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‘Glee’ Brings Back Barbra Streisand

By Fred Topel

Hollywoodnews.com: Glee’s superstar Lea Michele rocked a trademark tune of a real musical legend when she sang “Don’t Rain On My Parade” earlier this year. The song is Barbra Streisand’s show stopping number right before the intermission of Funny Girl. Glee creator Ryan Murphy introduced a screening of Funny Girl at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theater on Saturday, and told the audience that another big Babs song is coming up on the show.

“Also coming up, Idina Menzel sings Funny Girl which was written for this movie,” Murphy said. “It was not in the Broadway show so that’s sort of our Funny Girl homage.”

Menzel plays the coach of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline. She is a Broadway star herself, having performed Rent and Wicked. Funny Girl represents Murphy’s mission statement for Glee.

“The thing about this movie that I think is so beautiful, and I talk about Glee in this way, Glee to me is about the most different thing about you is the most beautiful thing about you,” Murphy said. “I think that is the key to this movie. I remember, even at three, looking at Barbra Streisand – I grew up in Indiana by the way – and thinking, ‘Oh, I get that. I get her energy. I get that idea that you’re kind of not beautiful or perfect but there’s something in you that is.’ It really made a huge impact on me and infused all of my creativity.”

Besides the songs Glee covers from the film, Murphy was asked to speak about it because of the film’s profound influence on his work. “Welcome to Funny Girl, or as my friends like to call it, the movie that made me gay,” Murphy joked in his introduction. “Without this movie I don’t think there would be a Glee. This movie means more to me I think than any movie in the world. This is kind of like a full circle evening for us. Actually, when we shot the pilot, [producer] Dante [DiLorento] and I would have it on a screen and we would watch it, and everybody thought we were insane.”

Who’s laughing now? Certainly the child who obsessed over Barbra Streisand has done well for himself now. “This is the first movie I ever saw. I was three years old and I was a very chatty child. My mother took me to see this movie and she said that it was the first time in three years that I did not make a noise. I swear to God, she took me five weekends in a row. So this movie was part of my DNA.”

Lea Michele joined Murphy to introduce the film. Her experience with the film came much more recently, but it’s easy to see how it became the inspiration for Rachel Berry.

“When I met Ryan in 2007, he said, ‘Have you ever seen Funny Girl?’” Michele said. “I said, ‘No, I’ve never seen it.’ He goes, ‘Are you crazy? You have to go home and watch it right now.’ Growing up, I always looked for girls in movies that I thought looked like me and there was never anybody that I could relate to that I felt looked like me or talked like me. I had a very heavy accent from the Bronx and I looked different from anybody in my hometown so I watched a lot of Natalie Wood, West Side Story, movies like that. When I went after I met these guys in Los Angeles, I came back to New York and I sat down and I watched Funny Girl. I literally felt for the first time like I could relate to it and it was somebody that I saw myself in and was praised for her quirks and her funniness and the way she looked and her nose. It was the first time in my whole life that I saw that it was so beautiful.”

When he finally got his musical show on the air, inserting some Streisand songs was a no brainer for Murphy. “Sort of mid-season around October, Lea who has five numbers a show said, ‘Why don’t I have any numbers?’” Murphy said. “I said, ‘Okay, you want a number, I’m going to give you a number. Let’s do Barbra.’ We were really in cahoots about making it our own but paying tribute to the movie. I think Lea did such a beautiful, beautiful job with that number. We put a song from Funny Girl in iTunes top 3 which I think is an amazing victory. I’m very proud of that.”

Murphy finally got to meet Streisand, although not because he’s a big shot Hollywood producer now. It was in his earlier career as a journalist, when he interviewed Streisand for The Prince of Tides in 1991.

“I was a journalist and I got to meet Barbra and I was alone with her in a room for one hour which was my fantasy of all time,” Murphy said. “We talked and talked and talked. At the end of it I said, ‘I really so loved you in Funny Girl. I wish you would do something else like Funny Girl.’ She looked at me and she got tears in her eyes and she said, ‘Once in a lifetime.’ Then she said, ‘Okay, your time is up.’”

Glee airs Tuesday nights on Fox.

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