“I’m at Sardis waiting for Barbra Streisand,” I text my mom and sister, looking out the front bar window to the Shubert Theatre where she made her Broadway debut in I Can Get It For You Wholesale in 1962. It is at once the strangest sentence I’ve ever typed, yet also feels strangely...natural. From my second grade talent show performance of “I’m the Greatest Star” to my Prince of Tides-era plot to marry her son, Jason, I’ve longed to meet Barbra.
In the capacity of official Playbill handler, I was invited to tag along with the crew of CBS Sunday Morning as they filmed an Anthony Mason interview with Barbra. (They wanted Mason to be able to refer to the original Wholesale and Funny Girl Playbills during the interview.) We would be visiting the Shubert Theatre, as well as the Winter Garden, the 1964 home of Funny Girl. It was in Shubert Alley, right outside the stage door, that Anthony Mason asked Barbra about her famous first Playbill bio: “Born in Madagascar, raised in Rangoon…”
“I didn’t want to be boring,” the girl from Brooklyn shrugged. Judging from the double-takes and dropping jaws from the passersby—who were having their best NYC celebrity sighting in that alley—Barbra achieved that goal.
Back at Sardi’s, before heading uptown, Streisand is presented with a new caricature. The first was stolen sometime in the 1970s, one of only two to ever go missing—James Cagney, the other. Coincidentally, the table she was seated at was just beneath the caricature of Marvin Hamlisch, her rehearsal pianist from Funny Girl, then longtime friend. “Oh my Marvin!” she said, “I adored him.” She signed her new portrait with the instructions, “Don’t steal this one.” It was in the laughter of that moment that I had my internal freak-out, “Ohmygosh I’m in Sardi’s laughing at a joke with Barbra Streisand.” My super-cool “this is supposed to happen” attitude from an hour earlier was replaced with awe and disbelief. Those emotions only amplified when I stood behind the sound guy on the Winter Garden stage when Barbra stepped to the front and said, “I just want to get the feeling of this...standing here.” What does she see when she looks out into the house? What memories flood back? Opening night of Funny Girl was met with a standing ovation and 23 curtain calls. Does she still hear it? It’s likely that I’m romanticizing the moment, but I lost my breath as she stood there.
The final stop of the day was the legendary Friars Club (the club for entertainment professionals and more) for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to name the new Barbra Streisand room. At this point, the day had just become surreal. What was I doing in a room where Helen Mirren, Larry King, and Rosie Perez were huddled in conversation? They cut the ribbon, and Barbra recorded a birthday message to Tony Bennett and mingled for a few minutes with friends and fans. I watched her bend to a young girl so their eyes met as they spoke. I asked 13-year-old Paloma what they’d talked about. “I told her I wanted to do something in musical theatre, and she said she’ll be coming to see me someday,” she said, grinning ear to ear.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that Barbra had slipped out of the crowd, and I hadn’t yet officially met her. I was so grateful for the day, but I couldn’t hide my disappointment. “Your story’s not over,” the CBS producer said, trying to cheer me. I spied her in the corner of the front bar, just as I was leaving. The CBS producer passed me off to Marty Erlichman, Barbra’s manager of over 50 years, who guided me to her table and handed my Playbill to her for an autograph. He explained who I was and then spelled my name for her, (which turned out to resemble something of a Laurel and Hardy skit between the three of us…”T-A-L-A” “T-A-L?” “What?” “T-A” “T-A-L” “What?”) When it was finally written, she looked up at me, and said in that distinctive Barbra lilt, “What a name.” I said, “Thank you so much.” That’s it. That’s all I said.
I told Anthony Mason that I had been starstruck all day and then in my moment to say something, said barely anything at all. I asked him if he ever gets starstruck or if so, who it would be. He shook his head, “Well, if this doesn’t do it, who would?” but then admitted that in the early days of his career, he was a little nervous around Bruce Springsteen.
It wasn’t until the concert at Barclays in Brooklyn two months later that everything sort of clicked for me—what the day had meant and why. During the show-stopping “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” the scene from the movie Funny Girl played on the giant video screen behind Barbra as she sang. I began to cry. I was instantly transported to my parents’ bedroom, listening to my Funny Girl cast album, watching myself perform in the dresser mirror. I was nostalgic for the little girl who proclaimed, “I'm gonna live and live now, Get what I want, I know how.” I was nostalgic for us—Barbra and I singing together. It was through the discovery of Barbra that as a young girl, I began to discover myself. Perhaps the reason I couldn’t say anything to her was because I had so much to say, and at the end of the day, “thank you so much” is really all I actually needed to say to her.