Broadway: The Girl

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She introduced Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf there. It was the same song that children sing. But in her version, it seemed new, tripping perilously along the edge of probability, its innocence in doubt between the ceiling and the floor, which had suddenly become the dripping jaws of some unruly canine. And she is still experimenting in search of style. In one number there are conscious echoes of Jolson, in some others perhaps unconscious ones of Lena Home. She has a bit of Judy Garland, a hunk of Merman, and a whisper that brings Julie London to mind. But whatever echoes or familiar inflections may be circling the periphery, there is always something strong and Streisand coming through. She takes a role in every song. As she puts it, "I work as an actress when I'm singing."

She sings often too close to the top of her emotional range. Nearly every song has a gasp, a weep, a shout. As one bass player once said: "She loses her cool."

Her essential gift is interpretation. She forms an idea of a song that is hers alone, and she makes it work. The master sample of this talent is her recording of Happy Days Are Here Again, sung so slowly that suddenly all the hidden irony and banality of it come shaking out like loose nails. The song had been around for more than a generation, but not until Streisand sang it was it ever more than a jingle.

With success at the Bon Soir, she needed plenty of new songs but had none. She called music publishers, said she was Vaughn Monroe's secretary; would they please send over some complimentary sheet music? It worked. Her brother Sheldon, an art director in the advertising business, used to take her to lunch in those days and make her walk three feet behind him because of her clothes. People stared at her. "She had these horrible rips in the back of her stockings," Sheldon remembers vividly. "I offered to buy her a new pair. She said, 'They're not ripped in front and I don't see them in back, so they don't bother me,' and refused to change them." She did give up her nomadic nights, however, and took an apartment over a Third Avenue seafood restau rant. Essence of decaying halibut came up through the floor boards, and in the summer the place smelled like the stomach lining of an alley cat.

Realistic Fear. Her public character was beginning to get across. Televisions Mike Wallace made her the semi-resident nut on his PM East show. She made about a dozen appearances and in each one seemed to be straining a little harder to live up to her own axiom of eccentricity. "I scare you, don't I?" she said to Wallace's guest David Susskind one night. "I'm so far out I'm in." She was only trying desperately to be different, with an old realistic fear that with her unprepossessing looks her only alternative was stenography. Yet all through that era, people were telling her that she must have a carpenter surgeon plane down her nose. "That would be cheating," was Barbra's reaction. "It wouldn't be natural, know what I mean?" She has also been warned that such an operation might well change the quality of her voice.

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