It’s Saturday night, and Barbra Streisand is going to perform at the Village Vanguard, a tiny jazz club in Greenwich Village, for the first time since 1961. (Less than 100 fans won tickets in a lottery.) I arrive outside the club at 6 pm, two hours before the performance is set to begin. The entrance on 7th Ave. is all quiet, except for a couple of well-dressed, hard-looking guard dudes and two big trucks parked in front of the entrance — one with a big satellite dish on the roof.
The back entrance, on Waverly Place, is a different story.
A craft-services table, a video truck, two power generators, a porta-potty, and a gigantic black trailer that may or may not contain Barbra right this minute fill half the street running down the entire block. A metal crowd-control barricade has been set down on the road in front of the back entrance. There are about thirty-five people hanging out behind the barricade in the middle of the road. None of them are going to see the show. They all just want to see Barbra. Every ten minutes, a cameraman walks up from the other side of a barricade, waves his hand in a “make some noise” gesture, and people break into song. At 6:25, one such mock-impromptu outburst leads to a rendition of “Somewhere.” Someone waves a lighter up in the air.
I take a quick straw poll around the audience of favorite Barbra songs and movies. Luis, a local massage therapist, has seen Barbra three times at Madison Square Garden. Favorite song: “Being Alive”; favorite movie: Prince of Tides. Marcia prefers “He Touched Me” and Funny Girl. Marcia is holding a big picture of her dog, Gingi, with the words “Hello, Gorgeous” written on the picture in unintentional LOLcats style.
A big guy on a bike stops and says, “Who’s everyone waiting for?” When he hears Barbra Streisand, he looks impressed. After a few minutes of staring over heads, he says, “We’re not gonna see anything, anyway.” Nevertheless, I still see him hanging around a few hours later. This happens all night — random people walking by on the street hear the name Barbra Streisand, hear that she might even be inside of that massive, tank-sized trailer, and stop to watch and wait. Young, old, casual, and extreme fans, even a twentysomething girl who can’t name any Streisand songs — everybody wants to see her.
I guess this might happen with any celebrity, but it’s interesting to see the genuinely thrilled expression on jaded New York faces. Even kids walking with their parents know who she is. I realize that they probably know her from Meet the Fockers, which means they definitely like her more than my generation, which first became acquainted with her as a giant robot monster on South Park.
By 6:45 there are about 90 people standing in the street, and the whole scene is beginning to take on a slight Waiting for Godot feel. No one knows if Streisand is actually going to come say hi to the gawkers. A black curtain is hanging between the back entrance and the black trailer, and every time we glimpse someone walking behind the curtain, at least five people will start cheering “Barbra! Barbra! Barbra!” and at least one person will yell, “Hello, Gorgeous!” At one point, a man emerges from behind the curtain and says that Barbra is, in fact, resting in the trailer. A man standing on an entry stoop behind the barricade says, obliquely, “I’m the only one who’s seen her with her clothes off.” Everyone in the crowd looks at each other, wondering if he heard him right. He doesn’t offer a follow-up.
A mother and a daughter, both wearing Barbra shirts, hold up signs and occasionally break into song. “My mom spent my college money on going to see Barbra Streisand,” says the daughter. I think she’s joking. “I’m not joking,” she says.
As the light fades on Waverly Place, I get into a conversation with a few fans about Streisand’s movies. Jason, who wrote several essays on the cinema of Streisand, claims that the three movies guaranteed to turn a Streisand newb into a megafan are Funny Girl, Yentl, and Meet the Fockers. (Jason’s favorite song is the lesser-known “This is One of These Moments” from Yentl.) I mention that I had heard a rumor about Streisand playing the Norma Desmond role in a film version of the Sunset Boulevard musical, which got everyone in my vicinity bursting with excitement.
At this point, a nice lady named Josephine asks if we know what movie is filming. No, no, we say, Barbra Streisand is performing! Josephine’s face lights up. Her favorite album is People.
A little before 7 pm, a couple of buses park out by the 7th Ave. entrance, carrying the lucky people who won the contest to get tickets for the show. To win a ticket, you could either pre-order a CD, or you could participate in the “Show Us Your Streisand” contest. I speak to a fellow who claims to be the manager for two winners of “Show Us Your Streisand.” He hands me a business card promising “Talent for Hire: Weddings, Parties, Bar Mitzvahs.” One of the winners, he explains, is an investment banker at JP Morgan. He also mentions that Babs kept thirty seats in the hundred-person venue reserved for her personal friends, including George Clooney and Donna Karan. The manager claims he is a friend of Donna Karan, and to his credit, that seems about 45% likely.
At 7:05, a huge man dressed in a huge suit sets up a couple of barricades in front of the sidewalk. Afterwards, he talks outside the entrance with a sharply dressed bouncer who looks exactly like Titus Welliver. The front entrance crowd steadily gets bigger, until foot traffic is completely blocked off by barricades. Around 7:16 they let the ticketholders leave the bus and walk in two-by-two. By my casual tally, there are slightly more men than women, and the median age was around 50, with the exception of a leggy blonde who takes such a proud walk down the makeshift red carpet, complete with a for-the-cameras head-flip, that a few people in the audience laugh out loud. Someone asks the guard who looks like Titus Welliver if we’re going to see Barbra Streisand come in. “You have a better chance of seeing Kadafi tonight,” he says. Titus Welliver is such a badass.
At this point, I go around to the back entrance, so I miss seeing the entrance of Donna Karan, Meredith Vieira, and Sarah Jessica Parker. At 7:58, five cops appear behind the barricade, leading everyone to think that Barbra is finally going to come out. One of them jokes with a couple of fans that he is just there to distract them: “Barbra’s actually rappelling into the building from across the street,” he said, pointing up. Literally right as he says this, someone yells “Hillary!” and there she is: Hillary Rodham Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea. They wave to the crowd and duck through the curtain. Ten seconds later, yup, there he is: Bill Clinton, looking like the coolest man alive. He doesn’t wave, but he grins just a bit sheepishly as a hundred crazy fans cheer him on.
It’s 8:10 and the show is about to start. I step back onto the sidewalk across the street from the back entrance and stare up at the windows of the massive trailer. All of the windows are draped, but there’s one window where the drapes aren’t quite closed, and I can see just a tiny sliver of the room inside. For just a moment, I think I see a fantastic-looking woman of a certain age turn her head and stare out the window through my eyes into my soul, but then she disappears and I decide it was probably just Donna Karan.
For a little while after the show begins inside, the door to the video truck by the front entrance is open, and the tech guy lets us see his TV, which shows footage from inside. I cram in next to 12 other people and try to see and hear anything. An MC who I think might be a Gibb brother (from my vantage point, it’s just a bearded glob of pixelated talking flesh) spends ten minutes on introductions. Then, Barbra grabs the mike, and the tech guy demurely closes the door.
At 8:20, the barricades in front of the 7th avenue entrance are taken away, and people instantly disperse. I walk around the corner to the back entrance, passing on the way an anxious staffer, who’s racing up 7th Ave. toward the back entrance holding four big bottles of water. There are still about 60 people hanging out in back, waiting for Barbra to come and say hi to her fans.
There’s no more crowd by the front entrance, just a couple of policemen. They aren’t Barbra fans, but one of them remembers hearing her sing Cats on the radio. “Did you like it?” I ask. “Oh yeah,” he says, “I love Cats.”