Barbra Party

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Barbra Party

By Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes

What if they gave a birthday party for Barbra Streisand and she didn’t show up?

That’s what the Los Angeles-based cabaret community has been doing for 18 years, and she hasn’t attended even once — and it’s unlikely she will come when the 19th annual Barbra Party is held April 23, the day before her 75th birthday.

Clifford Bell

Clifford Bell, the party’s director and founder, said he’s been told by mutual friends that Streisand is aware of the annual event — and though she has a standing invitation, he said he doubts she will be there this year either.

The party — known formally as Our Name Is Barbra —will be held at the Prospect Theatre in the heart of Hollywood as a benefit for Project Angel Food, which delivers 1,200 meals a day to people infected with HIV. Tickets are priced at $25 and can be purchased at

The venues for the party have moved around Southern California over the years, and so have the charities. Bell said he “fell in love” with Project Angel Food years ago when he was invited to help with entertainment at a luncheon they were having, “and I’ve since worked with them on close to 10 events over the last few years.”

This year’s Barbra party will feature performances by 20 artists, including: special appearances by Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes; Jodi Burnett Mandel, a cellist (and the daughter of singer Irene Kral); Allan Rich, an Oscar-, Grammy- and Emmy-winning composer; and married couple Ilene Graff — of TV’s Mr. Belvedere and the replacement Sandy in the original production of Grease — and pianist Ben Lanzarone.

The show will be directed by Bell, who started the party on Streisand’s birthday in 1998. 

Mary Wilson
Photo: Craig Levine/

“Back then I invited a small group of friends — including Susie Mosher, Lee Lessack, Maxine Lapiduss, Hillary Carlip and Paul Jacek — to a private home to sing songs Barbra had done,” Bell recalled in an interview. “The twist was, everyone tried to sing very obscure songs or do funny things with them. So John Boswell and I did a duet on ‘Guilty’ with a swing tempo, and Hope Royaltey did ‘People’ as a spoken-word protest song and completely made it work.”

Brad Ellis & Eydie Alyson

The event still requires participants to perform songs associated with Streisand — on recordings, on TV or in concert — which Bell said results in a choice of thousands of songs. “Over the years we’ve had very little repetition,” he noted.

With more performers offering to sing than he can accommodate, Bell winnows down the list every year and often suggests which song each person should sing, though the performers have input as well. “This year I am creating more numbers specifically for certain singers than ever before, including several duets and group numbers,” he said.

Shelly Goldstein & Domenic Thiroux

But creativity is always a process, he added. “There was one instance where I thought a particular singer would kill with ‘The Music That Makes Me Dance,’ and she thought it was a good idea, but after rehearsing it, she decided it didn’t fit her, so we changed her song.

“This year I gave someone ‘Where Am I Going?’ (from Sweet Charity) because I thought it really fit him well. But then I heard him sing ‘On a Clear Day,’ and I’m thinking about changing my mind because he sang it so beautifully.”

(L-R) Scott Evan Davis, Julie Garnye, Joshua Lance Dixon

Some of the songs at the Barbra party have taken on a life of their own for performers beyond the show, Bell pointed out. “For example, Mark Arthur Miller did an R&B version of ‘People’ one year that worked out so well, he put it on his album. And Shelly Markham did a beautiful, unique arrangement of ‘The Way We Were’ that ended up on his album.”

Bell’s affection for Streisand started very early, he recalled. “I loved her voice and the passion and the fury with which she sang — and whatever that meaningful connection is between a little gay boy and Barbra Streisand, I had that in abundance. My father, a symphony conductor, brought her albums home, including the original cast recording of Funny Girl. I was about 10 when the movie came out, and I couldn’t understand why people thought she wasn’t pretty, because I thought she was bee-yoo-tee-full.

(L-R) Alex Mohajer, Mary Wilson, Jane Kinsey, Keith Borden, Clifford Bell

“She’s always been such a prolific trend-setter. Although she came up at a time when other girl singers like Doris Day and Sandra Dee were popular, she had something extraordinary, with a very theatrical style and ethnic look that made her totally unique and special.

“Over the years, she transformed herself from an ugly duckling from Brooklyn to the elegant Queen of Sheba, and she’s recorded more than 60 best-selling albums that catalogue everything from the Great American Songbook through Broadway, disco and pop. There’s really never been anybody like her who has created as much gorgeous music as she has.”

For more information about the event and Project Angel Food, Bell suggested accessing his podcast at

Our Name Is Barbra 2017
Sunday, April 23 at 7:00 pm
Prospect Theatre
6356 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

Elliot Zwiebach

Elliot Zwiebach loves the music of The Great American Songbook and classic Broadway, with a special affinity for Rodgers and Hammerstein. He's been a professional writer for 45 years and a cabaret reviewer for five. Based in Los Angeles, Zwiebach has been exposed to some of the most talented performers in cabaret—the famous and the not-so-famous—and enjoys it all. Reviewing cabaret has even pushed him into doing some singing of his own — a very fun and liberating experience that gives him a connection with the performers he reviews.