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True to Character : Jim Bailey will perform his faithful re-creation of Barbra Streisand in two shows Sunday.

November 11, 1994|LIBBY SLATE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Libby Slate writes regularly for The Times

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — Barbra Streisand may not ever tour again, but you can still catch her act Sun day at the Academy Plaza Theatre.

That's when illusionist Jim Bailey will be strutting his Streisand stuff--fingernails, blond wig and all--performing "People," "The Way We Were" and other numbers from the singing star's shows. His two hourlong concerts, with opening act Kaye Ballard, are part of the "Show of the Month," a musical series designed for audiences older than 50.

A trained lyric tenor in his own right, Bailey, 46, pioneered the concept of faithfully re-creating the on-stage persona of female performers, rather than caricaturing them as would a female impersonator. The first of his "ladies," as he calls them, was Phyllis Diller. He is probably best known for his rendition of Judy Garland, even concertizing in Las Vegas with Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli.

"I am an actor who happens to sing and portray women rather than men," says Bailey, who has appeared on such television series as "Night Court" and "Here's Lucy," in "Zelig" and other movies, in the play "Nite Club Confidential" at the Tiffany Theatre in West Hollywood, and before the British royal family at a Command Performance.

"I do what Hal Holbrook does as Mark Twain, what Bobby Morse does as Truman Capote. They happen to be wearing men's clothes, and I wear women's clothes. I don't do the women as camp or satire. I do them as they are, or were."

J.D. Kessler, manager of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Cinegrill, where Bailey performed as Streisand last New Year's Eve, agrees.

"Jim is actually quite amazing," he says. "Barbra is such a distinctive personality herself, she's not easy to play. Drag queens pick out her flaws and amplify them out of proportion. Jim doesn't send up her performance. This is much more subtle and much more difficult.

"Consequently, as far as I know, all the women he impersonates totally approve of him, because he's not out to editorialize on them. He tries to reproduce them, not make a joke of them."

For Sunday's concerts, it will take three hours to effect the Bailey-to-Barbra transformation. "My face becomes a canvas. I don't use putty or prosthetics," Bailey says. "It's shadows, shading."

Besides makeup, he dons costumes, created by Boston designer David Josef, that are copies of Streisand's tour togs.

His act does not replicate Streisand's entirely, of course. He is backed by a five-piece band rather than a Marvin Hamlisch-directed orchestra. And, he says, "I've heard from people that it's apparent I'm having more fun, a better time than Barbra does. I love to perform."

Bailey's show not only predates Streisand's, but, he believes, may have served as a catalyst for her tour. In June, 1993, Streisand invited him to her Malibu estate to perform at a charity event before some of Hollywood's biggest names--without telling her guests that it was Bailey, not Streisand, at the microphone.

"Barbra snuck in the back of the room and watched," he recounts. "I don't know if she wanted to see what she might look like, what she might sound like. I think it opened her mind up to different things, and if so, I'm glad. After that, she announced her tour. I like to think she took a tip from me."

Streisand, Garland and his other "ladies" will always be a part of his performing life, Bailey says--he is planning to add Lena Horne to his repertoire--but he is looking into other projects as well. Among them are a possible television series, film and a Broadway show.

"It's very difficult to educate people that there is a person here who is a talented character actor," he says. "I'm very particular about what I lend my talent and name to. . . .

"I can do serious stuff," he adds. "My manager contacted the people regarding 'Sunset Boulevard' " when the now-closed Los Angeles production was looking for a replacement for Glenn Close as Norma Desmond. "I could have done that."

Where and When

Who: Jim Bailey performs as Barbra Streisand.

Location: Academy Plaza Theatre, 5230 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday.

Price: $21.50.

Call: (818) 785-8885.

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