“My Name is Barbra.” Well, not my name. That was one of her early albums that catapulted her to legendary status. I didn’t realize she was still performing live concerts, but stumbled across that information when I was looking for the lyrics of a song.
My road to see Barbra Streisand in person has been a long one, so please indulge me while I give you some history regarding my own experience.
In 1964 I went with a group of my high school class to New York City. This was a reward for our work in theatre and for being accepted into a select group called Masque and Gavel. I felt honored to have made the cut, but embarrassed in a way because of those who did not. Even for high school students there’s a certain amount of politics involved in such things. A very good friend of mine was barred from membership in Masque and Gavel. All of our teachers had the authority to block an individual from this relatively prestigious group. I slipped under the wire, while she did not.
Whichever teacher decided that my friend, whom we shall call Tara, was not worthy of this honor clearly missed the point. Tara went on to win the Tennessee Williams Playwright Award and twice was named Florida’s Playwright of the year. I doubt that teacher would admit her error. That’s the way life is. None of us who made the cut, at least among my closest friends, understood this oversight. I remember, to this day, waving to Tara from the chartered bus as we drove away to New York. Tears streamed down her cheeks at the realization that she would not be a part of this wonderful opportunity, which she truly deserved.
Our drama teacher was an aged dynamo who had garnered attention from her colleagues as national president of Masque and Gavel. We had an outstanding drama program. She planned this trip for us so that we would come away from The Big Apple with stars in our eyes. We saw many of the tourist sites that have become icons of not only that great city, but of our country. The most exciting events were the theatre we were able to experience firsthand. Coming from a town where the tallest spires were smoke stacks that released black soot into the air we breathed, New York was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air.
Our teacher and tour guide had planned for us a really exciting time on our respite from the hum-drum of a regular school day. We stayed at the Taft Hotel. Right across the street from our hotel, Barbra Streisand was carving her name into Broadway history as the star in “Funny Girl.” She was not all that well known at the time of our trip, so we were treated to “Hello, Dolly” starring Carol Channing, “Oliver,” starring Georgia Brown, and “A Case of Libel,” starring Van Heflin.
Now, forty-eight years later, I finally got to see Barbra Live, in concert, and what a concert it was. At the United Center in Chicago, which is where hockey teams bang about the ice thrilling enthusiasts of that sport. I’m guessing that Barbra’s audience included 20,000 fans, give or take a few.
Features of this concert included Ms. Streisand, three young Italian singers known as Il Volo, trumpeter Chris Botti, Jason Gould, Barbra’s son sired by the famous Elliott Gould, and Rosalind Kind, Barbra’s sister. A full orchestra enhanced the music immeasurably.
Anyone who has followed her career knows that she is politically outspoken, and while she did not belabor the point, she got a couple of subtle comments in that reflected her hopes for the outcome of the coming election. One question from the audience asked if her political involvement had hurt her career. She glanced around the arena at the 20,000 people and surmised that she was probably in good shape, career wise.
Barbra opened the concert with “On a Clear Day,” which not only referred to one of the musical movies she made, but also set the theme of looking at our past to help us plan our future. It is well known that she plays a central role in putting together any program of which she is a part. This concert was clearly no exception as she was listed as executive producer, writer and star, just to name a few of parts she played.
Ms. Streisand is now 70 years old. It’s difficult to say exactly how it felt to be in the same room where she was singing live. Clearly, she is not the ingénue she was at age 18, which she remarked was her age the first time she sang in Chicago. She is, however, masterful at making the most out of a song, hitting notes that should be out of reach and holding tone longer than could be fairly expected. Her power of interpretation, though, is one of the marks of her genius.
There’s no way she could possibly sing all of the songs she made her own. The concert would still be in progress if that were the goal. She did hit the high spots, but I think the audience would have stayed with her through whatever she offered.
