Anything Barbra Streisand-related is well worth attending (are you kidding?!), and on Friday, October 5, there was an invited dress rehearsal on the Temple University Campus in the Liacouras Center as Barbra Streisand: BACK TO BROOKLYN, the new tour, got its feet wet for the very first time in front of about a thousand people.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the lucky thousand to attend that dress rehearsal of the new tour and ultimately two words leap to mind - well, two words besides “L’chaim,” (Yiddish for “To life”) that is; like buttah (which is, of course, Brooklynese for “like butter” to you mid-90s SNL Mike-Myers-as-Linda-Richmond reference neophytes out there among us).
Prior to the show's mid-afternoon start, Richard Jay-Alexander bounded onto the stage to welcome us as "friends and family," but also took the time and caring to explain that being there came with the responsibility of not leaking the contents of the show before it officially opened to the paying public, as changes were still in progress. He asked us to actually "turn off" our phones and to put them away (as opposed to on vibrate, out in the open), etc. explaining the distraction they cause, stressing the nature of this special invited dress event and thanking us for our obedience.
Now that the show has officially opened, as it did last night in Brooklyn at the brand new Barclays Center, here, now, is my report from that first exclusive afternoon, which will forever be one of the highlights of my theatre/concert-going life, Bar none.
Here's To Her
Encompassing almost every aspect of life as revealed in film, story, song and theme throughout the diverse program, from early bat mitzvahs to her first flames of fame on Broadway and in nightclubs, through to international acclaim and peerless regard as the voice of a generation with a simply astonishing recording legacy encompassing more than sixty full-length albums through to her many films and Oscar-winning musical composition and film direction, as well as her fearlessly committed ongoing political activism, all the way up to last year’s pristine new studio album WHAT MATTERS MOST and this week’s release of, well, RELEASE ME - a new collection of previously unreleased material (review here) - and even Duck Sauce’s “Barbra Streisand” in between; and, also, looking ahead to her new feature film comedy opening Christmas Day, GUILT TRIP - we virtually get it all. And, aren’t we glad?! Overjoyed, really - and why shouldn’t we be? “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough”, indeed - and there is no question whatsoever that Barbra Streisand is the very best. Marvin Hamlisch related to me in my InDepth InterView with him in 2010 (available here) that Barbra Streisand possesses the greatest vocal instrument of any performer alive, and, while we mourn his irrevocable loss, it is emboldening and inspiring to see Streisand at 70 still just that, just as he said - the best.
Barbra Streisand: BACK TO BROOKLYN is filled with surprises, so to spoil the songlist or speculate upon overarching style and design of the masterfully multi-layered, multi-media show would first and most be doing a disservice to the organic conviviality of the proceedings that quite rapturously come as a result of the careful, considered rapport established from the very start. The show is directed by Barbra Streisand and Richard Jay-Alexander, creating a living room type atmosphere within the vast expanse and epic reality of an arena-ready concert spectacular and thereupon in that intimacy the true heart and soul of the star may show - and she gives us heart, wit, soul, sage wisdom and much more. What makes the performance linger in the memory beyond the sheer, stupefying closeness you feel that you share with the performer by the chorus-backed Bernstein-tributed finale is the stunning command of a song as it is possessed by Streisand. She becomes it. Judy Garland could reach into the very core of a song and pull out its guts over the course of a verse and chorus, only to reassemble it and stitch it up, sewn up like new again by the close of the next - no, even better than new; something similar and the same, but richer and better. So, too, is it precisely that manner in which a Barbra Streisand song is attacked live by the performer - each moment is inextricably linked to the next, all of one whole; yet, there are countless surprises to be found in hearing a classic chestnut, too, such as “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” or “How Deep Is The Ocean?” Why is that? It is because she is always in the moment and living in that moment with the music - it lives in her and she in it and the emotional toll that must take is surreal. Like the unexplained mysteries of life and what our destines are to be, seeing her as she was here, it seems organic and natural in the most essential sense that a vocalist blessed with arguably the finest instrument in popular culture since Garland could conjure magic in her stride as she sings - and, here as always, she does. And how she does - more than once. It’s like seeing Harry Houdini do what he did - you are left with your mouth agape and your soul shattered with no idea how the master manipulator made it all happen by the time it is over. Magic only exists in its residual effect - and the effect is resounding in this case. Impossible to erase from the memory - there are only a handful of Hollywood and Broadway icons left (or ever) and Barbra Streisand remains a quintessential star - this is what it is all about, really.
