music, theatre (reviews)

review: barbra back to brooklyn

Barbra Streisand: Back to Brooklyn

Barclays Center Brooklyn
October 11, 2012 at 8pm
Section 223 Row 31 Seat 1 [way up in the cheap seats]
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee

It has taken a few days to get my mind around the experience of seeing Ms. Streisand this past week at the first of her two concerts at Barclays Center, Brooklyn’s spanking new massive 19,000 seat sports arena. After five decades of Streisand fandom, this is my second visit to her in concert in the past six years. I paid much more for seats on the floor of Chicago’s United Center in 2006, and this year I pay a fraction of that ticket price to check out the rafters in Brooklyn’s’ newest venue.  The timing of each concert happens to coincide with national political events of interest. It was midterm election night in 2006, the night the Democrats took back the House — a fact I discovered as I walked out of the venue and turned on my phone to receive texts with that happy news. This Presidential election year’s concert coincides with the Vice Presidential debate, and texts relaying my partisan husband’s positive assessment of Biden’s performance entertain me as I and my concert companions made our way out of the arena. Politics and Barbra appreciation go hand in hand for me. With ups and downs in both areas, in both arenas, in both concerts-with-occasional-political-commentary — I remain an agog fan, delighting in the smooth, expert, comfortable, resolute, emotional, conversational, delectable performances of Barbara. Sure, at times I could use a lot less of some of her guest stars, but with each of her returns to the stage I love her even more. If that were possible.

In 2006 I mused on the styles of Streisand and Judy Garland, two twining legacies that in fact came into contact several times during their lives (and are referenced in this 2012 concert on screen if not in song), and enthuse about the comfort I could see in Streisand. Many of these 2006 words apply to my sense of Streisand in concert six years later.  In 2012 Barbra keeps her shoes on, but otherwise my observations pertain.

A fellow Judy fan described her voice … as “power on the verge of control”. Today, Barbra seemed more human in performance and, to me, more moving than she has been in recorded form. She did Judy’s shtick of removing her shoes (Judy did this, famously, during her record-breaking run at the Palace in New York City in 1951 and 1952). She sat on the stage steps – not the apron (no Barbara doesn’t feel that close to her audience — respect and distance is her style). And her voice was not pristine. It shows her age in a delightful way. Rich and sometimes a little craggy at the edges. Perhaps now entering Judy’s world of “power on the edge of control”. Beautiful.

Favorite quotes of the evening.

  • Of her recently deceased, great friend and colleague Marvin Hamlisch she notes that he had “the wisdom of an adult and the enthusiasm of a child.”
  • As preface to her evening encores she remarks “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings and I ain’t that fat.”  She went on to bring down the house with “Some Other Time” and a low-key and marvelous “Happy Days Are Here Again.” And it ain’t over.

Favorite non-musical moments of the evening.

  • Fans repeatedly yelling through one early section of Barbra patter to have the houselights, some strong almost klieg lights, turned off.  It took a while to get her attention, and some in the audience were a bit rattled by the shouting that at first felt like heckling. Once Barbra understood what was being articulated, she agreed and stopped and asked that the lights be lowered. “They’re right,” she said. “The lights should be down when the show is on.” Hooray for Brooklyn speaking up.
  • Barbra’s extended political pronouncements at a late inter-song patter moment.  Delicious.

The set list, with commentary.

Act 1

  • We begin with a photo montage of Barbra’s life and career, accompanied by Barbra’s adult version of “You’ll Never Know.” Barbra’s long career has intersected with many luminaries over the years. It was only when several sets of slides featuring Barbra with Judy Garland during the Barbra’s guest appearance on Garlands 1963-64 CBS television show appeared on the screen that much of the audience (me and my companions included) erupted into sustained applause. We were telegraphing to her and to each other that we appreciate the history, this particular artist combination, this legacy.
  • Overture: [as in 2006] the full original Broadway overture from Funny Girl. Brilliant choice then, brilliant choice now.
  • “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (from Sunset Boulevard) — which of course Barbra used with her first set of return concerts with the real lyrics. Here in 2012 she plays with them, and the boffo “I’ve come home at last” phrase is almost drowned out with enthusiastic applause.
  • After some banter about the refreshing honesty of Brooklyn’s own — “I love people from Brooklyn because they’re real,” she says — she lights into a medley of Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyrics: “Nice and Easy” and “That Face”
  • After some musings on the mystery of appearance, she lights into a version of “The Way He Makes Me Feel” (from Yentl) which is sung by a woman masquerading as a man who speaks of the romantic feelings she has toward a man. There are moments in this performance, with power of her voice under absolute control, singing gently without belt, with great love and affection, that make me gasp aloud.  The audience is respectful, deeply appreciative, and warm through these tunes. We’re sinking into a kind of reverie.
  • 1970’s “Didn’t We?” (by Jimmy Webb) contains some plaintive powerful lyrics of regret and understanding that gain layers of meaning when one has lived and loved and lost and now reflects. “This time we almost made the pieces fit” goes the  song. And our collective hearts hurt.

