Barbra Streisand, perhaps the greatest performer of her generation, made history last night for her fans as she returned to her Greenwich Village roots after almost 50 years.
As a promotional effort for her latest album, “Love is the Answer,” the eternally youthful looking Streisand brought a four-piece jazz band into the Village Vanguard, a downstairs club in the West Village where she got her start almost five decades ago. Among the guests were fans who’d won a lottery for the available 78 seats.
But the other fans were also pretty remarkable: former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with daughter Chelsea and her fiancee, actor James Brolin (Streisand’s husband), Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Donna Karan, famed theater actress Phyllis Newman who is also the widow of Adolph Green, lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, mogul Barry Diller (solo — wife Diane von Furstenberg was away, he told me), the New York Times’s Frank Rich and Alex Witchel, Deborah Lee Furness aka Mrs. Hugh Jackman, Columbia Records chief Rob Stringer, and longtime Hollywood manager Sandy Gallin.
The brilliant record producer Tommy LiPuma, who made “Love is the Answer” with Streisand and Diana Krall, was also there.
Of course, not everyone could fit into the Village Vanguard, so Sony Music, the parent of Columbia Records, arranged for a closed-circuit feed to the Louis XVI suite at the Waldorf Astoria. That’s where yours truly watched the show on large TV screens, along with about 50 more of Streisand’s friends and family including Joy Behar of “The View,” another longtime Streisand associate and music exec Charles Koppelman (now CEO of Martha Stewart’s company), and even the rabbi who’s head of the Conservative Jewish movement in Israel!
Streisand started the hour-long show, which can be seen on AOL Broadband this evening, introduced by her devoted manager of 48 years, Marty Ehrlichman. She also introduced Jimmy Cobb, the legendary (now 80 year old) jazz drummer who played her early albums (and was Miles Davis’s drummer), as well as the waiter who gave her career tips all those years ago.
From our vantage point in the Waldorf, Streisand looked like “buttah” in the most intimate setting she’s performed in for years. Maybe because of that, she was a little too relaxed. Speaking off the cuff, Streisand introduced over a dozen songs with many reminiscences. Some of them were telling: “When I sing songs like ‘People’ over and over, I get a little bored,” she admitted. So “People,” one of her signature numbers, was not in the show.
Instead she sang “My Funny Valentine” at the suggestion of a friend, after not singing it for years. She included Jacques Brel’s “If You Go Away” including the anecdote of how and she and her husband (Elliot Gould, presumably) and another couple flew to Marseilles years ago to see Brel, only to have him not sing it himself. She performed her own hit, “Evergreen,” because she said it was President Clinton’s favorite. “I feel Virginia’s here, too,” she said, referring to the president’s late mother. “She was one of my surrogate mothers.”
Some of the other numbers included one by the Bergmans (”I’ve recorded 52 of their songs”), “Bewitched Bothered, and Bewildered,” “My Heart Belongs to Me,” “Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Gentle Rain,” “Spring Can Really Hang You Up,” “Make Someone Happy,” “Where Do You Start?” and then threw the room a big bone, as it were: the Bergmans’ (with Marvin Hamlisch), “The Way We Were.” On the screen, you could see Sarah Jessica Parker tear up, like half the room.
It was a night bathed in nostalgia, but it wasn’t always perfect. The first thing Streisand asked yours truly (of all things) after she and most of the guests transferred up to the Waldorf was: “Was I okay? Did my voice sound alright?” Yes, for real, she was verklempt. We told her she said, “People” was boring. “I did?” she exclaimed, “Oh my god!”
The answer is: she told the audience, “I haven’t sung since January.” She and the band only rehearsed for this gig for two days. If she were anyone else, Streisand would get an A plus. But with that little preparation, maybe we’ll say A minus. She missed some high notes. Sometimes, toward the end, you could a little hoarseness. She was not the usual Streisand the perfectionist. It’s incredibly ingratiating to find out she’s human, taking chances, and real. It didn’t quite bring her down to a mortal level, but made her accessible in a new way.
Now, if she “practices, practices, practices,” she knows what her next stop will be. “What about Carnegie Hall?” she asked us, in all seriousness.
She should try it!