Singer Light Magazine
By Venia Ellis
[Barbra Archives note: This was an industry magazine for the Singer Company, which sponsored Barbra's 1973 television special, “Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments”.]
TAKE ONE... it's 8:00 a.m.; the studio, large, cold and impersonal opens its doors to the first of the workers. The floor manager starts to direct operations over the walkie-talkie as the production team goes about getting their equipment tested and in place. The systematic checking by camera, sound and lighting crews is slow, methodical work. The studio set is given a once-over clean up. And two men reverently polish the ebony black grand piano for Barbra Streisand's special guest star, Ray Charles.
TAKE TWO... and on go the full lights —orchestra, 50 strong, twings, twangs and beats the drums in an impromptu rehearsal. The lighting crew takes great delight in telling me that their lighting supervisor, John Rook, has devised the best lighting system anywhere in the world. The cold white studio can blaze instantly into a red-hot sun glow or an icy-blue starry night scene and countless other variations. And they have enough lighting power on set to light up 4,500 rooms each with a 100-watt bulb. Tension or rather the feeling that something is going to happen, builds up. The Raettes, backing group to Ray Charles, appear and immediately start rehearsing on a side, raised section of the stage with choreographer Buddy Schwab. And then ten minutes or so later, Ray Charles himself sits down at the piano. His hands flitter over the keyboard. Co-director Gary Smith stands in for Barbra as the first opening seconds of the Ray Charles segment are paced through with microphones repositioned and cameras zooming in and out. The voice of Dwight Hemion, the other co-director, booms out from the overhead producer's box.
TAKE THREE... then suddenly Barbra, honey blonde hair cascading loosely over her shoulders, is on the set. Atmosphere is electric. Barbra coolly goes into the "Hello Mama" opening number with Ray Charles. The Raettes belt it out in the background, the full orchestra professionally blazes forth on cue. Sounds and looks good to me. But the scene is repeated again and again before the directors, Barbra, and Ray are satisfied to start taping.
TAKE FOUR... it's 12 noon, but who's clock watching? Barbra goes off to change—Ray slips on a black dinner jacket. Barbra wafts back wearing a multi-coloured free-flowing caftan. Barbra is told, "Your make-up is too murky, too orange," by director Hemion. Quick re-do facial on set. The cameras roll. From "Hello Mama" the Streisand/Charles duo go straight into "It's Crying Time Again" and then Barbra goes into her solo, "Sweet Inspiration." Members of the orchestra call out, "well done," as the floor manager orders break for lunch.
TAKE FIVE... I could hardly believe it, but there we all were after lunch going through and taping the same sequence again and again. Talk about perfection! But then after the umpteenth take came applause from the production crew and orchestra, not to mention the enthusiastic clapping, from one Singer girl ... "Applause, applause" shout the directors. And believe it or not this meant that after six hours of studio time, eight minutes of the show were safely "in the can."
TAKE SIX... the props are quickly changed for a different stage effect. Ray Charles trades the grand piano for an electronic organ and Barbra sweeps back in a slinky black trouser suit. This segment of the show is an up-beat version of "Sweet Inspiration" with Barbra and the Raettes following through a fairly complicated dance routine. Director Hemion doesn't feel Barbra's outfit looks right. So Barbra changes into a dazzling white trouser suit. Then follows a discussion as to whether the jacket should be buttoned up or left undone. This settled, the show goes on.
TAKE SEVEN ... and here we met a sixyear-old boy—Barbra's son Jason, the splitting image of his mother. Much later Barbra sang over the mike to her son, "Jason, Jason, I'm tired and wanna go home." As this was about 8:00 p.m., I'm sure young Master Jason was in full agreement. Barbra put it another way to the crew, "Fellows, let's go. I've gotta get on with the rest of my life." Remember it's been a long, tiring day, and there's intense heat under the lights. Barbra's a perfectionist —that and her undeniable extraordinary talent make her a special sort of star. Just right for a Singer spectacular.
CUT... but it took until 9:00 p.m. to get the five minute song and dance routine safely on video tape. "Cut" cries the director, "OK" says Barbra, "Bye" from Ray Charles and the Borehamwood studio, with its star and supporters gone, settles down for a deserved night's rest.
Page Credits: Thanks to Rafe Chase for contributing this magazine from his collection.