“5-Star Reviewed MN FRINGE THEATER FESTIVAL Show
Wednesday, Feb. 6th 2019
Hello Gorgeous Melody as Barbra blog readers!!
Welcome back – this is Keith Russell, Melody’s director and author of the Valentines Show. I’m here to write a bit about my inspiration for this show, and how I put it together. If you read my recent blog about the Christmas show, you received some insight (hopefully) into what I look for in a show. I look for an emotional arc, a journey of some sort. For the Valentines Show I selected songs that you, the audience, will know and be waiting to hear, as well as some gems that are little known. So where do I start?
Music, always start with the music. I knew being the Valentines Show it had to be centered around love. Love is such a large topic and there are so many songs written about it, where to start? As I did with the Christmas show, I looked at all the Barbra songs that are in my library. Considering I have 47 albums of hers (some live, some compilations, and a few bootlegs), each album is roughly 10 songs – it averages to looking through almost 400 songs or so. I believe I picked songs that I knew Melody knew and you would want to hear, along with some great songs that Melody or you may not know. I always try to push Melody to widen her Streisand repertoire, even if the song never gets performed. That gives Melody so many more options moving forward.
Again, I put the songs into a playlist, listened to them, weeded out some songs and got a sense of what was possible. I started fiddling around with the order of the songs, and then this idea hit – love and relationships. All the ups and downs that people go through in finding love. I wanted to end on a positive note, and cover platonic love, friendships, lust, breaking up, family love, etc. I knew we needed a two act format so I found the right songs for the start of each, and worked from there. We have a great collection of songs for you on this show. Some classics, and some great new songs, some rarities. In fact we have a song that was so perfect, though I don’t think Barbra Streisand has ever recorded it. Despite that it sounds like one of her early comic songs and I just had to hear Melody perform it.
I hope you are able to come see this show at some point. It really is a gorgeous romantic evening of songs. Thank you for reading. Please let Melody know if there are other things you would like me to write about. I’m happy to do so.
- Keith Russell
Monday, Jan. 21st 2019
Thanks again everyone for your support, coming to the shows and just being awesome!!
Monday, Dec. 11th 2018
Hello gorgeous Melody as Barbra blog readers!!
I am Keith Russell – Melody’s director, collaborator, and sometimes
writer of the shows Melody as Barbra performs. Melody has been on my
case for a while asking me to write about my process in putting a show
together. Since the Christmas show is coming up, I thought I would
take some time and finally give you an inside look into this specific
show. Last year we were asked to do a Christmas show. And this is what
I should start by saying that I am a bit of a grinch. I have worked in
retail for too many years to really enjoy the Christmas season. Along
with that, I used to work in the music department of a bookstore so I
was forced to hear the same music and songs over and over and over and
over and over and over again. When the request to do a Christmas show
came up, I saw it as an opportunity to showcase some songs that could
be considered seasonal, but not specifically Holiday or Christmas.
This is a bit of a sidebar but I am a big fan of the Canadian
singer/songwriter Jane Siberry (Issa). She did a live recording from
The Bottom Line in New York City. One thing she says during the show
is that she wanted to do a bunch of songs and eventually the right
songs would reveal themselves to her. She also stated that she wanted
to do a mix of new and old songs, and that since Christmas is seen as
a time of celebration, she wanted to make sure the audience knew why
they were celebrating – she wanted some darkness before the light,
some savory before the sweet (I am paraphrasing).
I took that to heart. I also didn’t want to just replicate Streisand’s
original and classic Christmas album. I wanted there to be a flow, a
narrative, and emotional journey of some sort for the audience to go
on. I love cabaret and while I am still new to that field, I love
telling a story. Even in the shows I have written and collaborated on
with Melody, there has to be a story, some ups and downs, some
variety. It has to take the listener someplace. I have found that to
be true of Streisand’s concerts as well. She has a theme, some device
that she uses to get the audience into her mindset. This helps the
audience enjoy the concert even more, as well as allowing them to feel
closer to the artist. So, I looked through both of Streisand’s
Christmas albums and selected songs. I put them into an itunes
playlist, and started playing around with the order. I realized that
some of the songs I just didn’t care for. No one needs to hear another
Ave Maria…especially by a nice Jewish girl (meaning Streisand, of
course). ha ha ha
From her 1967 Christmas Album, I selected eight of the 11 songs. From
her 2001 Christmas Memories album, I selected six of the 12 songs.