And now we come to this year’s version of 2006’s Il Divo.  2012’s young trio of Italian tenors called Il Volo (each of them under 20!) join Barbra on a warm and wonderful version of “Smile” and then continue for over-long pieces of their own in Italian. (Barbra, can you hear us? Come back!)  Though I did enjoy her banter with the boys — “You could add your ages together and not equal mine,” she quipped.

  • Barbra returns from her little break to a version of audience  Q and A reading from cards, as she did in 2006.  Some are gentle, some are more political. One query evokes the response:  “I hope no one tells him how to get to get to Sesame Street or Pennsylvania Avenue” — I’ll leave the details to your imagination.
  • “Sam, You Made the Pants Too Long” — such a delightful tune with a turn-of-the-century feel. I can’t recall off hand on which album or early television special she first performed this number, but I’ve always liked it.
  • “Enough is Enough” — a brave choice by a 70-year-old doing a disco era tune without her duet partner Donna Summer.
  • And a sentimental, video-augmented Marvin Hamlisch tribute section including pictures of them very young from the 1970s and Barbra’s versions of “The Way We Were” and the theme from the sappy movie Ice Castles.
  • A third tribute section features Jule Styne.  She describes the man who wrote the score to Funny Girl as “a little guy with a big heart and a huge talent.” Barbra gifts us with “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough” from Styne’s Hallelujah, Baby!
  • The first half is rounded out by the loud medley of tunes from Gypsy that is perhaps too raucous for her current vocal qualities — “Rose’s Turn” and  “Some People”. The lasting impressions for me of this closing number is that she is powerful, rooted, and having fun on stage.

Act 2

  • We begin with some minutes from a 1981 documentary featuring interviews with Brooklynites about Streisand. Fans and familiars, people who speak of her with the comfort of family and the cousin who resents the lucky one’s success. A favorite quote from one of these characters interviewed from Brooklyn of 30 years ago: “Barbra Streisand never tried to have class.” — that could mean SO many things.
  • The second overture features “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” quite prominently, and we all are ready to sing along.
  • “You’re the Top” — another piece from the Streisand songbook (this tune was featured in the Film What’s Up Doc?) with its own special lyrics honoring places and people and events in Brooklyn.
  • “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” — ah, here I started doing the math — how long ago it was that she performed this on the Garland show — mid 1963?  And it is simply delicious in whole news ways in 2012.
  • The Chris Botti section. A charming and beautiful medley with guest Chris Botti features “What’ll I Do?” (for which for me there are more Garland memories from The Judy Garland Show) and “My Funny Valentine”. Botti continues to work with Barbra on “Lost Inside of You” (from Barbra’s A Star is Born) — this tune works just fine. And then he continues on a duet with violinist Caroline Campbell, and a duet drummer on Botti’s on “When I Fall in Love” —  usually powerful and emotional and romantic but not here.
  • The Jason Gould section. A short film is shown Jason crafted to honor a recent birthday of his mother (Barbra didn’t identify which birthday) featuring images of him alone and the two of them together from his babyhood through recent images of his 40-something self. We suspect and it is later verified in person that the singer performing “There was a Boy” (with initial lyrics “there was a boy / a very strange enchanted boy”) is Jason.  Son enters to mom’s proud introductory words once the film is finished, and he smiles and endures her motherly ministrations (“She likes to touch my hair” he notes when she reaches over to pat some locks into place) and gently prods her to get into it: “Let’s just do this thing.” Their voices blend beautifully indeed on Irvin Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean?”  Barbra’s looks at Jason during this section put me in mind of Garland’s appreciation of daughter Liza during the BBC-filmed concert at the London Palladium in 1964. (I mused about that Garland maternal gaze in a blog entry during last summer’s “Summer of Garland” film and television screenings in New York City.) He continues on into a long solo, comfortably circumnavigating the large arena stage, with mom seated happily enjoying his crooning. I was not as amused by this section — his voice (and his audience) tired by the end of this particular solo tune.
  • “People” (Barbra’s back solo!) — the Peter Matz single arrangement, she reminds us.
  • “Here’s To Life” by Barbra, saluting the experience of a life deeply lived.
  • A stupendous finale with every single soloist who appeared throughout the show and additional choral voices — I didn’t count but they ringed the rear section of the stage maybe 40-50 strong. Leonard Bernstein‘s “Make Our Garden Grow” (from Candide) rocks the joint.

Encores followed after Barbra made jokes at the expense of audience members she could see leaving to get to their cars — it was now nearing 11pm.  Noted Barbra: “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings and I ain’t that fat”

  • “Some Other Time” (Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green) — gentle, contemplative, a great tune providing a great match to Streisand’s vocal qualities at this point of her life.
  • “Happy Days Are Here Again” — oh yes. We’re on our feet throughout, thinking of Barbra in the house and larger events outside.

I and my companions are a bit drained from absorbing the energy of Barbra, the energy of her fans, and the volume of the Barclays Center. Rough and right on the mark, quiet and raucous, contemplative and provocative — all of these things at once. As performer, as entertainer, and as a person, Barbra in concert is not to be missed.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 16, 2012)

About martha wade steketee

Lover of ghost lights, movies, stories of creative lives, magic of live performance, storytelling in song.

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