Liza Pulman Sings Streisand, Lyric Theatre, West End
- Credit: Bob Berry Photographer
Belsize Park raised singing star draws on her background in opera and cabaret background to deliver a tour de force performance celebrating the legacy of history’s top selling female artist
From singing opera at Glyndebourne to performing in West End musicals, Liza Pulman has had a long and fascinating career.
When she’s not singing comic numbers about Brexit, dogging or cheap flights with cabaret trio Fascinating Aida, she’s taking on history’s top selling female artist with her Streisand show.
Liza Pulman Sings Streisand runs in the West End this month, but it’s less a linear biographical tribute, more paying homage to the Diva’s legacy while weaving her own stories between the tunes.
“I loved her growing up, watching films like Funny Girl I admired her ability to not put herself in a box,” says Pulman, who turns 50 this year.
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“She could be incredibly funny one moment and break your heart the next. She was beautiful in an inimicable way. She recorded zillions of songs so I realised I could pick almost anything I wanted.
“I love talking so I chat a lot about my life, how she’s influenced me and my connections to her”.
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Nor is Pulman trying to sound like Streisand in numbers such as Don’t Rain on My Parade, The Way We Were, Evergreen, and New York State of Mind.
“I have to sing songs I really love. Belting some of them out is a huge challenge. I pay tribute to the stamina needed for her massive range of material, her ability to do those long vibrato-less notes sounds is like a classically-trained singer.”
Pulman hasn’t met her idol, but feels she’d like her if she did.
“There’s plans to do the show in New York and I have a feeling she might come. But I’ve said don’t tell me or it will be unbelievably terrifying.”
Pulman’s career sprang from her “eccentric 70s Hampstead upbringing” with actress mother Barbara Young and screenwriter father Jack Pulman, who wrote adaptations of Jane Eyre, War and Peace and I Claudius.
They bought 31, Steele’s Road from legendary 30s cabaret star Hutch (Leslie Hutchinson) for £12,000. (There’s a blue plaque on the house)
They sold it to I Claudius star Derek Jacobi, who lived there for two decades before selling up last year for £5.25 million.
“The house has an impressive lineage,” she agrees.
“Our street was full of sculptors, painters and artists, Hampstead was rich with wonderful culture and influences from all over the world. I am of Polish, Irish and Jewish heritage we’d go to Grodzinskis for bagels and a delicatessen in England’s Lane for cream cheese and smoked herring.”
She also remembers the wrap parties when the house was full of music and her mother would cook for 80.
“Everybody came, not just the stars but the costume people and crew. It wasn’t a celebrity environment but a work environment.”
Pulman recalls John Hurt under the piano, David Niven arriving for for a meeting, lunch with Herman Wouk about an adaptation, and a party at Robert Powell’s Hampstead home where she fell asleep on the coats.
“I woke up as he was carrying me downstairs and I told my friends at school I was carried by Jesus of Nazareth.”
School was St Christopher’s, then Fitzjohn’s Primary. Holidays involved singing harmonies with her mum ans sister Corey during car journeys.
“We were like the Von Trapps, we used to harmonise to songs to wile away the time. Mum would sing the tune and when I’d complain that my sister ‘has got my harmony,’ she would say ‘find another’.
Tragedy struck when she was 10. When Pulman’s father died suddenly of a heart attack, she went to boarding school.
“I wanted to be with my sister and it turned out better not to be in a house full of grief.”
The sisters formed a singing duo performing 30s cabaret songs while Pulman was studying at the Guildhall.
But she gave it up to focus on classical singing, performing at Glyndeboure and with D’Oyly Carte.
“I learned a huge amount about technique and sustaining your vocal health. Singing Streisand is a tour de force in terms of vocal maintenance and I don’t think I could survive it if I didn’t have that embedded training, but in the end I wasn’t that kind of performer.”
Joining Fascinating Aida in 2004 made her realise she loved being herself on stage.
“There’s no fourth wall, you are communicating almost one to one with an audience. Creatively, writing songs uses your brain in a way that eight shows a week in the west end doesn’t, it’s musically complex, brings out the comedic side of my performing skills and we have to be on our toes to keep our material fresh.”
As for Streisand, Pulman thinks her acting abiity and vulnerability have made her “such an icon.”
“I’m sure she’s a complex lady, she couldn’t have survived so long with a bit of grit, but she’s wonderful on stage. It’s like she’s singing to you. An audience either warm to you, or they don’t and she’s such a wonderful actress who acts through the song and really elevates it. You understand every word.
“In my show, every song is an acting song. You have to travel a big arc in three minutes, so you have to find a way into that song through yourself.
“There’s no hiding up on stage, and I like that.”
Liza Pulman sings Streisand is at the Lyric Theatre in the West End from March 18. lizapulman.com