If you are a Barbra Streisand fan, this interview won't rain on your parade, except maybe this first paragraph. While I only have two or three Barbra Streisand albums and have only seen Yentl (please don't take my gay card away), I have always been fascinated with what Barbra Streisand is working on. There is something about her that intrigues me, which is one of the reasons I LOVE the fictional play Buyer & Cellar, which I feel goes inside the mind of Barbra Streisand.
When it was brought to my attention that Blake McIver was going to be bringing his acclaimed tribute show, Blake Sings Barbra to The Laurie Beechman Theatre, with her 1994 MSG concert as the backdrop, I couldn't wait to call Blake. I'm thrilled that Blake answered my call allowing me to get to the heart of what makes him LOVE Barbra Streisand so much!
After conducting this interview, Blake's enthusiasm and insight has made me want to dive deeper into the artist that is Barbra Streisand. Blake Sings Barbra will play at The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the basement of the West Bank Cafe) for one night only, Friday, July 28 at 7pm!
Due to popular demand, Blake Sings Barbra will be returning to The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Saturday, August 19 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!
Due to popular demand, Blake Sings Barbra will be returning to The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Sunday, October 22 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!
1. Aside from Barbra Streisand, who or what inspired you to become a performer? I was drawn to singing and dancing as early as I can remember. My parents both have performance backgrounds as do many of their closest friends, so I grew up in an environment where that just seemed like the thing to do; the family business, if you will. Thankfully I had a little bit of natural born ability that I could couple with a lot of hard work and training.
2. When did you become a Barbra Streisand fan? What was it about her that made you go crazy for her? I’ve been a Barbra superfan since the first time I watched Funny Girl at seven years old. I think it really is her innate ability to infuse this electric passion and character into a melody and a lyric that was almost immediately a spiritual experience for me. Obviously I didn’t have that vocabulary to explain to my mom what was going on the first time she walked in on me with a bed sheet around my waist belting "My Man" into the bathroom mirror!
3.This July you are bringing your show Blake Sings Barbra to the Laurie Beechman Theatre. The show is a love letter to "The Greatest Star" using her 1994 comeback concert as a back drop. What was it about that particular concert that touched you so much? I have wanted to do this show for years! I’ve been completely obsessed with Barbra’s 1994 concert since it first aired on HBO. It was one of those things that I would joke about with my friends and then one day I just sat down at my laptop and decided to do it! But what makes this show unique is it isn’t just a recreation of the concert note for note. I take you on a journey through my own life to explain how this particular show came to mean so much to me. It’s part theatre, part concert, part cabaret, part therapy session.
4. When you decided to create this show, did you have any reservations about singing her songs, considering they are so well known? Yes! Hahaha. But the thing is, no one is her but her, and nothing about this show is an impersonation. I definitely tried to approach all the music as if it was brand new. Also, by revealing so much of myself in the stories between the songs, they become like telling new stories through very known material.
5. What was the hardest song of hers to learn and which one was a piece of cake? There are challenges in all of them because I don’t think she’s ever picked an easy song in her entire career! I definitely am the most excited performing the "I’m Still Here/Everybody Says Don’t/Don’t Rain on My Parade" medley. It’s one of my favorite moments of her show and I’ve added my own spin to it and thrown in some references to Full House, The People’s Couch, and yes even being a gogo boy! The biggest challenge interestingly enough is "Not While I’m Around." Barbra dedicated it to her son Jason in ’94 and when I do it in my show it’s dedicated to my parents who have been so vital in every step of my journey. It’s always a struggle to get through it without tears.
6. What have you enjoyed most about your journey from child actor to go-go dancer to singer/songwriter? Well it definitely hasn’t been a boring life or career! I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities I did at such a young age. That has given me the ability to learn and grow and change and evolve within my industry. The most enjoyable part is wearing different hats. Some days my title shifts from actor to songwriter, director to choreographer or music video editor, and the list goes on. And that’s what keeps me on my toes and always trying to learn and grow and get better at each thing.
7. You were on the original Full House as "Michelle's" friend "Derek." What do you remember about your time on the show? What is one story you can share with us? I spent three wonderful years on Full House and even though it’s not salacious or click-baity, the greatest thing was how truly kind everyone was. I did a lot of episodic work on other sitcoms in the 90s and I can say that many of those sets were oppressive environments *cough Home Improvement *cough. I would always feel so happy to go back to my home base set and the wonderful group of people both on and off camera who made that show happen.
