Sharon Owens, a three-octave vocalist who performs Sharon Owens as Barbra Streisand this month at Flat Rock Playhouse, has portrayed Streisand to rave reviews for more than 15 years. But when Bold Life caught up with the doppelgänger to ask about her impressive tribute act, Owens admitted, that until recently, it was awkward to talk about her career.
You have a great voice, and critics say your portrayal of Streisand is fantastic.
Thank you. Many times I tried to run away from it, but it kept calling me back.
Run away? Why?
For the longest time I didn’t want to reveal that part of my life, being a Barbra impersonator, to people who only knew me outside of that role.
But you’re doing what any actor does, and you do it really well — isn’t that worth celebrating?
There used to be times when I wanted to let it go, because it felt weird. I wondered what my children thought about me working as an impersonator. I mean, that’s what pays the mortgage.
Have you reconciled that?
Yes. Only within the past five or six years have I finally accepted that this is what I do. I thought it might be embarrassing for my 17-year-old, who is a musician. But he told me he thought it was actually pretty cool.
How’d you land this gig?
In my teens, doing theater, people said I sounded like her. So I would over-copy her Brooklyn accent and do an exaggerated version of Barbra — as a cabaret spoof. Everyone thought it was funny.
Then you won a competition on a FOX TV reality show, right?
Yes, and after that the whole career came to me and was unexpected — it just popped in my lap. I worked at Legends in Vegas, and I have to give them the credit for why I started to take my career more seriously. Their tribute shows are of such high quality and integrity.
What has portraying Barbra taught you about her?
When you play any character, people have personal stories. I met Barbra’s florist! He said she is so thoughtful and sends him presents every Christmas and never misses his birthday, for 25 or 30 years. But you hear negative things, too.
Barbra is politically active, and one time I was a surprise performer at a big Republican event. Afterwards some of the guests would not even allow themselves to be photographed with me.
They said things to me like, “I hate your politics,” and I reminded them that I was wearing a wig and only pretending to be Barbra Streisand. Some people are so polarized, and I think that’s such a shame.
Do you think you’ll ever cross paths with Barbra?
I have never met her and I probably never will. But I have had a little glimpse into the kind of negativity that is sometimes directed toward celebrities like her. For a while, I didn’t think I wanted to do it anymore.
But you still do, so there must be positive experiences as well.
Here’s a story for you: I did this fancy event with all these big oil-industry people, and I opened with a joke about how gas prices were so high I had to ride my bicycle to get there.
How did they react?
They loved it, and all wanted to take pictures with me, including Karl Rove. He told me that he knows Barbra Streisand, and that they get along great. Sometimes I also get to hear childhood stories from people who knew her. She has this small circle of friends and when you meet someone from that circle, the insight is so different.
How do you manage to meet Barbra’s friends?
Opportunity. I do some performances at some very exclusive, high-end venues where they happen to be. I’ve met people who play bridge with her.
What do they think of your show?
They say it is very respectful and beautiful, and that if Barbra ever asked, they’d be happy to tell her so.
That’s probably the biggest compliment you could ever get.
I am humbled and grateful.
So you’re not conflicted anymore about playing Barbra?
I overcame those things. Now I am happy. I am a better person, since I can do this with my head held high.
Sharon Owens as Barbra Streisand will perform as part of Flat Rock Playhouse’s Music on the Rock series July 14 through July 17. Performances are Thursday evening at 7:30pm and Friday and Saturday evening at 8pm, with matinees Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2pm. $30. For tickets, call 828-693-0731 or visit flatrockplayhouse.org.