Il Volo is made up of three young Italian men. As she introduced them, she asked their ages. One was seventeen, another eighteen and the oldest nineteen. Adding them together along with another 16 year old would equal the age of Ms. Streisand. These young men can sing, and have powerful and rich voices, but they lack the nuance of truly sensitive and seasoned performer. This is hardly a criticism, but just a fact that seems obvious given their ages. Their trademark anthem is “O Solo Mio.” They sang another Italian song and with Ms. Streisand, sang a sort of antiphonal version of “Smile,” but even singing along side their host, they seemed to be in competition with each other. There’s a lot to be said for holding back and leaving an audience wanting more. One thing musicians learn is that if there are no quiet spots, the full-voiced loud spots lose impact. Contrast is one of the elements of music that lends a great deal to any musical presentation.
Chris Botti has taken the place of past trumpeters like Al Hirt, Doc Severinson and Chuck Mangione as the premiere player of that vibrant instrument. He mixes just the right amount of jazz improvisation with his treatment of standard moving ballads as he keeps the melody just at the outer sphere of the listener’s consciousness. Botti accompanied Ms. Streisand in her presentation of songs from “A Star is Born,” including “Lost Inside of You” and “Evergreen.”
Jason Gould has kept a low profile and is just starting to eke his way into the world of soloists. His place in this concert tour will undoubtedly help him in his pursuit of that goal. His tender treatment of melody and attention to touching lyrics will surely help him carve out his spot in the entertainment world.
Contrary to what one might expect, having Barbra Streisand as his mother is probably not much help to him. The bar is set really quite high, but I believe he will make his mark. Together, Jason and his mother sang “How Deep is the Ocean.” On his own he shared the tune made famous by George Benson, “Masquerade.” He really did an excellent job, managing to avoid over singing and over-embellishing, a trap that many current singers fall into.
Streisand’s sister, Rolyn Kind, joined her to sing the famous quodlibet that Streisand sang with the great Judy Garland so many years ago. A quodlibet is a musical technique that marries two or more existing melodies that are performed simultaneously. “Happy Days are Here Again” and “Sing Hallelujah, Come On, Get Happy” may not have been the high point of the concert, but Barbra leaned toward honoring some of the greats who influenced her along the way.
Marvin Hamlisch, who passed away just a couple of months ago at age 68 got a tip of the hat for “The Way We Were.” She also mentioned his brilliant writing for the musical “A Chorus Line,” which garnered an impressive number of awards.
Other tunes that made the concert complete included “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Nice ‘n’ Easy,” “Here’s to Life,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and of course, “People.”
Chicago’s Christian Choir joined in the finale, “Make Our Garden Grow,” from the musical “Candide,” for a fitting and moving tribute to Leonard Bernstein as well as to Ms. Streisand’s efforts to emphasize the need for us to care for the planet we inhabit.
Actress/ singer/ director/ writer/ composer/ producer/ designer/ author/ photographer/ activist Barbra Streisand is the only artist ever to receive Oscar, Tony Emmy, Grammy, Directors Guild of America, Golden Globe, National Medal of Arts and Peabody Awards, as well as the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also the first female film director to receive the Kennedy Center Honors.
A true super-star, she came across as a down to earth and warm person who deeply cares about the environment and her family. She wove these two aspects of her concern into a well designed show that charged her audience with the responsibility of stewardship for our environment for the sake of future generations. She performed with every guest and spent most of the two and half hours in the spotlight, with only a few short breaks. The audience clearly reached the end of the concert with the same enthusiasm apparent at the start of the concert. I would be greatly surprised to learn that a single person left this concert less than thrilled.
I can think of no other performer who has so brilliantly used her voice, her power of interpretation and her genuine care for the causes she supports. She began The Streisand Foundation in 1986 because of her grave concern over nuclear proliferation following the Chernobyl disaster, her awareness of global warming and a deep believe in the civil rights and liberties of all people. Since its inception, the Foundation has supported over 800 nonprofit organizations, awarding nearly 2,300 grants that have helped to strengthen our democracy, alleviate global warming, and advocate for those without a voice. In 2008, women’s heart disease became a priority of the Foundation’s grantmaking when Ms. Streisand learned that it is the number one killer of women worldwide.
“I believe that we are all connected and that life works only when we are responsible for one another.” Barbra Streisand