There are a few times that I’ve had difficulty being a reviewer of a performance, putting aside my fan-gushiness, and this night was one of them. Reviewing Barbra at the new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday was a dream come true after decades admiring her talent, her honesty in interviews, and her example for women that there is no limit to what they can do. So, I will try my very best to be objective, neutral and detached. Yea right.
She emerged to a packed house in Uniondale, to a standing ovation and belted out a fine, “Hello Lawn Eyeland.” In a black sequined retro outfit, blousy with bell-bottomed pants, she absolutely shined. The stage featured a full orchestra behind her, and two sitting areas graced with a vase of flowers for wherever she chose to park herself. First, she sat at the mike in front center and shared that the last time she played in this part of New York was a stint at the Lido Beach in 1963. A girl from Brooklyn, she explained that as families in her neighborhood made some money, they moved to Long Island. This night, plus Saturday’s performance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Theatre, would be the final shows of her latest tour as she promotes her new release Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway.
As the recognizable first few notes of “The Way We Were” played, the crowd swooned. It was a poignant beginning not only since the song is probably her most famous, the movie well-loved, it’s a reminder that we’re all getting up in years, that our own unique memories are ones to be cherished. At 75, she remains a powerhouse in voice and personality. She can do nothing wrong (except elicit some boos from a few “barbs” at Donald Trump). Her timing remains impeccable, and she doesn’t pull back from the high notes, reaching them better and holding them longer as the show went on. Her three back-up singers only came on board during a rousing “Enough is Enough” – the disco hit with Donna Summer from the 1980’s – and stayed in the background for most of the show. It was all Barbra.
Celebrating her sixth decade in music, Barbra displayed on the screen behind her the many number one albums she released during that time, and said she’d sing a number from each one. She paid homage to her longtime manager, Marty Erlichman; to her record company, Columbia; and later in the show sang a tribute, “Everything Must Change,” to her recently passed friend and former manager, Sandy Gallin.
One by one, an Album Cover would be highlighted, accompanied by an anecdote of the photo shoot, like the cover for People where she stands with her back to the camera on the beach, facing the sunrise. “I was just so tired of posing that I just took a break.” When she suggested that photo for the album cover, she was told that it’d never work. She persisted, and the LP won a Grammy for Best Album Cover in 1964. For the album The Way We Were, she explained that she didn’t like her hair that day and put on a black turban. It wasn’t until after the album was released that she noticed that her photo was touched up, that the “bump on my nose was missing.”
One of her most famous duets, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” started out as separate releases by her and Neil Diamond. Barbra explained that since both recordings were done in the same key, a DJ from Kentucky who was touched by the song’s message spliced them together as a gift for his ex-wife. Word of the new version went viral, and Columbia Records’ management had Streisand and Diamond record an official version which went to number one on the Billboard charts, and was performed live at the 1980 Grammy Awards.
For “Papa Can You Hear Me,” one of her most personal songs and written by her favorite songwriters, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, she walked to a side table and lit a candle. It’s as much a homage to her deceased father as it is to Yentyl, the movie she co-wrote, co-directed, starred in and produced. One of her own favorite albums, the chart-topping The Broadway Album, almost didn’t come to pass. She was told that it wouldn’t sell. “But I did it anyway.” On the album cover, Barbra sits on a rolling stage chair. “That chair means a lot to me,” she shared. It was the chair from her first show, I Can Get It For You Wholesale, where the unknown singer became a star after her three-minute performance of “Miss Marblestein.” The chair, she reveals, has even more relevance and is receiving its own chapter in the upcoming autobiography she’s now writing. While there were so many high moments in the two-and-a-half-hour show (three encores), one to note was her presentation of “Being Alive,” from Company. On its own, the song is wonderfully written, excitingly performed, but because she explained its intent, as one character from the show shares with another what it means to be in love, the struggles, but ultimately the experience of “being alive,” the song took on much more substance.
Barbra doesn’t just sing a song, she interprets it, puts emphasis on meaning and word play, takes a pause here, moves quickly there; it’s a true love affair. It’s also obvious that she has a deep understanding and respect for the lyrics, melody, and songwriter; and boy oh boy does she have rhythm. She gives each note her all and, yes, with a perfectionist’s touch, like all great artists do.
Photos from Bigstock
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