The Riviera Hotel

Versailles Room

Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas, Nevada

July 2—August 4, 1963

8:15 p.m. & Midnight

Riviera marquee

Barbra Streisand was the opening act for pianist/entertainer Liberace at the Riviera Hotel—her first gig in Las Vegas.

Liberace saw Streisand's club act at The Bon Soir in New York and later appeared with her on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1962. He was an immediate supporter and Streisand fan, although he questioned her style. “Kooky clothing was sort of an obsession [with her],” he recounted later. According to Liberace, the one thing Barbra “hadn't discovered about show business was the value of glamour ... this, too, got through to her.”

Singer Marni Nixon, a friend of Liberace (his friends called him Lee), recalled in her autobiography that Streisand was not a hit with Liberace's audiences at first. “Those blue-haired ladies who worshiped Liberace were having none of the eccentric Miss Streisand, and the management of the room told Lee in no uncertain terms to get rid of her.” According to Nixon, Liberace called a meeting in his hotel room.

“‘Here's what we're going to do,’ he pronounced to his minions. ‘I'll open the show with a fast number and then I'll introduce Barbra as my discovery. Big hit in New York and all that. Then she'll come on and they gotta like her because I'll set up what type of intense, unusual emotional experience they should expect and make sure they know that she has my seal of approval.’”

After incorporating this new introduction for Barbra, Liberace's audiences were eager to accept Streisand.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote about Streisand:

Singer Barbra Streisand was a sharp contrast to [Liberace]. Her make-up made her look like something that just climbed off a broom, but when she sang, it was like the wailing of a banshee bouncing up and down on marionette strings. It isn't until she does three or four songs that her voice is even noticed as being very pleasant. Her outrageous grooming almost nullifies her talent.
Streisand at Rivieria mic

Variety wrote:

Barbra Streisand, in her debut here, is a most pleasant nitery surprise. She has an interesting look and an interesting sound, which of course is necessary to set her apart from other canaries.

Another review, from the Las Vegas Sun:

Sun review

Betty Bunch, who was a Dick Humphries Dancer in the showroom, witnessed Streisand's first run-thru at the Riviera and wrote about it in 2008:

As they were tuning up in the pit, Milt, our gruff stage manager, was checking lights on stage. We heard a lone drum roll, a single spotlight tested the center curtain in "one," Milt's voice said, "Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Barbra Streisand!" And a tall, slight figure dressed in a chic, long gray jersey gown with a sharp New York haircut walked on from the wings. You can imagine what it was like hearing that incredible voice for the first time. Most people remember the first time they heard that voice, just like they remember hearing that John F. Kennedy had been shot, also that year.

We were stunned. She sang "Happy Days Are Here Again" in that dramatic, plaintive arrangement, and we looked at each other in amazement. We knew talent and star presence when we saw it, and here it was, a new one, right in our own Riviera showroom.

Newspaper article about Streisand at the Riviera

A Las Vegas Sun reviewer, in its July 21, 1963 edition, wrote:

A slim, young woman walks on stage at the Riviera Hotel with a minimum of fanfare. She goes directly to the microphone, nods to her pianist, takes a deep breath, and is off on a vocal performance of such emotional impact that before too many bars the usually noisy night-clubbers are listening to her magnificent voice in awe-filled silence.

[ ... ] Watching Barbra Streisand perform, one becomes aware of the lack of stage artifice she employs. A simple hair style, a minimum of make up, and a girlish gingham gown create an understated counterpoint to the fully developed musical theme of her off beat repertoire.

Streisand, triple exposed

While performing at the Riviera, Barbra was visited by Ray Stark and Jule Styne, who played some songs from the new Funny Girl score. An announcement that Streisand would star in the musical was made on July 25, 1963 during her engagement at the Riviera.

In 1970, Liberace confided his memories of working with Streisand to columnist Earl Wilson. “Barbra was at Bon Soir. I said 'I want that girl for Las Vegas!' Excited as I was, the people in Vegas weren't — until one night we had all the stars in. She was a star that night. Once she gave me a party and made everybody a birthday cake. 'How's the cake?' she asked. Elliott Gould said, 'The cake is wonderful but the frosting is so chewy.' She said, 'I ran out of confectioner's sugar and I used flour.'"

Liberace continued: “Once she asked me, 'How do you hold your stomach in?' I said, 'I wear a dance belt.' She said, 'Oh, I could never wear a girdle.' I said, 'Just let it all hang out.' Later I saw that she had all the famous coutouriers design creations to hide her stomach.”

Streisand in the shadows on stage.

Below: An industry ad for Liberace and his “exra added attraction”—Barbra Streisand.

Industry ad

Newspapers announced that, because Liberace had another television commitment, he closed one day early, allowing Streisand, on August 4th, to be the headliner, with comedians Rowan and Martin filling the second spot.

Related Link: Barbra Streisand Says She's Confident; She's Not a Kook


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