Plus, as if Barbra alone doing what she does best (in the truest sense of that term) was not enough, with supporting acts like the trio of talented young Italians known as Il Volo, as well as master trumpeter Chris Botti, to say nothing of the stunning vocal debut of the heir to the throne (and, apparently, a prince of vocal gifts), son Jason Gould - in addition, of course, to the 65-piece orchestra led by conductor Bill Ross and the children’s chorus (in this case, The Brooklyn Youth Chorus) - the near-three-hour show has awesome entertainment value to spare. The inimitable force at the center, Streisand has crafted a unique experience sure to appeal to all generations, as well, with her amiable and adorable affectations never more endearing, nor her intention more heartfelt - and her asides never more assured, effective and amusing. By venturing out on a concert stage in this fine form she is showing us her appreciation and affection as an audience and the care, love and detail with which the evening has been conceived and presented is clearly felt. Whether a Justin Bieber joke, a witty Bergman-penned Jay-Z pun set to the strains of a reboot of Cole Porter’s “You’re The Top” to the tremendously moving tributes to great songwriters like Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein and Marvin Hamlisch to calls to activism for heart disease and just government, there is an expansive swath of life covered - and the laughter, tears and, well, mem’ries, that go along with all of it.
Here’s to life? Yes - oh, yes. But, even more than that, here’s to Barbra Streisand: BACK TO BROOKLYN. Keyn Ir - or, if you prefer, L'Barbra!
Right In The Dark
Today, let us celebrate some of the best moments from Barbra’s incredible career, with an emphasis on those that are touched upon in Barbra Streisand: BACK TO BROOKLYN and featured on RELEASE ME.
Starting off with a song sung by one of the grandest dames to grace the stage in many a decade, Norma Desmond of SUNSET BOULEVARD, here Streisand kicks off her 1994 THE CONCERT - at the time, her first concert in nearly 30 years - with the rousing and evocative Andrew Lloyd Webber anthem “As If We Never Said Goodbye”. Come Thursday, in Brooklyn, the central line will have an even deeper meaning, to say the least - “I’ve come home at last!”
Now, enjoy a live performance of an alluring Jimmy Webb 1970s staple featured on RELEASE ME and on the new tour, “Didn’t We” - here, performed on THE David Frost SHOW in 1971. Also, Barbra shares an amusing story about her then-young son and his affection for licorice (perhaps a sweet tooth runs in the family?).
One of the most enchanting and impressive rare YouTube videos of all is Barbra Streisand’s simply stunning “Make Our Garden Grow” from Leonard Bernstein’s CANDIDE, which was originally recorded for the BACK TO BROADWAY sessions in the late-1980s. See and hear one of the most incredible vocal performances ever captured below. Just how long is that last note?!
FUNNY GIRL was the show that put Barbra Streisand’s name on the map and it was the show that would ultimately act as the basis for the film which would propel her to worldwide stardom the likes of which few stars ever achieve. Yet, after all, the world is merely made up of one thing, isn't it? People. Those who hear her sing “People” live are just that - “the luckiest people in the world.”
A showstopper to surely beat any band, “Don’t Rain On My Parade” is one of the biggest Broadway songs ever written and it is befitting that one of Broadway’s biggest voices originally took it on. See Streisand sing it on the TV special FROM FUNNY GIRL TO FUNNY LADY in 1975 below.
