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PORTRAYAL WINS BAILEY NEW FANS
Barbra Streisand loves Jim Baileys impersonation of her. In fact, when she hosted a big private party in Malibu, she invited Bailey to perform at it. But, says Bailey, at first Streisand was a little rattled by my act. And watching Bailey as Streisand at the Charles Playhouse, where he is appearing through June 12, you can understand why. Its eerily accurate.
When Bailey walks out as Streisand, you gasp at first, then laugh a bit. Bailey does his own elaborate makeup (the transformation takes more than two hours) and supervises the painstaking design of his costumes. As an actor, he has obsessed over the details and gotten them right - the watery eyes, the nervous way Stressed licks her upper lip, the stylized way she flicks from her face with one index finger a lock of her silken hair, the awkward way her shoulders twitch. But when he starts to sing, confusion sets in, and it not exactly a laughing matter.
voice is astonishing. There it is, that distinctive, nasal Streisand
tone, capable of focusing with choirboy purity on a soft high pitch
or opening up into a tremulous, throaty force that clobbers you. Theres
the trademark Streisand diction that segues from affected properness
to Brooklynese yet always sounds completely natural. There are gentle
comic touches. When Bailey prolongs the final word (world)
in the final phrase of People, the note grows in intensity
and seems to have about 11 syllables. Yet even that is true to Streisand.
After Baileys press night performance, capped by that slow-tempo
Streisand rendition of Happy Days Are Here Again that sent
the sold-out crowd into a frenzy, a prominent local tenor in the audience
said, If he were to appear in Madison Square Garden instead of
Babs, who could possibly tell the difference?
has carved himself an unusual niche in the world of entertainment -
portraying legendary female entertainers. His extraordinary Judy Garland,
which he is also presenting at the Charles Playhouse in alternation
with Streisand, is his most famous impersonation, but he has also done
Peggy Lee and Phyllis Diller. Obviously, his work shares some qualities
with the traditions of gay male drag. But he does not mock his subjects,
he reveres them. Hes a closer soul mate to obsessive actors like
Dustin Hoffman, especially the struggling actor Hoffman played in Tootsie.
Hoffmans character, Michael, dressed in drag, at first take on
the role of Dorothy in a soap opera because its all he can get.
Soon hes obsessed with the part. It challenges him as no male
role ever has.
a similar way, Bailey just drifted into portraying women. Born in Philadelphia,
he studied at the local conservatory, where his teachers coaxed him
into the operatic repertory for lyric tenor. But he also wanted to sing
in shows and act. One day he brought to his lesson a pop song, Teach
Me Tonight. My teacher, Mr. Stern, disapproved of the title and
the song, Bailey says sitting in the lobby of the Charles Playhouse
before a show. Bailey knew then that he could do things that Mr. Stern
would never understand. So he left. He moved to Los Angeles. One day
at a party with friends, Bailey got up and started imitating Phyllis
Diller, whom he adored. Everyone said my impersonation was uncanny.
Soon after this - I was driving and a Judy Garland recording came on
the radio. I said to myself, I can do that. And I could.
I felt that I knew something that nobody else knew.
and managers agreed. Bailey started perfecting his portrayals. Eventually
he won guest appearances on The Tonight Show and The
Ed Sullivan Show, among others. Roles were created especially
for him on Night Court and The Rockford Files.
One of his favorites was on Switch with Robert Wagner and
Eddie Albert. I played myself in a two-part story that was so
successful it won the show a renewal. The storyline cast me as an actor
playing Peggy Lee. Bob and Eddie ask me to create a character, a baroness,
to entrap a criminal.