The Jewish Chronicle
Streisand state of mind
Raised in a showbiz family, Liza Pulman became an opera singer. But all the time, a different voice was calling her...
AMONG LIZA Pulman’s earliest memories is watching Barbra Streisand in the films Funny Girl and Funny Lady. Pulman never imagined she would be singing Streisand’s songs on a West End stage one day. But she has become known for her performances of the diva’s hits.
The early introduction to films was thanks to her showbiz parents — screenwriter Jack Pulman (I Claudius, War and Peace) and actress Barbara Young (Last of the Summer Wine, Coronation Street).
“I loved Funny Girl and Funny Lady in equal measure,” says Pulman. “Streisand’s beautiful, she’s funny, she breaks your heart.” Pulman was a classical singer for many years — performing at Glyndebourne and with Opera North among others — but she says: “Streisand’s influence had seeped into my vocal DNA as a child. People told me I sounded like her. I’ve never set out to do an impersonation of her, but I can hear her qualities in my voice. One of the things that singles Streisand out is her remarkable activity to control her voice like an instrument — make it belt, make it quiet.” And Pulman’s classical training was a good preparation for this. She had always been destined for the theatre. She grew up in Hampstead, living in a house her parents had bought from flamboyant Grenada-born cabaret artist, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson.
“My dad was a tax inspector,” says Pulman. “He felt he had to have a ‘proper’ job, as a good Jewish boy.” But Jack Pulman always loved to write and his wife persuaded him to give up his day job and become a screenwriter.
“I grew up surrounded by people who were in my dad’s TV series and films,” says Liza. “We had glamorous parties and I would sing at them with my sister, Cory. We’d stand up in front of madly drunk actors and sing songs from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. I was brought up with Fats Waller and Frank Sinatra and Streisand.”
Together with their mother, they would even sing in close harmony in the garden, or on car journeys. Sadly Jack died when Liza was ten.
Although her mother and sister had studied at drama school, when she left secondary education Liza decided on music college (“I think I was trying to find my own voice”), although she continued to perform with Cory in foyer concerts, at venues such as the Festival Hall.
From college, she went straight to Glyndebourne and d’Oyly Carte. “I was constantly working,” she says.
“But friends used to say, ‘when you sing at a party, you don’t sing Tosca, you sing Fats Waller’. I have a great admiration of classical but I was always more of a song and dance girl. I always wanted to use my voice to make sound, tone, to move you, make you laugh, make you cry — and I couldn’t find that in opera.”
She had barely announced to her family that she was not going to be classical singer any more, when she was signed up for Dr Doolittle with Philip Schofield.
Then she was recommended by a friend for the soprano slot in the cabaret trio Fascinating Aida. “That was 15 years ago – I have been with Fascinating Aida ever since. It changed everything for me because I found where I belonged — standing on stage, being myself, communicating with you through humour, through heartbreak, through song, through chat. The lack of a fourth wall is what I love and Fascinating Aida showed me it was possible.”
Coming face to face with a hall full of ardent Streisand fans has been an aweinspiring experience, but audiences have taken Pulman to their hearts. Her performances at The Other Palace last autumn were a sell-out and this season she will be doing four shows at the Lyric Shaftesbury Avenue. The band is an integral part of these. “I am very proud of our show and our amazing band — we are proper family unit. We have a great dynamic and a lot of my humour and naughtiness surrounds them,” she says.
Pulman has never met Streisand, but her mother read for the part of
Yentl’s mother. “Streisand hand-wrote a letter to my mum afterwards saying what a privilege it was to meet her and how she hoped their paths would cross again. I’d love to meet Streisand — I should think the ground would open and swallow me up and I’d never recover. If we take the show to New York, I have no doubt she’ll turn up.
“In the show, one of the things I talk about is Streisand’s humanity. I admire her courage and her sense of right and wrong. Her reach is so much more than being an icon — when she sings, people feel she’s reaching them and that’s because of her humanity.”
Pulman finds it hard to name a favourite Streisand song — it was hard to even narrow down the selection for the show.
“It is very difficult to encapsulate a career as lengthy as hers, but there are moments within the show that give me goose pimples — New York State
of Mind and The Way He Makes Me Feel from Yentl... We finish with Happy Days
— without doubt the most exciting moment I’ve had on stage is finishing the show with that. It never fails to make me beam from ear to ear. It’s absolutely joyous.”
Streisand’s influence seeped into my vocal DNA’