Let's Make It a Musical

The 21st Century Barbra EP: A Suggestion

· Updated on October 4, 2023

Barbra Streisand—despite somehow having only appeared in two Broadway musicals—has made her mark on modern musical theatre with her numerous covers, interpretations, and incarnations of show tunes in her concerts and Broadway album compilations: The Broadway Album (1985) and Back to Broadway (1993.)

But for all the riches we’ve been given there are many we’ve been denied. I can only assume Sue Mengers placed a curse on Streisand after the latter dropped her as her agent. We’ll never get Babs’ version of Gypsy, and Ryan Murphy being allowed to get his mitts on The Prom is just rubbing vermouth on the wound. Seriously, I’m assuming she’s been rejecting dozens of multi-million development deals from various streaming services to punish Hollywood for their wanton disparagement of her perfectionist drive and singular visions. In short: we weren’t worthy. 

Given that I’m a theatre queen with chronic elevated depression and anxiety, I often self-soothe with increasingly elaborate pop culture confections. So, dear readers, I present a very niche speculation of what a Barbra Streisand album for the 21st Century might look like. In my ideal scenario, she sets up a folding table and a wireless tap outside the August Wilson Theatre (where the Lea Michele Funny Girl is currently doing image rehabilitation.)

Side 1. Track 1: Inner White Girl (A Strange Loop, Music and Lyrics by Michael Jackson)

White women singing “I loves you Porgy” will always be fascinating in how we all (I) feel slightly complicit in some kind of microaggression when we listen to it. Babs could one-up this by reinterpreting Michael R. Jackson’s haunting, soulful ode from A Strange Loop. Think about it: casting herself as Usher’s Inner White Girl could transform the number from a plaintive requiem about accessing a different kind of social mobility to a sinister, mocking inner taunt. If Barbra was our inner voice, would it be any other way?

She doesn’t care if she ruffles any feathers, in fact that is her MO.

While he’s the king of avoiding confrontation, there’s not a bomb she won’t throw.”

Side 1. Track 2: Model Behavior (Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek) 

Barbra and Almodovar: A match that’s so perfect, so thrilling, so fulfilling, there’s probably a reason it won’t and could never happen. Instead, let’s skip to the part where Babs covers one of the standout numbers from the glorious mess that is the musical adaption of Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Barbra can kill a patter number dead, and the kinetic neurosis mixed with mounting torment that Laura Benanti made a six-course meal out of would show off Babs’ formidable comedic chops.

Can you imagine her mouth around a line like ‘They got me posing with a melon and a matador…some kind of metaphor’. 

Side 1. Track 3: Wait for it/me (Hamilton/Hadestown, Lin Manuel Miranda, Anais Mitchell)

There are two things Barbra can do unlike any other: a mash-up that shouldn’t work but magically does (Pretty Women/Ladies Who Lunch) and an elongated W sound. Both are exploited to maximum effect with the crescendo of personal will in Wait for it wistfully contrasted with Wait for me (I’m coming.)

Side 1. Track 4: Telephone Wire (feat. Norm Lewis) (Fun Home, Music by Jeanine Tesori, Lyrics by Lisa Kron) 

Could this be Papa Can You Hear Me” for a new generation? I need a specific form of acid that allows me to have a fully immersive experience in which I get to see what a Barbra-directed film of Fun Home would look like. Does she bust out her Yentl wig and specs and play Alison Bechdel herself, or does she go the full haul and play Bruce? Does she play both!

Look, it’s not out of the question: A tortured, detail-obsessed self-made personality? That’s called a regular Tuesday for Babs. 

Side 1. Track 5: Before I Go (Kimberly Akimbo, Music by Jeanine Tesori, Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire) 

The release of the Kimberly Akimbo Broadway cast recording has brought us a multitude of riches. It also provides one hell of a leading role for a woman pushing 70. Like Caroline or Change, I can see it being well respected without necessarily running forever. Enter Barbra, giving a straight, simple, direct interpretation of the 11’clock number where a 16-year-old Kimberly—who has a rare degenerative disease that rapidly ages her—confronts her own mortality with wisdom, defiance, grief, and more than a little hope.

Related: How Broadway’s ‘Kimberly Akimbo’ Portrays Queer Teen Drama Without the Trauma

Side 2. Track 1: Dust and Ashes (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 Music and Lyrics by Dave Malloy) 

A Streisand torch song takes you on a journey through the contradictions, reflections, missed opportunities, delusions, and compromises that make up a life in musical theater. Dave Malloy creates an indelible emotional arc from rueful recrimination, dashed hopes, wistful reflection, and ultimate resolve. What a musical marriage he and Barbra could make!

Side 2. Track 2: Hero (Ghost Quartet, Music and Lyrics by Dave Malloy) 

Ok, I’m cheating because this is technically Off-Broadway, but this is my manic-induced fantasy so I’m taking the prerogative. Barbra in the twilight of her life singing a song full of heart rendering critical introspection? This is the stuff dreams are made of. It’s a definite leap to imagine Barbra singing lyrics as self-aggrading as I am not a hero. I am not a movie star. I am not a genius. I am not a monk. I’m not special. I’m the same as anyone else. But doesn’t it send chills down your spine anyway? 

Side 2. Track 3: Work the Wound (Passing Strange, Music and Lyrics by Stew) 

It wouldn’t be right for Babs to leave out one of the great Broadway anthems to being an artist: It’s right up there with Putting it Together (her version, of course) and Finishing the Hat. Stew’s lyrics delve into the human cost of making art and music. This could be a chance for Barbra to reflect on her legacy as an artist and an entertainer. With this number, we could get into what she means to her audience, especially the queers who hold her close to their hearts for her ability to tap into the power of performing vulnerability. Babs has curated a persona for herself that’s elevated her to worship and revilement, and this song is the perfect expression of that achievement. 

I live behind the rhyme and verse. I lift my voice ’til I lift the curse
It’s all rehearsed, you see. This music always rescues me. There’s a melody for every malady.

Prescription song, you see. And should the mask begin to fall. My comes in like a twelve foot wall
So you can’t see me. And I’m blessed to entertain

Side 2. Track 4: It’s Not About Me/The Lady’s Improving (The Prom, Music Matthew Skler, Lyrics by Chad Beguelin) 

After devastating us for three straight songs, we could get some relief from a gleeful, ironic celebration-cum-dissection of her own diva persona. These two numbers allow Barbra to just go loud, blending her words a bit and shooting for the rafters. 

Side 2. Track 5: That Horrible woman Feat. Christine Ebersole (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Music by Steven Lutvak, Lyrics by Steven Lutvak and Robert E Freeman).

Barbra loves a duet, for better or worse. This time give her a comic, melodramatic duet with one of the great soubrettes, Christine Ebersole. Hell, give it a big band arrangement and let them banter in between verses. Would it be a hot mess? Yes. Would it be tremendous fun? F*CK yes. 

Bonus track. Ex-Wives/Six (Six, Music and Lyrics by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss) 

Have Barbra record all six parts herself and edit them together. Six Barbras superimposed in a jaunty pop melody? It’s the perfect song to vacuum to.

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