly knew her catalog and body of work.
Photo: Marty Erlichman (Barbra's Manager) and Richard. (By Walter McBride / Retna).
to know the 'real' Barbra...
Tell us about the Barbra that you know personally?
Craig … that’s personal. I will tell you this, however - she's one of the smartest people I've ever met … man or woman! She knows so much about so many things and she is truly hilarious. I don’t think a lot of people really know that. She has an ear like no one else. She has excellent instincts. She’s a brilliant collaborator, a great leader of her team and she is incredibly caring and sincere. She is also one of the most generous human beings I have ever encountered. And all of that is true.
As a performer,she never sings a song the same way twice. Her performances are always different – and ALWAYS interesting.
I remember meeting Jule Styne in the ‘80s. I worked on a play with him called TEIBELE AND HER DEMON, by Isaac Bashevis Singer, which was coming to Broadway, from the Guthrie and he was producing. During a lunch break we both sat at the piano and he told me, “Barbra Streisand is the most amazing actress/singer. There will never be anyone like her again.” For someone with my background, the fact that she did FUNNY GIRL on Broadway AND in the film is a testament to her unique talent. It didn’t go that way for a lot of other Broadway Stars.
Do you consider yourself a friend, as well as a colleague?
Geesh, what a question! Every professional person I interface with, as well as myself, have their own lives and families. You have to know your place, and not invade one’s privacy. You keep in touch, but when you’re working or touring, you’re a close-knit family and when that particular experience is over … everyone goes back to their lives.
After TIMELESS (New York / LA). I didn’t see Barbra again ‘til I visited her in the recording studio, while on a business trip to LA, when she just happened to be recording THE MOVIE ALBUM. I'd never seen her in a recording situation. When we met up, it was as if no time had passed. She was recording "You're Gonna Hear From Me.” When Barbra is in a recording session -- she performs with the same intensity as she does on stage. That blew me away. There's also no autotune with Barbra. She records songs in WHOLE takes.
So when you read negative press about Barbra, it annoys you?
That’s a tough question. It makes me feel a lot of things when I happen to come across something that is just plain old “fabrication.” I sometimes feel like putting my own “Truth Alert” out there. She's dealt with this for 47 years and it must be maddening. I'm very proud that I haven't read any of the biographies written about Barbra. It doesn’t really “inform” the work we do together. The one thing I do find fascinating is that it’s “hearsay.” The people doing all this writing or talking or whatever the hell they do – don’t even know her or haven’t worked with her.
Live -- 2006
So how did you get involved with the 2006 US / Canada tour?
I got a phone call from Marty saying that Barbra is thinking about doing some concert dates in 2006. She and I spoke on the phone and I asked, point blank, why she was considering this. She then told me about the money that could be made for The Streisand Foundation, etc. I immediately said, “I’m in.” I also told her, "I will die if you do this without me" …. I know … it’s “dramatic,” but, hey, I work in the theatre! It has turned out to be one of the greatest and most artistically satisfying and rewarding experiences of my life. Also, EVERYONE involved is top-notch. A lot of wonderful friendships have been made here … and the “catering” has been fantastic! (he laughs). Actually … I’ve gained a lot of weight and must diet the minute I get back home.
Photo: Bill Ross (Musical Director) / Richard / Barbra -- Rehearsals in Philadelphia. 2006
Do you think she's relaxed now more than ever?
I didn't know Barbra when she had trepidations about performing live. A concert … and all those songs … is also just plain old hard work. However, I do understand the story of how that came to be (forgetting a few lyrics in three different songs during the Central Park Concert and taping) and she has shared that from the stage with her audiences. She’s totally cool and actually calms ME down sometimes! (He laughs) I also think it has to do with getting older … or, as we like to call it … maturing. You put things more into perspective. The thing I really admire about her, is that she has really learned to live her life, enjoy it, and you know the phrase "stop and smell the roses?" … well that's so true. She doesn't live in a “show business” world. She’s figured it out and, as a result, it has become something I aspire to.
