Barbra Streisand crosses the stage, stopping in the center to gaze out over the audience, her look preoccupied. She gives a shrug and goes off.
This wordless vignette is her first entrance and exit in Broadway's new musical, Funny Girl. In the moment's pause before she disappears as quickly as she came, she leaves an image in the eyeof a carelessly stacked girl with a long nose and bones awry, wearing a lumpy brown leopard-trimmed coat and looking like the star of nothing. But there is something in her clear, elliptical gaze that is beyond resistance. It invites too much sympathy to be as aggressive as it seems. People watching it can almost hear the last few ticks before Barbra Streisand explodes.
For the 21 hours that follow, she is all but the whole show. Funny Girl is a biographical evening about the late Fanny Brice, and ostensibly Barbra Streisand is re-creating her rise to fame and her ill-starred marriage to Nicky Arnstein, the gambler-sport. But Streisand establishes more than a wellrecollected Fanny Brice. She establishes Barbra Streisand. When she is on stage, singing, mugging, dancing, loving, shouting, wiggling, grinding, wheedling, she turns the air around her into a cloud of tired ions. Her voice has all the colors, bright and subtle, that a musical play could ask for, and gradations of power too. It pushes the walls out, and it pulls them in. She is onstage for 111 of Funny Girl's 132 minutes.
The Greatest. Her impact was instant and stunning. Barbra's only previous acting experience on Broadway was a 20-minute role as a marriage-proof secretary in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, though her plaintive song called Miss Marmelstein was the only bargain in an evening that was otherwise strictly retail. Many people still say Who when they hear her name, but she is not from nowhere. She is only 21, but she has made an occasional $7,000 a week singing at places like Las Vegas' Riviera and $3,000 at Manhattan's Basin Street East. Her three albums have made her at present the world's best-selling female recording star on LP. But it is one thing to rival all the Patti Pages in pressed plastic and quite another to take over Broadway.
There is a convention in musical theater called The Girl's First Songthat first number in which the heroine states who she is, what she wants, and hints at the perils that might befall her, such as A Cockeyed Optimist from South Pacific and Wouldn't It Be Loverly from My Fair Lady. In Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand is to some degree playing herself as well as Fanny Brice, and it is something more than a statement in a show when she stands under the marquee of a theater and declares in her first song:
I'm the greatest star,
I am by far,
But no one knows it.
From that moment, no one has a chance not to know it. "I'm a great big clump of talent," she sings with conviction. "I've got 36 expressionssweet as pie to tough as leatherand that's six expressions more than all the Barrymores put together. I'm the greatest staran American Beauty rose, with an American beauty nose."