Tuesday, August 16, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Happy Days Are Here Again

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

How Lucky Can We Get That Barbra Streisand is Still The Performing Genius of Her (and Our!) Youth.  Her New Tour Is a Triumph.

“THE ESSENCE of being human is that one does not seek perfection,” said George Orwell.

Really?  Tell that to Barbra Streisand.
FOR SIX decades, the now 74-year-old actress/singer/mythological figure of records, stage and screen has strived mightily to be human and to be perfect; to excel to the outer limits. 

Back in 1994, Barbra finally returned to concert stages after a long hiatus. She would explain that forgetting some lyrics at her famous Central Park concert in 1967 had frightened her away from live performing. 
Barbra at her famous Central Park concert in 1967.
There were a few exceptions — a benefit here and there, an industry event. But many of Barbra’s fans, who’d grown up on her classic TV specials and then of course, the movies, never had the opportunity to see her live.  After “Funny Girl” the Broadway show that had firmly immortalized her, she never returned to musical theater. That she was once an electrifying presence in the flesh, was something to wonder over — had it ever really been so? 
Barbra in "Funny Girl” on Broadway.
Her comeback to concertizing in ’94 was epic.  When I saw her at Madison Square Garden, accompanied by my good friend (and Streisand admirer) Liz Rosenberg, the second Barbra opened her mouth to sing, we both became weepy.  She was that pristine, it was that powerful.

I wrote then, that if this is what all the much-criticized obsessive perfectionism accomplished — this beauty — well, then, let her drive herself and those who work with her a bit verklempt, it was worth it; art at this level was worth it.
Barbra verklempt, during her 1994 "comeback."
WATCHING Barbra Streisand last Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn New York — a stop on her current “The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic” tour, I was forcefully, joyfully reminded of my original review, so many years ago, of the emotions this remarkable woman stirred. 

Since 1994, I’ve seen every Streisand tour.  There is never less than magic to be had. I recall one show I disliked, despite her complex and somewhat daring concept.  I remember another that was fabulous but nearly ruined by too much political chat.  I was alas, not invited to the intimate cabaret session she performed a few years ago.  Although I watched a live feed of it, from the Pierre hotel among a stellar group of pals and press, and then observed the lady herself arrive after — fresh, tiny, perfectly done up, and surprisingly outgoing.
However, I don’t think I have ever been as moved or impressed by Barbra Streisand as I was on Saturday night. The voice remains — as of that evening at least — as close to perfection, to the richest tones of her of thirties and forties, as one can possibly hope for. 

There is some inevitable huskiness, but to me, it enhances the voice, and encourages this woman gifted with something that appears so effortless, to sing more carefully, more imaginatively.  There is richer subtly, feeling, nuance and an understanding of her instrument and the lyrics.  And, what those lyrics mean to her audience — and to herself.  While Barbra is never going to prostrate herself, begging for love, she is closer now to being one of us. The beautiful voice is not something to simply admire or to react to technically.  She’s been working on the soul of her art and  her own soul for a long time — her entire life.  She will never be satisfied, “complete” because that is the end of art, and the beginning of losing one’s soul.  Or at least taking it for granted.  That, Miss Streisand will never do.
THE SHOW is a dazzling thing — gorgeously staged.  Streisand wears, in the first act, a slimming black pants outfit; a bit of glitter, a shade of semi-transparent illusion. We are reminded somewhat of her famous 1968 Oscar-acceptance Oscar get-up.  For the second act she floats out in billowing gray chiffon, reminiscent of all those gowns from her 1960’s heyday, the ones that enable her to play with the material, twirl; glamorous but still a trifle matronly — accessible, attainable, a little girl in dress-up. (With her trademark extended eyeliner, and the slightly bouffant “bump” — one lock coquettishly falling into an eye,  brushed away by those elegant hands, and the fabled long nails.)
Barbra dazzling in the first act.
Floating out in gray chiffon for the second act.
The first act, which included a few evergreens, such as, well — “Evergreen,” “Memories” “The Way We Were” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” — was enough to send me home satisfied.  She approached these familiar songs with a touching new sensitivity, exquisitely sung. There were rousing renditions of  her rock/disco era, “Stony End” ... “Enough is Enough” (with three marvelous backup singers taking the place of the one and only Donna Summer) ... ”Woman In Love” ... a blockbuster “Being Alive” which frankly took the heads off almost everybody at Barclays ... ”Children Will Listen” from “Into the Woods” and “Papa Can You Hear Me.”  Think you’ve heard this, from “Yentl,” enough?  Think again.  Streisand goes deeper, uses her voice more intimately.  It is a song I think she never tires of singing, because she is still working it out.  She still wants him to see her, hear her.
BARBRA sent out, during intermission, a sort of amusing (and attractive) Israeli “mentalist” to read the minds of some of people in the audience,  It was okay, but to be honest, I think everybody would have been content to just sit and try to recover!