That is only 14 songs which is about 45 min of listening. I knew we
wanted a longer 90 min show so I needed some other songs to fill it
out. I looked through Barbra’s other albums – looking for songs about
faith, seasons, children (because Christmas is often about the child’s
experience, memories of childhood, as well as the Christ Child). As I
added these other songs in, I started to get a sense of what the show
could be. I put them in an order that musically worked really well.
The order provided contrast musically (slow ballads and uptempo
numbers), and lyrically (songs about Christmas and songs that fit the
emotional story). At that time I believe I edited one song from a
medley into just the song I wanted.
At this point I may have put all the songs into a google drive and
sent Melody a link so she could hear it all – but I may not have.
Honestly I think for this show I just wrote it and put it all together
– then sent her the songs and script all at once. If I remember
correctly she was anxious to get it and get started on it. This is
another aspect of what I do – I know what Streisand songs Melody
already knows, and also know what songs may be new to her. The new
songs take time to learn so getting her the list as soon as possible
is important so she can find the sheet music, get to practicing and
memorizing lyrics, etc.
Anywho – I looked at the list of songs. I had them in an order that
worked for me musically and lyrically. I thought of Streisand (and
Melody) and thought of speech patterns, what sort of stories could be
told, what sort of experiences might they both bring to the table. I
thought of where should there be banter between songs, and which songs
could just be sung back to back. At this point I looked up the lyrics
to the songs and put them in a document. I listened to the Streisand
recordings and followed along – making corrections as needed. This
gives me a better sense of the lyrics, the sound of the show. Because
when it comes right down to it – the banter is not important. Very few
people come away from a Streisand concert and think about what she
said. Most people come away and remember what she sang, what she wore,
how she sounded, etc.
After getting the lyrics together I started writing. I figured out
where the banter should go and just wrote. I have been a fan of
Streisand for a long time. I have seen almost all of her films, and
certainly all of her concert DVDs as well as her TV Specials. While I
know she has writers for her shows, I think I have gotten a good sense
of how they write banter. So I go with my gut and write. Some songs I
have to do some research on, others I know well enough that I can just
write about them. I will give you two different examples.
The song “Sleep in Heavenly Peace (Silent Night)” is from Streisand’s
Christmas Album. However I also know that she recorded and performed
it live at her Central Park show…which took place in July! So I took
a bit of the banter that she used on her introduction to that song in
Central Park, and the fact that she sang it live – and tweaked it a
bit for this show. No research needed.
“My Favorite Things” is one that I needed to find out why it was on a
Christmas album. I knew it is from “Sound of Music” but that show and
movie doesn’t take place at Christmas. There is no reference to
Christmas in that show at all – except for some imagery in this song.
So how did it become a “Christmas” song? Well, thanks to Google – I
found out. Julie Andrews sang it on the Garry Moore show in 1961. It
was his Christmas Special and I have no idea why she sang it. The show
“Sound of Music” had opened on Broadway in 1959 and had won quite a
few Tony Awards, then it opened in London in 1961. Julie Andrews was
not involved in either of those productions so I honestly have no idea
why that song was selected. What I do know is that after she sang it
on the Garry Moore show, it started showing up on Christmas albums.
And yes, I did research just to write this paragraph!
After I had the script written, I sat one more time and read the
script while listening to the playlist. It worked for me and so I sent
it all off to Melody and awaited her response. I don’t remember
exactly what it was but it was positive. We set up a rehearsal date. I
went to her house, sat in her basement and talked through the script.