She has so many interests... humanitarian, political, family, friends and artistic. But as for the fear … I don’t know … does that ever go away?. The truth is … for any performer … It’s just DAMN hard to perform live … period. Also … Barbra actually cares. She wants it to be good … for the audience to have a good time. One of my favorite nights on the tour was Dublin -- because the crowd rushed the stage during “Don't Rain On My Parade” (the reprise), toward the end of the show. It was like observing an ant farm. Everyone had their cell phones out, taking video clips and photos -- and she was “totally present” …. Taking it in. It was so exciting. When she got off stage, I said "Congratulations, your first mosh pit!" -- like something on MTV. It was such a rush! The age range in the audience, at her shows, is extraordinary.
Each and every city in Europe, as in the U.S., were so different, but the reaction – always OVERWHELMING! It’s also always great when her husband Jim can join us on the tour. He is just a fantastic individual.
And I always love the Q & A section of the show. It would be a “trip” seeing someone’s face or hearing them scream if she picked their card and talked to them. I gotta hand it to Barbra … that really WAS her idea.
Photo: Firooz Zahedi.
IL DIVO vs. THE BROADWAY GUYS
Barbra, Marty, Jay and I all adored IL DIVO. They already had their own star power and fans - A 3rd album, their World Tour -- but they had their schedule set up beyond the U.S. tour last year, so it turned out they weren't available for the European Tour. I really enjoyed working with them -- and I think they had a great time, too. Barbra and I are both very fond of them .So when they weren't available, we'd scored with “Music Of The Night” , “Somewhere” and “Evergreen” , and I said to Barbra, Marty and Jay, "Why don't we get Broadway guys?", because the show was already rooted in Broadway, because of Barbra's past -- and so on. So I offered to suggest 4 guys to save us the headache of going through auditions. I had a short list, and luckily enough, the four guys we got were our top 4 choices. They turned down other offers for the summer and jumped on this opportunity, as you can imagine. Barbra is religion to anyone with a Broadway background and any singer, musician or actor. The orchestra, culled from Broadway pits, with her four Side Men form L.A. feel the same. Even the sketch in the show, which was written by Jeffrey Richman, is based on their truth. He interviewed the four guys, to find out how they were first introduced to Barbra Streisand and that became the “sketch” which was pretty damned funny. Jeff is brilliant. He won an EMMY as a writer for FRASIER. We’ve known each other for over 30 years and this was the first opportunity we had to work together.
There were some mantras that drove this show. Like “the truth”... and we weren't going to consider songs that she doesn't really feel strongly about or that she didn’t want to sing. “If not now … when?” That drove the direction of the show. “If not you, who?” So you could really answer any questions with those answers. We really laughed a lot putting the show together. We also sang a lot of songs that didn’t make it in and Barbra, Bill, Marty, Jay Randy me and Jeff were constantly amazed at how she would “zero in” on and edit, cut, improve and help to shape what eventually became the “template” of the show. You must also remember that Barbra had already put on two spectacular, huge technical shows that were quite lavish with film clips, etc. Putting this show on its feet was a joy. I'm very proud about how beautiful it looks. I think Peter Morse's lighting is superb and Jeremy Railton’s set, so elegant and simple. She’s the main event though (no pun intended) and lights up the stage. Writing the liner notes with Jay Landers, for the DVD Boxed Set of the first five television specials, really guided us to the fact that all she needs is musicians and that voice … that extraordinary, unique and altogether singular instrument and all the acting elements that she innately attaches to the words and music and interpretations. And, needless to say, Barbra really knows how to fill a space and move. She knows how to throttle a song, and how to move from being intimate and reflective to full on "velocity," which is one of my favorite words, when it comes to singers. It has to do with speed, breathing, lungs and strength. She understands theatrics, too. She "invented" so many things. She came up with the idea of having the final spotlight to walk into, then it's always fun to execute that, and to make it happen. When she explains an idea -- I get it totally -- it's like talking in shorthand. The Broadway guys brought a totally different perspective. They have different abilities. They have a contemporary feel, less classical. I really look forward to doing more with them.
