The sounds of Streisand
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The sounds of Streisand

“WHEN I started in this business, people used to say to me, ‘You know, you really look like Barbra Streisand. You sound like her. You really should do a show,’” recalls Australian singer Avigail Herman.

It’s easy to see why. From the curly, blonde hair reminiscent of Streisand’s heyday in A Star is Born to the trademark nose and booming voice, Herman’s resemblance to her long-time idol is uncanny.

“Eventually, I thought about it for a while and I kind of went, ‘I don’t want to do her. If I’m going to do it, I want to be true to myself and her.’ So eventually, I came up with a concept that does exactly that.”

The result was the one-woman show, Hey World, Here I Am –The Streisand Story, which Herman launched almost a decade ago to rave reviews.

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Now, after a few years of hiatus, she is set to revive the show in the Melbourne Cabaret Festival this week.

It will include a mix of classic Streisand songs, such as The Way We Were, and People, and little-known songs, such as her medley of Come to the Supermarket and Sam, You Made the Pants too Long.

“I admire her immensely,” admits Sydney-based Herman, speaking to The AJN by phone from Noosa, where she was performing and teaching a master class as part of the recent Noosa Long Weekend Festival.

“Aside from her actual talent, what she has done for women in this business has been quite maverick.”

Herman admits there are similarities between her and the superstar singer.

“I’d be stupid to say not. The curly hair, the fine features. I have a kind of New York energy, and it’s the Jewish thing. I don’t mind being compared to her. That works for me,” she laughs.

But don’t mistake the show as a tribute.

“I hate the word ‘tribute’,” says Herman. “It denotes things that I’m not trying to do. [My show] honours Streisand as a performer. It’s a journey through her music, and it’s anecdotal and it tells stories about her and connections that we may or may not have. It’s funny, irreverent and all that sort of stuff.”

In the business for more than 30 years, Herman boasts a career that straddles many spheres. As a performer, she has toured with international artists such as the late Sammy Davis Jr, Petula Clark and Cilla Black, and most recently did concerts with American composers John Bucchino and Georgia Stitt on their Australian tour.

She has also performed in many musicals and concerts including Cats, Follies and Godspell. On television, her credits include Heartbreak High and Always Greener.

Aside from Herman’s music theatre and cabaret performances, she is also a teacher and until last year headed NIDA’s one-year music theatre course, Singer Dancer Actor.

Her master classes are also in demand and she routinely teaches workshops for the Queensland Performing Arts Trust and Australian Theatre for Young People, among others.

Herman says she enjoys giving back and fostering a new generation of performers. But there’s also another upside: “When you teach, it hones the whole operation of the practice and craft that you are doing, and you become very succinct about what you believe,” she says.

“It means that as a performer, you keep growing and growing and I love that.”

And if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, like Streisand, she also regularly slips into the director’s chair. Her most recent project, directing the musical Milk and Honey about a group of lonely Jewish American widows, was staged at the Melbourne Recital Centre earlier this month.

“I’m very blessed, and the variety that I can do makes my life and work very interesting. It keeps me passionate. Everything that you do feeds into your performing so that’s what I love about it.”

Hey World, Here I Am – The Streisand Story will be performed by Avigail Herman at the Melbourne Cabaret Festival from July 22-24. Bookings: www.melbournecabaret.com.

REPORT: Chantal Abitbol
PHOTO: Avigail Herman in concert.

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