The second act went even further in Miss Streisand’s goal to make us all crazy, in a good way. She began with “Pure Imagination” which contains the lyrics: “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and do it.”  All the audience needed to do was look at the stage.

There was a duet — ”Who Can I Turn To” with film of the late Anthony Newley (one of the tracks from her upcoming “Encore” album.”) and while Newly’s overwrought style hasn’t aged well, it was still an effective number.

“Losing My Mind” from “Follies” made me forget all about what I considered the definitive version — Dorothy Collins for the 1971 Broadway soundtrack.  Then from “Funny Lady” the haunting “Isn’t This Better” — even more bittersweet than on the record!
Hot, handsome and mega-voiced Patrick Wilson joined her for “Loving You” And then, two mind-blowing numbers delivered at atomic energy —“How Lucky Can You Get” (Fanny Brice's musical nervous breakdown from “Funny Lady” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” — young Fanny’s triumphant anthem of love and freedom and defiance.)  By now the audience was in a frenzy.  It must have been the fifth or sixth standing ovation.
“How Lucky Can You Get” — Barbra and Patrick Wilson.
This was so intense ... go see her do it live, onstage! Hurry!
Now Miss Streisand wanted to play with our emotions — up and down.  “People” was more contemplative in Barbra’s hands this time. It’s the song she claims she’d rather not ever sing again, but you’d never know it. 

Then out came another hot man, Jamie Fox, to join the lady on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.  Both these performers, in different ways have climbed every mountain, and by the time they were reaching the almost orgasmic final lyrics: “Follow every rainbow, Till. You. Find. Your. Dreeaammmmminnn!”  Honey, not a dry eye or one fanny in one seat. Standing pandemonium!
Barbra and Jamie Climbing Every Mountain!
Streisand’s standard last number followed, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”  Acknowledging that current days, especially politically, are more pathological than happy, she gave this war horse new life; tentative, a bit wary, but opening up to an inevitable positive energy.  We are America, the greatest country, now and forever, despite our flaws.  Happy days will be here again.  But we can’t be complacent.  Nobody ever said life was fair or happiness a right.  Work on it!  Be like Barbra.

It could have ended there.  But after a lot of screaming, Barbra wafted out one more time, and delivered a swoony rendition of  the Rodgers and Hart classic “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”  Not the swingy, masculine rat-tat-a-tat of the more familiar Sinatra version that was included in the film of “Pal Joey.”  This was the sensually bemused female take, with that marvelous opening verse:  “Once I was young. Yesterday perhaps/danced with Jim and Paul and kissed some other chaps. Once I was young. But never was naïve/I thought I had a trick or two up my imaginary sleeve.  And now I know ... I was naïve.”

With this wise and delicious finale, Barbra soothed her fans out onto the dreadful reality of 99 degree weather, and 100% humidity.

Miss Barbra Streisand, I can’t give you anything but love, respect, admiration and raves.  And here’s my wish for you.  Because of this great pleasure, because you have proved yet again that miracles can happen, I want you to have “Gypsy.”  No matter the obstacles and criticisms. Some of them  real and reasonable. Do it.  You deserve it. You’ve given so much.  Darling, take something you really want.

Please continue to be an obstinate bagel on a plate full of onion rolls.

Contact Liz here.