But add all the elements of light, sound, video direction and all the skill of the172 people that were assembled to make this show happen … and it is quite an awesome affair.
Photo One: Barbra and Il Divo (2006) -- Photo by Kevin Mazur.
Photo Two: Richard and Barbra's Four Special Guests Peter Lockyer, Sean McDermott, Hugh Panaro and Michael Arden. Photo shoot -- 2007. Los Angeles.
Your favorite album?
Well, you're gonna laugh, because you're probably expecting something from Broadway -- but my favorite album is JE M’APELLE BARBRA. It’s hilarious to me when she tells the audience it just went GOLD. But, when I’m a bit blue … I play it … and it makes me feel better … introspective, creative. Particularly “Clopin Clopant.” Call me crazy … I don’t care. There are also 4 cuts on BARBRA JOAN STREISAND that make me melt: “One Less Bell To Answer/ A House Is Not A Home”, “The Summer Knows”, “I Never Meant To Hurt You” and “Since I Fell For You.” DEFINITIVE … but that can be said for just about any song she ever recorded. Sometimes, if I am a bit down -- I put those on, and I just go with them. I also love her early, early stuff like “How Does The Wine Taste?”... “When in Rome...”, Suppertime.” She does a spectacular rendition of “Suppertime.”
I love all the stuff from THE FANTASTICKS. That was the first show I ever directed, in college. Look up the characters of Luisa and Matt... and you’ll find that Luisa’s last line before she sings “Much More” is …. "Please God, please, don't let me be normal!” I think nothing could apply more to the talents of Barbra Streisand. To put that into the combination of her youth, desire, passion and hunger to act -- and the fact that she only chose a song if she could act it, and bring it to life with a passionate reading or interpretation … and take it to another level … and you’ve got the makings of what made her a star. I remember reading reviews from her early years that stated she took songs and turned them into Three Act plays. They all had a beginning, a middle and an end. I remember seeing footage of Barbra on an early TV show singing” Happy Days Are Here Again” – brilliantly staged - when she's plunking down the earrings, and the fur because the market has crashed and the waiter would take the stuff as a barter for champagne. Genius! I thought that was “acting” genius.
Tell us about the Liners Notes for the TV Specials.
Marty, Jay and Peter Fletcher called me about the DVD Box Set, about writing the notes (with Jay). I had to fly to LA to see BARBRA STREISAND AND OTHER MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS and THE BELLE OF 14th STREET because they had never been released, and were locked away. So I sat there with Jay and Marty, and watched them, and what impressed Jay and I, over and over again, was a) How ahead of their time the Specials were; how groundbreaking they were and b) how Barbra was the main event. She was always amongst musicians. Whether it was in “…Musical Instruments,” or “My Name Is Barbra,” when she's walking down the ramps, with musicians on either side, … and that's when my brain started twirling, because, originally, I was told that the idea for the new tour was to travel with a minimal number of musicians -- and she would work in the round... but when we got together with the Musical Director Bill Ross -- he really wanted to give her ALL the possibilities for all the great orchestrations she had created – big or small. Barbra has some of the best charts / musical arrangements in the business. Some of the best ever written. When she puts her stamp on a song, there's no point every trying to do it. It's hers. It belongs to her. Marty and Barbra (and all of us, actually) agreed ….. I mean, who’s ever gonna argue with the phrase “more musicians?” And … the rest … as they say … is history.
I then asked Richard, if there was any word of continuing this tour to other parts of the world … as rumors had already begun swirling.And, as if on cue … he says,
“Hey, there’s Marty!” Marty Erlichman was entering the hotel. “That’s the guy to ask … ask Marty!”
To be continued???
Photo: Jay Landers / Richard Jay-Alexander
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