Funny Ladies: Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Joan Rivers Headline a Week of Music and Quips

James Brolin and Barbra Streisand.
James Brolin and Barbra Streisand.

Mirella Freni and Pavarotti shared the same wet nurse,” former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said last week at the Eighth Annual Opera News Awards at The Plaza, sharing a bit of opera trivia before giving the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s distinguished achievement award to the supreme Modenese soprano. “Just imagine the Freudian connotations,” hizzoner continued. “Mirella’s mother liked to say, ‘Guess who got all the milk?’”

Triggering uproarious laughter and a few gasps.

The next morning, Shindigger was still giggling at the Waldorf Astoria for the 2013 Matrix Awards, hosted by Joan Rivers, where pioneering women in media and communications such as Kara Swisher, Joanna Coles, HSN’s Mindy Grossman and Bonnie Hammer received Tiffany & Co. medallions from the likes of Barry Diller, Iman and Ryan Seacrest. Another legendary songstress, five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, was celebrated as well.

“She has the voice of an angel,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn declared as she bestowed a Matrix on Ms. McDonald. Though it was Ms. Rivers who got in the last line—“Dessert was good, but not worth the calories!”—before hobbling off the stage.

All in all, it proved to be as much of a musical week as a comedic week for Shindigger, though, highlighted by The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 40th anniversary Chaplin Awards Gala, which honored the epic career of Barbra Streisand and featured a mega-star-studded array of delicious surprises.

“Boy am I excited, this is such a treat!” exclaimed our first surprise, Liza Minnelli, after a standing ovation. “When I saw Barbra perform, I went nuts,” she raved. “I said Mama—it’s just unique and was splendid. She had chutzpah! The real deal!”

Grabbing the mic and a nearby director’s chair, Ms. Minnelli winced, “Now I have to sit down. My back is killing me.” And then she performed such Streisand signatures as “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” and “Isn’t This Better” from Funny Lady. (Ms. Streisand would quip later that she had forgotten the former was one of her songs.)

Next, former recipients Catherine Deneuve and Michael Douglas graced the stage.

“Michael and I are very pleased to give you congratulations on this well-deserved honor, and happy birthday!” the French siren purred.

“You were a master,” gushed Mr. Douglas. “It has been my joy over the years to watch you as an artist on stage, and it has been equally as meaningful to be your friend.”

One after another, immortal film stars and celebrity performers paid their respects to Empress Barbra, who sat perched with husband James Brolin in box four, first tier, on the right side of Avery Fisher Hall. George Segal, Amy Irving, Kris Kristofferson and Blythe Danner all said a few words, video felicitations came from Robert Redford and Omar Sharif, and there were musical performances by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (“Hello Dolly”), songwriter Alan Bergman (“The Way We Were”), and a surprise finale by Tony Bennett.

“She asked me why she should do it,” Ben Stiller said drily as he recounted how he convinced the diva to take her role in Meet the Fockers. “Finally, we worked out the creative details, or as she calls it, ‘the money.’”

The funnyman then introduced his Chappaqua neighbor, who just so happens to be the 42nd president of the United States of America.

“I don’t know why, I just never got the nerve to call him up and hang,” Mr. Stiller laughed. “Hey, Bill, wanna come over and order some vegan pizza and play some video games? Watch House of Cards on Netflix?”

President Bill Clinton, taking in the crowd’s awe and rousing applause, played with the wisecrack. “Ben, I accept your offer, and pretty soon House of Cards will be back on,” the former president pledged. “Meanwhile, we can watch a replay of Meet the Fockers and see Barbra give sex advice to old people—like me!”

Awkward laughter filled the hall as the president quickly mentioned his wife, Hillary, and then continued:

“I am very grateful to The Film Society of Lincoln Center for allowing me, on its 40th anniversary, to give the Chaplin Award to my friend. A friend of my family’s and one of the most gifted and big-hearted people I have ever known.”

President Clinton commended Ms. Streisand for her film work, her philanthropic leadership and her many talents.

“When I was president, we had a small list of members of Congress that we called the ‘Just Say Yes List,’” because they were so dogged that you knew you were gonna give in to them sooner of later,” he recalled. “That’s the way Barbra is. In the end, I would say yes.”

And then it was finally time for Ms. Streisand to take the stage.

“My dear Mr. President, thank you for taking the time to be with us here tonight,” she began.

The divine Ms. Streisand spoke about the power of art in trying times and shared numerous anecdotes from her treasured past. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been called bossy and opinionated,” Ms. Streisand admitted. “Maybe that’s because I am?”

The audience chuckled, and Ms. Streisand raised her voice: “Three cheers for bossy women!” she said.

And through the standing, roaring gala patrons, we swore we saw Mr. Clinton’s wife, in the third row, beaming. Funny Ladies: Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Joan Rivers Headline a Week of Music and Quips