Blogging has been stagnant lately, so I decided to create another one of my 'blog series' to keep me entertained and interested. The topic? Divas! And how much we love them (take that "we" as you please, of course!) But not just any Divas ... we'll be discussing singing Divas. Why? A) Because this is MY blog and my word is law, but B) because Divas are so much easier to isolate in the realm of musical theatre!
Where to begin? I'd be lying if I said I didn't already have an idea as to what my first post was going to be about: I recently watched Hello Dolly! for the first time! (I know, WALL‧E would be SO disappointed!) and this became a no-brainer. I should probably do Funny Girl, but since I'm focusing on characters and not necessarily actresses (though in cases it'll get a bit of 'chicken/egg' situation - mainly to be able to double up and see different diva-hood coming through different performance) I might (re)visit it soon enough to type about it.
So without further ado:
Diva (n.) A celebrated female singer. Derived from the Italian/Latin adjective diva for "divine female person." The basic sense of the term is "goddess."
Diva: Barbra Streisand as Mrs Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! (1969)
First let's do a simple checklist, a good diva needs:
1. A powerful entrance.
Nothing says "diva" like capturing the camera's attention from the moment you're on screen.
At the start of Hello Dolly! the camera follows New Yorker's feet as the go about their days before we start following what turn out to be Mrs Levi's feet and as the camera starts to pan out, we simply follow her from behind, never once seeing her face until the camera stands still, giving us a close-up of (what else?) her hat:
And then, turning around, the film gives us the first glimpse of Barbra as Mrs Dolly Levi as she smirks coyly, and gives us her first line: "I have always been a woman who arranges things: for the pleasure (and the profit!) it derives." The entire scene is crafted so as to make Dolly's entrance as powerful and effective as possible: I mean, who's not charmed as we meet Dolly and then follow her around the train station handing out business cards?
But, not being content with just giving us one diva-like entrance, Hello Dolly! offers us a much more "clichéd" diva-entrance near the second half of the film with a long staircase, a golden outfit and an even more outrageous headdress (with feathers!). After the film settles into the Harmonia Gardens for what promises to be the moment where all the dangling storylines and Dolly's conniving will collapse, we keep hearing about Dolly's anticipated arrival. It's no surprise then that when she arrives, the camera lovingly lingers before it settles on a beautiful (golden-tinged) tableau vivant, where the restaurant attendees, the wait-staff and the audience itself find themselves marveling at Mrs Dolly Levi:
2. A great wardrobe (including an amazing headdress!)
I mean, what better way to capture anyone's looks than by drawing attention to your body?
Ms Levi's/Streisand's outfits are eye-catching, there's no denying that (whether you like them or not, or whether you find them a wee bit over-the-top or not, seems to be besides the point). But then again, these Oscar-nominated frocks came from 5-time Academy Award winner Irene Sharaff who gave us the iconic outfits from West Side Story, the sumptuous dresses from The King and I, not to mention Liz Taylor's outfits for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cleopatra so we shouldn't be surprised that Dolly's attire makes her stand out, whether because of her bright colours, her grand head-gear or - as in the Harmonia Gardens scene - her beautifully golden fitted dress ("Do you think you have the sort of figure for that sort of get-up?" she is asked, "That is for others to say Mr Vandegelder" she snaps back). For someone who tells us she's not one of those "women with enough time to dilly-dally with seamstresses" she sure knows how to pick a dress to turn heads.
3. A loving entourage (read: a lovely audience)
What's a diva without an adoring fan-base?
It's true, no diva is complete without an audience. And oddly enough, this adoring audience usually takes the form of an accompanying dancing chorus. How to detach Dolly's diva-like power from her eager customers from the first scene or from the adoring wait-staff who can't wait to see her again and celebrate her return to Harmonia Gardens with the title-song "Hello Dolly!" I mean, when Louis Armstrong misses you and serenades you, you know you have a place in the world and can wield the power that gives you to your will (in a positive "I want to get re-married" sort of way not in a superhero-villain sort of way, of course).
But above all else, being a diva requires a commanding screen persona and few woman do so as effortlessly as Ms Streisand. Her Dolly is a relentlessly entertaining woman, who never takes no for an answer (it might help that she rarely stops to catch her breath) and who can charm anyone in her path. Her personality is magnetic and for that, I'd join in line to say "Hello Dolly!"