How does one go from studying and performing as an accomplished opera singer to performing a tribute to “America’s greatest star” on stage in New York, Las Vegas and beyond?

How does one go from studying and performing as an accomplished opera singer to performing a tribute to “America’s greatest star” on stage in New York, Las Vegas and beyond?

What began as a hobby has turned into success on stage for Carla DelVillaggio, who brings her showSimply Streisand to the Illinois Central College Performing Arts Center in East Peoria on August 22 at 7:30 p.m.

And what a success it has turned out to be.

The New York Post said seeing DelVillaggio’s show is “the next best thing to seeing Streisand herself.” From the hair down to the trademark nails and wearing meticulously detailed replicas of iconic concert gowns, she recreates the excitement and high energy vocals of Streisand’s most powerful numbers. At the same time, DelVillaggio sings with a beauty and purity of sound essential for the ballads so closely associated with this greatest of all singing actresses.

“I have my master's degree in voice with an opera specialization, and I did a lot of singing,” DelVillaggio said. “After I moved back to Florida from the Baltimore area, I met my husband, and he is a bit of a karaoke freak. I’d never gone to sing karaoke, but I went with him. The only thing I could ever think of to sing would be Streisand tunes because I was such a fan. Inevitably, somebody would say, ‘Has anybody ever told you that you look a little bit like Barbra Streisand?’”

Her husband saw an opportunity, which DelVillaggio said she “thought was insanity,” but she eventually agreed to give it a try. In 2006, they attended The Sunburst Convention, an annual convention of celebrity tribute artists that happens in the Orlando, Fla., area, and things took off from there. DelVillaggio has attended the convention every year since and won numerous awards, including placement in the convention’s hall of fame by winning the "Best Overall Celebrity Re-Creation” award and the agents’ “Best Impressed” award three times each.

“I had been a fan of hers prior to this,” DelVillaggio said. “I have been a lifelong fan. For as long as I can remember, I have been mesmerized by her, but I never would have considered trying to be an impersonator, because to me, that’s just a very special voice.”

But according to numerous reviews of her shows, DelVillaggio has the look and sound of Streisand. While writing about DelVillaggio’s performance at the re-opening of the Bon Soir, the New York nightclub where Streisand was discovered, one reviewer said DelVillaggio has “a spooky ability to channel the icon—at times you would swear you were seeing a hologram of a teenage Streisand.”

So does DelVillaggio consider herself an impersonator or a tribute artist?

“I consider myself a tribute artist,” she said. “There are people in this business that are lookalikes, and that’s all they do because they don’t do a show, so they are more ‘impersonators.’ I think most of us prefer to be called tribute artists.”

While some performers perform their tribute shows with a more mocking tone, DelVillaggio said she is nothing but respectful in her tribute to Streisand.

“I don’t do a parody,” DelVillaggio said. “I don’t make fun of her. I don’t cross my eyes. I take it very seriously. But I mean, I’m not delusional...I know I’m not Barbra. There’s only one Barbra.”

DelVillaggio, who is an associate professor of music/voice at Valencia College in Orlando, said she thinks Streisand’s enormous and long-lasting popularity is due to several factors.

“She’s been in this business more than 50 years, which is pretty incredible,” she said. “She just turned 72 this past April, so she certainly has staying power, and probably a lot of it has to do with her versatility. She acts and sings and directs and produces and she wrote a book and all that. I think, also, the fact that she’s such a philanthropist and cares deeply about a lot of important issues--particularly, women’s heart health is a big thing for her--so she’s a very hard-working lady.

“And then, of course, her body of work speaks for itself. Her vocal gifts are, to me, second to none. She sings every word in every song like it comes directly from her heart, and has the best diction of any singer I know. Between that and her phrasing and her storytelling abilities, she’s just really wonderful and very inspiring.

“For better or worse, a show called Glee has brought Barbra's music to a new generation. I, for one, am not a fan of the show, but many of my students watch it and have told me about hearing Streisand songs performed on it. So, at least in some context, a younger generation is having some exposure to her legacy of music.”

While DelVillaggio said the thought of performing her show in front of the real Barbra Streisand is “terrifying,” she has performed in front of some of Streisand’s relatives.

“I am friends with one of her cousins, as well as her aunt who just turned 100,” DelVillaggio said. “They’ve come to a lot of my shows, mainly up in New Jersey, and have been incredibly encouraging and so sweet; they’re just lovely, lovely people.

“I’m always a bit more nervous when they’re in the audience, but they’re terrific, so that’s the closest I’ve gotten to her so far.”

DelVillaggio said that audiences sometimes are not sure what to expect when attending her shows.

“Or maybe they never know what to expect with any tribute act show,” she added. “I’m very interactive; I talk a lot to the audience, and sometimes it takes them awhile to warm up and respond. I let them know that it’s okay to respond, and we always have a great time.

“I have some really wonderful video that goes along with some of my songs, including one that’s a big surprise that I think they will just really love. The format of my shows is similar—although on a much smaller scale—to those of Streisand. She’s always done her concerts sitting on a stool with a table next to her holding her teapot and things like that and maybe flowers, so I try to emulate that kind of style and elegance that is so much of who she is.

“And I do my shows in first person, which sometimes confuses people, but it’s the way I like to do it.”

The 90-minute performance at the ICC Performing Arts Center consists of two acts, and while DelVillaggio is still finalizing details of the show, she said she is leaning toward performing her ‘Then and Now’ show. This performance features a first act of Streisand songs from the 1960s era, and, following intermission, Streisand songs from the 1970s on up.

"More than anything else, hopefully they’ll have a good time, be entertained and hear some great music that brings back lots of memories,” DelVillaggio said. “I look forward to it very much.”

Peoria Friendship House is the highlighted community partner for this performance. The community partner program, a part of the ICC Guest Artists Series, highlights a non-profit or community organization which has ties to the Guest Artists Series performance.

Tickets cost $25 for the general public and $15 for students. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at (309) 694-5136.