Barbra Streisand At Barclay Center, Saturday, May 6th, 2017, Reviewed
This is the same show I saw last August, in the same venue, but not exactly. Last time she was pushing her new album very hard, this time, with former President Bill Clinton and former Senator from New York in the house, she was pushing the democratic party. It might, under different circumstances, have gotten in the way of the performance but Streisand spends so much time chatting (off a teleprompter) that Ms. Streisand’s partisan blow out was just part of the bigger party.
“Hello Brooklyn, I’m back, again” Streisand shouted before a very rising “The Way We Were” to open her two hours (plus intermission) concert. It was impressive. The entire evening was impressive. At 75 years old, Streisand doesn’t do what Sinatra did towards the end of his career, she doesn’t lean back on style, she doesn’t lean back at all, there is an aggressive perfectionism that will brook no argument, she tears through to the higher notes at the end of the song, and it is really so smooth, she doesn’t perform ululations, she steers her voice towards the songs conclusion neither overworking her Barbraisms, nor missing the point. AT SEVENTY FIVE!!!
The first act finds Barbara singing a song an album for ten songs, the second set rests on her Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway album. Barbra knows the set very well by now, she has been touring on a variation since 2012. We get the must hear hits, “Evergreen,” “Enough Is Enough,” “People,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” we get the legendary songwriters deep cuts and we close(ish –one more to go) with “Happy Days again”.
The stories she tells about her fights along the way are old news by now, and, indeed, she has seriously toned it down, and the evening doesn’t add up to its “the memories…” tagline, it is more clearly a set without a clear agenda (unless you consider “would having, should having” Hillary an agenda). There is no underlying conceit to the show, no reason for it to exist even if we are happy it does exist. Barbra has a mix of a yenta and a diva about her, she tells story after story where she is found to be right at the end and, while, if like me, you find “Yentl” the movie risible, not to mention “Funny Lady,” Barbra’s self-confidence that they are timeless masterpieces pulls her through.
She looks her age and she acts her age to a degree but maintains an air of personable friendship. Not as much as the 2012 concert for sure, where she had a funny and loving give and take with the audience, she has been on and off this tour for five years and she knows it down pat now, it is not a time for discovery but a set in place, like a musical, and I accept it as such, though I miss the thrill of the personal.
The songs are not all masterpieces though they are all sung as though they are masterpieces. “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” sung to the ghost of Anthony Newley was still the show highlight, there is a picture of Barbra and Newley standing nose to nose, and it has the echo of a deep true sexual love and even with old film there are more sparks with Newley than with, say, Hugh Jackman. Those of us who lived in the UK in the 1960s hold a great deal of admiration for the late singer actor and so does Barbara who is dazzling in the midst of the songs urbane despair. They transform It from powerful outing by Newley and the terrific lyricist and songwriter Leslie Bricusse (we know him from masterpieces like the “Goodbye Mr. Chips” soundtrack), to a statement at the heart of Newley and with Streisand joining him in the loneliness they had shared back then.
It is moving, but Barbra is a moving artist, while she appears to be one of the girls on steroids, when she sings she does what she needs to do to transform the transformative, whether on the set closing “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” a perfect encapsulation of a form of American optimism that you hold on to and soar with forever, a dream of how to succeed in life through, well through the becoming of the woman Barbra played in “The Way We Were” –a stubborn and self-righteous positive touch, a glorious echo chamber of a performance, or on the clichéd show stopping defining “People”. .
What doesn’t work here, didn’t much work last time. “Pure Imagination” is to the Great American Songbook what “Hallelujah” is to pop standards: overcooked by half. That is part of the problem with the second act, the songs aren’t quite as good as the first half, with the exception of any time she sings a Sondheim. “Losing My Mind” was such a highlight , is such a great song, but the Leiber Kinder “How Lucky Can I Be” misses. As much as you can say misses about one of our greatest singers. Streisand, as a singer, as an actress, as a certain exemplified person, as a vision of a woman , is hard to deny too much. It feels like starting a quarrel, she is too good, her voice too defining, her personality, her vision, her attitude, a doorway into American pop and American feminism. Towards the end, Barbra said that this is her final live performance. “Well, you know, I have other things to do.” Maybe so, maybe she’ll be back in a couple of years. Either way, she’ll end where she started: at the top.