I believe she may have sung along with Barbra during that first
rehearsal, or we may have just listened to the songs. Either way we
made a few some edits and tweaks to the script, and talked about
blocking (the movement Melody makes on stage or through the audience).
We talked about where she would focus her attention during certain
moments of certain songs to make sure the whole audience was with her.
I directed her – that is a lot of what I do. Talk over certain
emotional moments, where she should be looking for the most impact,
what to do with her hands, and sometimes even some vocal ideas – when
to belt, when to relax, when to breathe, and when to take a drink of
water. All part of our journey together to bring you, the gorgeous
audience, a great evening of song and stories.
I hope this has been entertaining and perhaps enlightening. Let Melody
know what else you may want to know about the shows, or my process, or
if you have a private party that you want her to do and want me to
write something for her. We do that as well! Either way, I hope you
can make it out to the Christmas show, and I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks for taking the time to read –
Monday, Nov. 26th 2018
“John & Yoko’s timeless song “Imagine” is a message of peace and unity that’s as urgent today as ever. The lyrics for Louie Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World’ dream of a place where strangers become friends. It struck me the two songs combined, ask us to imagine what a wonderful world it would be… if we could somehow build more bridges than walls.” Barbra Streisand
Wednesday, Nov. 23rd 2018
Melody as Barbra Black Friday Sneak Peak!!
Hey Babs friends! Here is great Black Friday stocking stuffer deal! You get 10% off one of my Barbra “Decades” shows at the Plymouth Playhouse any date from January 17-25th! The discount code only works for online sales. Also, Green Mill restaurant is in the same complex, so grab a bite and catch the show! It’s like buttah! https://www.greatliveshows.com/calendar/
Friday, Nov. 9th 2018
I thoroughly enjoyed watching James Cordon and Barbra Streisand on the show, “Carpool!” Can we all agree that Barbra’s driving is terrifying and the song arrangements are stunning?!? Here is the link and enjoy!
Friday, Nov. 2nd, 2018
Calling all visual artists! If you have artwork or visual art of any kind inspired in or around Barbra Streisand, even abstract art and dance pieces based on an idea or feeling, I would love to feature you in this blog and social media outlets! If interested in being featured, please email me at http://www.melodymendis.com. This is a great opportunity to get your work out there and support one another! You are all Gorgeous! #melodymendismusic #melodyasbarbra #barbrastreisand #tributeartist
Wed.Oct. 24, 2018
From the artist, Heather Chouravong:
Although I’ve always had a passion for the arts, my skills weren’t developed until college. I fell fast in love with drawing and painting in particular and earned my B.A. in Community Arts and Studio Arts from Concordia University-St. Paul. Then after working in arts administration, I abandoned the art world completely and took a nearly 10 year hiatus. I lacked everything–time, energy, desire, passion, inspiration–that was necessary in order to create. I lamented all the time I allowed to pass and wanted to sharpen the drawing pencils again but still held back. Ultimately, I needed a lot of encouragement and to realize that I wasn’t going to be as good as the idealized self in my head. I needed momentum and to have no expectations. And I really needed to practice.
Having grown up in a small town, I didn’t encounter many other Barbra Streisand fans and virtually none my age. I fell in love with Barbra when I was a teenager and found so much beauty in her music and especially in the way expressed herself in the lyrics. I am still baffled that not everyone is as taken with her music as myself! To know me is to love me–and to put up with my love for Barbra! And don’t even get me started on her gorgeousness! Needless to say, I was so happy when I learned there was finally someone performing Barbra songs, as Barbra, locally. So happy, in fact, that I freaked out inside and didn’t go to the first show of Melody’s I saw advertised. Long story short, I eventually went to her show and became a huge fan, supporter and friend. Fast forward not quite a year later and here I am, guest blogging it up!
