Barbra Streisand is one of a very small group of legends left– Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin– who are larger than life. She proved it again on Thursday night in a return to Brooklyn’s Barclay Center arena in front of A List crowd that included Clive Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, Ralph Lauren, and director Barry Levinson.
Streisand’s show was superior to her very good Brooklyn show four years ago. My only quibble is the very Las Vegas-y comedian magician who comes out in the middle of the proceedings so she can take an intermission. He was really really awful.
But the audience didn’t seem to mind, as they were getting their Barbra live in the flesh. singing at 74 with her unique instrument. What’s sort of amazing about Streisand is that it’s all live, warts and all, and she doesn’t give a hoot. Sometimes her high notes are shaggy, but more often than not she’s in full command. The middle notes and lows are breathtaking, and the tops still surprise. She’s in possession of something no one else, she’s had it for 60 years, and she knows it.
The first half of the show comprises bits of hits like “Stoney End” and “Enough is Enough.” She opens with “The Way We Were” and a lesser known Carole King song (“Being at War with Each Other”). She offers her own “Evergreen” and Barry Gibb’s “Woman In Love.” But the highlight of the 1st half of the show is Steven Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods.” Streisand and Sondheim are a match made in heaven.
The second half of the show starts wobbly, with “Pure Imagination” (from “Willy Wonka”) and a really creepy duet with the very dead Anthony Newley on “Who Do I Turn To?” Natalie Cole once sang with her dead dad, Nat King Cole, and it was just fine. But this should not have become a trend. If you didn’t get to sing with someone while they were alive, then too bad. Don’t do it now.
But once that escapade was over, Streisand pulled out all the stops. Her version of Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” is exceptional. It’s on her forthcoming album as a bonus track, but it should be front and center. Movie actor Patrick Wilson came out and sang Sondheim’s “Loving You” from “Passion” with Barbra and was so impressive– why isn’t he a leading man on Broadway?
The final part of the show unleashed The Legend– “How Lucky Can You Get,” “People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Climb Every Mountain”– with special guest Jamie Foxx, plus “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and a sublime reading of Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was.” This section is worth the price of the ticket (mine as a free press ticket, but I would pay again just for this stuff). I actually thought Foxx would overwhelm her on “Climb” but Barbra I think surprised herself and soared.
The show is well written, with just enough shmaltz, pro-Clinton and anti-Trump jabs that you feel like you’ve spent time with this great star. Barbra was never hip and she isn’t now. She’s not meant to be. She was the bridge between Tin Pan Alley and the British Invasion. This show plays to her strengths, to her hits, to “Funny Girl” and her uncanny reading of the American songbook. And just when you think you’ve got it, she’ll throw in new phrasing that surprises and thrills. So I forgive the magician because Streisand made magic.