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Barbra Streisand’s Creative Process Revealed In Turning ‘Funny Girl’ Into Broadway Classic

New research uncovers handwritten notes and draft songs that led to Streisand's iconic performance

How Barbra Streisand turned the struggling production of Funny Girl into a classic Broadway hit has been revealed by new research.

Draft songs from the musical reveal how the singer created one of her most legendary performances.

Handwritten notes on the drafts provide an insight into how Streisand worked with her creative team to turn the show into a box office smash and propel herself to superstardom.

One annotation on a page of lyrics of the song “Don’t Rain on My Parade” includes an unfamiliar verse which is marked “too low” and then “out?” noting that “Barbra runs out of gas.”

The notes, discovered by a University of Sheffield researcher, show how changes to the songs ultimately led to Streisand’s 1969 Best Actress Oscar win for the Hollywood movie adaptation of the show.

The study, led by Professor of Musicology Dominic Broomfield-McHugh, reveals the creative process Streisand, then aged just 21, went through to transform the then struggling production.

Found in the US Library of Congress, the notes of the draft songs show how Streisand, now 81, worked with American songwriter, composer, lyricist, and screenwriter Bob Merrill to fine-tune the production.

How Barbra Streisand turned the struggling production of Funny Girl into a classic Broadway hit has been revealed by new research. SWNS

Merrill made notes on the draft songs while watching Streisand rehearse, and subsequently donated them as part of his papers at the US Library of Congress.

Funny Girl went on to run on Broadway for more than three years. It received eight nominations at the 18th Tony Awards and its cast, including Streisand, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Streisand’s performance in the show is widely seen as her most iconic, according to Prof Broomfield-McHugh.

Nearly 60 years after premiering on Broadway, Funny Girl enjoyed a revival last year.

Critics gave Glee star Lea Michele acclaimed reviews, but for many the role based on the rise and fall of comedienne Fanny Brice is synonymous with Streisand.

Prof. Broomfield-McHugh, of Sheffield’s Department of Music, said: “It’s well documented that Funny Girl struggled on its pre-Broadway try-out.

“But what these draft songs show is how Streisand and the creative team worked together to turn it into one of Broadway’s most-loved musicals.

“As Streisand stood on the brink of stardom, the creative team supported her by making adjustments to the songs to show her off at her best.

“The drafts bring to life the process that Streisand went through to turn Funny Girl into a hit and what is now widely seen as her most iconic role.

“These wonderful sources provide a window into one of the biggest landmarks in Broadway history and into the making of one of its greatest stars.”

On a page of lyrics of “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” there is an unfamiliar verse for the song, which Merrill has marked “too low” and then ‘out?’, noting that ‘Barbra runs out of gas’.

Prof. Broomfield-McHugh said: “This was not a criticism: the refrain of the song is hugely demanding, and Merrill proposed to drop the verse so that she had more stamina left to thrive in the refrain.

“They went ahead and dropped it. It became one of the signature songs of her career, and its success was the result of a level of refinement created through collaboration with the people around her.”

How Barbra Streisand turned the struggling production of Funny Girl into a classic Broadway hit has been revealed by new research. SWNS

On the reprise of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” at the finale of the show, Merrill notes twice that the key is too low and needs to be raised to suit her vocal range.

Prof Broomfield-McHugh said: “It’s clear that Streisand was open to improvements.

“It’s also clear that she knew her own mind, and that this was respected.

“For example, Merrill makes a note to indicate the words of two verses might be swapped, writing “Please have Barbra make up mind before orchestrating.”

“Obviously, Streisand was trusted to know what worked best for her, and no decision was imposed on her, even at this early stage of her career.”

For the song “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” Merrill notes that Streisand needs to avoid turning upstage because the audience can’t see her.

He also encourages her not to ‘try too hard’ with the humor because the costume will help her to get the laughs.

And for the hit ballad “People,” Merrill again notes Streisand’s inclination to turn upstage, something that would disconnect her from the audience.

Prof Broomfield-McHugh said: “Again, these are helpful refinements to help show her off at her best rather than criticisms.”

He added: “Her achievements are her own yet the documents from the Library of Congress reveal that collaboration has been a key part of her success.”

The research is due to be presented in a public lecture by Professor Broomfield-McHugh in his new role as Visiting Professor of Film and Theatre Music at the historic Gresham College in London on Thursday, Oct. 26.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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