Why draw Barbra? Subject matter is always a challenge for me. I do not create much in the abstract and need to see something in order to draw it well. How does the light turn into shape and rest on the object? What are the exact proportions? I need to see it. I also have to be inspired to see it, and this means finding the beauty in whatever it is I am creating. (Babs didn’t respond to my requests to have her pose, so I settled for a photograph) But I have to ask myself the question: Do I want to pour hours upon hours into drawing this object? Once, I drew a shoe and I made it look pretty amazing but who wants a picture of a shoe hanging on their wall? When I create, it is truly a sort of love affair between myself and the image I am translating and capturing. Otherwise, there is no point.
I need three things when I am in the creative process: Time, as it is quite an investment; solitude so I can focus; and music playing so I can lose myself and not focus too much. I also need to have confidence that I am capable of success, and it helps to have people who believe in me. My husband, family and friends are great about that. Melody is a supportive friend and encourages me to use my talents, so I wanted to gift her with something we were both passionate about and that was, obviously, Barbra. Actually, I had no one else who would take the thing but her! Ha! Drawing someone as unique as Babs wasn’t easy, but I think the harder task will be Melody deciding where an appropriate spot is to hang a portrait of Babs. Double Ha!
Thanks Melody for inspiring me and all of your friends and blog readers in so many ways–through your music, your work ethic, your care and respect for the development of others’ gifts, and in general for stirring up creativity wherever you go.
I will close with a photo, mid-drawing, when I started to freak out that I had bit off more than I could chew and wasn’t sure it would turn out. But I really didn’t have much to lose so I kept going.
Monday, Oct. 8th 2018
Before interacting with this Barbra project, my life was so different and pretty boring in the way I shopped for things. I could barely get myself into resale shops and going through racks and racks of clothing or bins of books was torture. It just all seemed overwhelming until I started searching for vintage clothing and inspiration for Barbra’s looks for my shows. I have truly become a “Second Hand Rose” and not only have I found entire albums for .50 and Funny Girl-inspired fur coats for $10.00!
It doesn’t end there because of the Facebook Barbra fan groups! It is a world of awesomeness with pics, stories and interesting Barbra fandom! I just have to share this amazing picture with great photo effects by Christopher Martyn in “The Barbra Streisand” group. Needless to say that now, if I am driving along and see a resale shop, I immediately pull over and surround myself in the bliss of possibility! Thank you, Barbra!
Tuesday Sept. 26th, 2018
A huge THANK YOU to Ron Henderson aka, “The Fitness King” for interviewing me on his show, “Motivation!” I wasn’t sure if we wanted to interview me or me being Barbra and it was a blast! We went totally off script and laughed, sang and covered so many interesting topics. We had a few impromptu moments, as is his style and came out unscathed, for the most part! HAHA! Please take a listen, it’s pretty neat!
Tuesday, July 17th 2018
I had such a blast on Fox 9 “Morning Buzz!” This was my first time doing anything like this and yes, I was nervous until I went into the interview and really enjoyed singing! Thank you for tuning in and see you tomorrow morning on WCCO!
Friday, July 13th 2018
Hey Babs Fans! How exciting is this?!? You will be able to see me on the Fox 9 “Morning Buzz” on Tuesday, July 17th and WCCO on Wednesday, July 18th for their Morning Show to promote the Nicollet Island Inn show and a few upcoming dates around town. Please, don’t let the “Parade Pass You By” and thank you again!
Thursday, July 5th 2018
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! Through your encouragement and undying love, I was able to create a wonderful Promo Video at Taylor Studios with the amazing help of Matt Grosso and it was really really fun! This was my first stab at performing in front of green screen, recording the vocals ahead of time, lip syncing and working with several cameras, very long days..! I felt one step closer to Janet Jackson and so many artist who had to do this process for MTV when I was growing up! Do you remember MTV?!?! I remember when it had first aired and was completely blown away. Well, I can’t promise the new video has that kind of impact, but check it out on the Gallery and Video tab, it’s like Buttah!