A STAR IS BORN is the film that brought Barbra her second Academy Award (following her win for Best Actress in 1969 for FUNNY GIRL), this time for Best Song - the Paul Williams collaboration “Evergreen” (lyrics by Williams, music by Streisand). While she may not have written the lyrics, the words could not be more applicable to the writer and singer as she sings it today - as good as ever, "ageless and evergreen." See her sing it on the 1977 Academy Awards below.
No Barbra Streisand concert would really be complete without a nod to her well-regarded 1983 film project where she acted as writer/director/producer/star, YENTL. One of the score’s lesser-known pleasures is the sensitive and sexy “The Way He Makes Me Feel”, here showcased in a vintage video.
“Somewhere” from WEST SIDE STORY, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is yet another example of a superlative song matched by a masterful interpreter in Streisand‘s posession - and, in this case, especially married with David Foster’s unique production, it is absolutely otherworldly. Witness her performing it live in 1986 below.
Appearing alongside the aforementioned fellow vocal MVP of the last century, here is a rare treat, indeed: Barbra Streisand on THE Judy Garland SHOW. Here she sings the classic Rodgers & Hart PAL JOEY ballad “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered”, introduced here by Dorothy of Oz herself.
Another iconic pairing taken from the annals of Streisand’s remarkable career is her smash hit 1979 disco duet with Donna Summer on the fiery Paul Jabara earworm “No More Tears/Enough Is Enough”. More than thirty years later, few have ever done it better - or, it seems, ever will.
THE WAY WE WERE is unquestionably the romantic pinnacle of Streisand’s career on film and the title song is one of Marvin Hamlisch’s strongest and most moving melodies - the combination is, like the best of Streisand, pure magic. Streisand sings the song in an incredibly intimate setting below in footage taken from her 2009 return to the Village Vanguard, the cabaret showcase where she made her debut forty years before. With BACK TO BROOKLYN, she continues to come full-circle in her career - how lucky can we get?!
Last year's sumptuous WHAT MATTERS MOST is one of Barbra's best studio albums ever, bar none, and the sensitive and sensuous Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyrics match her instrument - to say nothing of her way with their words - like pen with ink. Hear the sexy "Nice 'n' Easy" from the unforgettable WHAT MATTERS MOST below and try to catch it live if you can!
Barbra Streisand's new album, RELEASE ME - available now - is overflowing with rich material, but Randy Newman's plaintive "I Think It's Going To Rain Today" is a definite pinnacle. Hear the vintage track below as it appears on RELEASE ME in its the painstakingly preserved and lovingly remastered iteration, with Streisand accompanied by Newman himself on piano.
RELEASE ME also can count among its foremost virtues the wistful "Willow Weep For Me", recorded in 1967 for SIMPLY STREISAND. Barbra discusses working with Ray Ellis on the jazzy tune - and shares her enthusiasm for Billie Holiday - in the brand new interview below.
Lastly, sample the brand new full-length trailer for the upcoming Streisand-starring comedy GUILT TRIP, also featuring Seth Rogan, opening Christmas Day. Who knew?! She’s still got the slapstick comedy chops from way back in the WHAT'S UP DOC? days, too! Like a fine wine.
As a special bonus, enjoy this oh-so-apropos autumnal homage sourced from Barbra’s Gallic album JE M’APPELLE BARBRA.
For even more Fall-themed material, enjoy “Autumn” from 1964’s seminal PEOPLE by clicking below.
As the seasons shift from autumn into winter and as the leaves fall from withered branches bracing for first snowfall, we are reminded of the seasons of life and the pertinence of pursuing joy whenever possible and enjoying every moment as it comes - and goes. No more joyous event can one witness in nature than pure talent writ big and large for all to see - which is precisely what will be on full display for the next few weeks on Barbra Streisand: BACK TO BROOKLYN and, now, on RELEASE ME. Here's to her.
Photos: Getty Images