8. How did you get involved in the world of go-go dancing? What made you want to be part of it? Well, for me it’s always been about music. The first thing I ever did professionally was win Star Search as Jr. Vocal Champion ’92. Full House, Little Rascals, and all of the other "child actor" things came into my life as a result of that. My parents are both incredibly skilled actors so I was lucky to have great teachers in my own home. I always knew I would return to music. At 19, I started writing and songs began pouring out of me. I wanted to create a concept album based on the stories of my very strange childhood and how I evolved past them. Obviously that’s the last thing a record label wants to hear! So I did it on my own. The trick was, I didn’t have the money to finance it so instead of doing a kickstarter or an indie go go, I became a go-go! It was perfect because I could write and sing all day and then do what I called my "vocal rest/paid cardio" at night. The cash in my underwear literally made my dreams come true, haha! *And please download the fruits of my labor The Time Maniuplator on iTunes (SHAMELESS PLUG)!
9. Like Barbra got Back to Broadway, let's get back to talking about her and you. As a super fan, what is something you know about Barbra that the average person wouldn't? As Rosie O'Donnell learned the hard way when she had Barbra on her talk show, Babs likes to drink champagne with a hint of peach juice. It’s not quite a bellini, and definitely not a mimosa. I just want the opportunity to offer her a drink once so that I can say, "Can I get you a champagne with a splash of fresh peach?" and see her reaction.
10. If you record an album of duets with Barbra herself, what songs would want to sing with her (please keep it to a limit of 10 or less)? So here’s the thing, if that ultimate fantasy were to ever happen I would want to pick all new material. Her recordings are already so iconic, why would anyone dare to mess with them. The only exception is I would want to do a duet version of "Woman in the Moon" from her A Star Is Born. It’s my absolute favorite and I think I could find some interesting harmonies there, haha!
11. As a Barbra Streisand fan, I'm guessing you are aware of the critically acclaimed one-man show Buyer & Cellar, the fictional story about an out-of-work actor who gets a job working in the "mall" in the basement of Barbra Streisand's house. There is a scene in the show where Barbra and "Alex" share a moment together over ice cream. If you could have ice cream with Barbra Streisand, what would you want to talk with her about? Yes, don’t tell her but I did love Buyer & Cellar! I saw Michael Urie’s incredible performance and then my boyfriend (actor Emerson Collins) went on to do two critically acclaimed productions of it, so I’m now very well versed in the world of the basement. And of course, like the character of "Alex" I believe I’m the only other person on the planet who has actually read My Passion For Design cover to cover! If I had the "ice cream" moment I would talk about something really nerdy and specific: vocal placement. What makes her voice so spectacular to me is her ability to bend a note, a vowel, or even a phrase across the plane of her range. I’m completely obsessed and I want to know what goes on in her brain when she makes those iconic choices.
12. What have you learned about yourself from Barbra Streisand? Never settle. If it’s not right, then figure out a way to get it right. Also, put the work first, above all, and don’t worry what anyone is saying about you. If you’re proud of your work, it will speak for itself.
13. For me, I went and saved the best for last. Your director: Mary Lane Haskell! I am a big fan of hers, so I'm beyond thrilled to see that she is directing this show. What made you want to work with her? What is a common interest or love about Barbra Streisand that you both share that you didn't know prior to working with her? Mary Lane is like a sister to me. We grew up together in LA and our families have been extremely close since before we were born. We watched the 1994 concert together countless times over the years (on both VHS & Laser Disk, you’re welcome) and she is equally obsessed with it. And beyond just the personal and historical connection I have such a deep respect for her as an artist. She’s got an incredible and unique perspective and she was able to bring things out of me in this process that I never dreamed would end up in the show. It’s truly one of my favorite collaborations ever. I could have never done this without her amazing vision.
Blake McIver has been performing since the age of six when he won Star Search as Junior Vocalist Champion and he has been working as a professional singer, actor and entertainer ever since in film, television and theatre. His film work began with a breakout performance as "Waldo" in The Little Rascals. In television, he starred as a series regular for three seasons as "Derek" on Full House opposite Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and went on to guest star on The Drew Carey Show, Clueless, Home Improvement, and The Nanny. Blake played "Edgar" in the US Premiere of the musical Ragtime and was the youngest person to ever be nominated for a Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Award for his performance. Other theatre highlights include "Freddie" in Chess, "Fabrizio" in The Light In The Piazza, "Radames" in AIDA and "Link" in Hairspray. Blake has also worked extensively in voiceover and animation including Tarzan, The Little Mermaid II, Anastasia, Recess, and as the beloved "Eugene" on Hey Arnold. Blake has also worked extensively as session vocalist, backup singer and featured soloist for recording artists such as Michael Jackson, David Foster, Natalie Cole, Phil Collins and Barry Manilow. Blake is currently starring in BRAVO’s hit series The People’s Couch. He also released a solo album entitled The Time Manipulator.