Tuesday, March 8, 2018
Hey Friends, enjoy the video as a part of a Kickstarter campaign to go to the Orlando Sunburst Convention of Celebrity Impersonators!! More information is listed below and thank you very very much!! Melody
I created a Kickstarter campaign because I have this amazing opportunity to perform in front of agents and Industry professionals and learn like crazy at the Sunburst Convention of Celebrity Impersonators in Orlando! My overreaching goal is to bring my Barbra to rural communities and towns that don’t have access to Vegas-like entertainment! Here is the link to Kickstarter and would love your help, plus the prizes are unreal! Enjoy the video, I changed the lyrics to “Evergreen” for my campaign!
Please help me get to the next level with this project and thanks so much!! here is the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/melodyasbarbra/barbra-streisand-tribute-artist-needs-to-go-to-con#
I adore this concert and loved when Jason joined his mother to sing “How Deep is the Ocean” which is on his EP, they sound fabulous together!
Here is another by Jason, it’s gorgeous!
Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018
Happy Valentines and here is a portion of my script from the Barbra Show for inspiration! If you are looking for love, remain hopeful, I truly believe you’ll find it! If you’re in love, Mazel! If you’re unhappy in love, make the changes you need to make and if you’re single and looking to mingle, leave everything to me!
February 14, 2018
Thank you Paul Whittemore-Ruf for showing me this amazing article about Barbra’s Mall in the basement and the awe/mystery surrounding it! This is a quick read and just fascinating and YES A FREAKING MALL! “Among the storefronts are a doll shop, a costume shop, and functioning candy store where she serves guests ice cream. On a recent visit to Streisand’s Malibu home, Lady Gaga and American Horror Story showrunner Ryan Murphy were invited down to the mall for frozen yogurt.”
February 13, 2018
Hi Babs fans! I can’t wait to see you on Feb. 11th at Camp and also aware that ticket prices are a little higher because it is a full two hour show. So basically, two shows in one 🙂 I am thrilled to give you even more Barbra from her archives for an amazing experience and round out your Valentine’s weekend! You Are The Greatest Star! Melody Mendis
January 24, 2018
Let me tell you, Keith and I are finally coming up for air and cannot wait for this next show. I am continually amazed at the incredible amount of songs in Barbra’s repertoire and keep finding more, it’s staggering and truly never-ending, I feel like her songlist is the true final frontier!
One recent discovery was the album, “Barbra Streisand Wet.” Honestly, the only tracks I knew were the Jazz Standard, “Come Rain or Come Shine” and the famous Disco song No More Tears “Enough is Enough” with Donna Summer. I listened to the other ones and they are AMAZING! You have to check out “Kiss Me In The Rain” it’s beautiful, heartfelt and there’s a whimsical feeling in certain parts of the song.
Here is the pic:
Well, I don’t want to spill the beans song-wise for the Valentines Show on Sunday, Feb. 11th, 3:00pm at Camp Bar in St. Paul. However, my director Keith has pulled selections from far and wide, yet not forgetting a few of the Classics. Hope to see you there, tix link: www.brownpapertickets.com
You are the Greatest Star,
January 23, 2018
Hi friends! I am making more “Barbra” business cards and would love your opinion! As a Thank You, those who respond will be put in a drawing to receive a FREE ticket to my Valentines Show at 3:00pm on Sunday, Feb. 11th at Camp!! Fun right?!? Here are two examples and are both on a beautiful pink pearlescent paper. The first shot is the entire and the second/third shots are front and back. Which ones do you like and opinions please? Thank you so very much!!
January 2, 2018
I am currently in the process of creating and producing a Melody is “Barbra” Christmas show! It is a dream project and complete with a fabulous gown, accompanist and Barbra’s Holiday Hits! Stay tuned for the December dates! Woohoo!
Here is a video blog highlighting a few publications that influence my writing and costuming ideas, hope you enjoy this window into my process! Also, I must mention my director Keith Russell is also extremely knowledgeable about everything Barbra and is a fantastic resource. Enjoy!
I found an incredible and pristine original copy of a 1966 Time Magazine featuring Barbra! Here is a fantastic article outlining the contents..enjoy!