When it comes to entertainers, you don’t get a whole lot bigger than Barbra Streisand. She’s conquered Broadway, enjoyed a colorful career in film (from both sides of the camera) and cast an indelible mark with her long, storied career as a consummate singer. Her long-standing appeal derives from a variety of components: her charisma, her versatility, her style and her voice. Oh that voice.
In her first-ever visit to the area, the sold out crowd who filled Amalie Arena on Wednesday night got to hear that voice live for themselves…and boy, did they get a treat. The 74-year old performer delivered a program entitled “Barbra: The Music...The Mem'ries...The Magic!” that was the equivalent of thumbing through a live, audible photo album of her lengthy career and celebrating the incredible musical journey she embarked upon many years ago.
A stage that was tastefully adorned with sleek tables, elegant flower vases, velvety cushioned stools and chaise lounges more closely resembled a posh living room than a hockey arena concert stage. Flanked by two large risers that accommodated a full band including a string section, backup singers and percussionists, it wasn’t long before the night’s headliner would make her way onto the stage to usher in her grand entrance. Following a video montage of career highlights beamed on a massive screen at the rear of the stage, La Streisand emerged to rapturous applause. Clad in flowing black blouse and sleek black slacks, the Brooklyn native wasted no time greeting the adoring crowd and launching into one of her most famous ballads, 1973’s “The Way We Were”.
As a collective sigh of elation fell over the arena, Barbra’s signature silky smooth filled every crevice of the room. Although she doesn’t quite reach this highest high notes she used to, and her voice sounds a little deeper than it ever did, make no mistake: she can still sing circles around just about anyone out there.
As if she needed to endear the mostly well-dressed, middle aged crowd who assembled to see her, Barbra took a few minutes to show off her knowledge of our hometown to more thunderous applause. Making references to the birth of the Cuban Sandwich, the Dali Museum and Bern’s Steakhouse (and its famous dessert room), Streisand made light small talk before delving into deeper issues.
“It’s an interesting time in the news,” she lamented.
“But…I’m not going there!” she said before returning to her story-teller styled program during which she recalled humorous anecdotes and career-defining moments from her life as an entertainer. Replete with audio clips, rare film outtakes and a comical overview of some of her album covers, Streisand showed off her natural knack for showmanship.
Shifting gears from lighthearted topics to weightier issues like women’s equality, Barbra juggled songs and stories all night long and never lost touch with her rapt audience. As several impassioned screams of “I Love you, Barbra!” rattled from the stands, she never missed a beat and lovingly acknowledged each and every shout out she was showered with while gliding through her 1970’s forays into disco (“Enough Is Enough”) and pop-friendly radio ballads (“Woman In Love”).
Whether interpreting songs by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim or legendary pop songwriter Carole King, Barbra filled each number with her own unique essence and made each selection a showstopper. Taking occasional sips of tea from the fancy glassware that sat atop tables across the wide open stage, Streisand gained range, power and vocal depth with each and every one of the opening sets performances…most notably with the epic, gut-wrenching delivery of the first act’s closing song, “Papa Can You Hear Me?” from her 1983 film Yentl.
Continuing to feature material from throughout her career, one that boasts no. 1 albums scored consecutively over six decades (including her most current LP, 2016’s Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway), Streisand, the best-selling female artist of all time, emerged again after a short intermission to kick off her second act.
A costume change found her donning an extravagant charcoal grey gown and a stunning sparkly diamond pendant that reached the ground. Elegant and neatly coiffed, Barbra greeted the crowd for the second half of the show with “Hello gorgeous to you too!,” a nod to her trademark opening line from her 1968 breakout film, Funny Girl.
Opting to again focus on more serious matters, Streisand took a few minutes to discuss the perils of climate change and ecological disasters before launching into a heartfelt rendition of 1971’s “Pure Imagination”, a song made famous in the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
More film clips and memories recalled throughout the second half of the night continued the theme of the program and included some more funny bits including a sidebar regarding Apple’s Siri mispronouncing the singer’s surname and how she went about getting the issue corrected…by calling Apple CEO Tim Cook personally to rectify the mistake.
Knockout punches from Funny Girl came in the form of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (as the iconic movie scene where Barbra sings while riding on a tugboat appeared on video screens) and the night’s first encore, Streisand’s signature ballad, “People”.
“Republicans, Democrats, Red States, Blue States…may we all come together in these United States” she pleaded and, again, was met with a rousing ovation before delivering her exquisite take on the 1920’s Depression-era standard “Happy Days Are Here Again”, a song she’s performed for presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton again signaling the length and the longevity of her amazing career.
With another two encores following, Barbra made her Bay area debut a memorable one. As many tears of exhilaration, joy and emotion were shed by patrons in nearby seats, it was easy to see and hear the impact this magnificent performer and icon has had on her audience for so many decades now.
An entertainer of her caliber, versatility and raw charisma are in rare supply these days but Barbra Streisand proves time after time, decade after decade, that her many gifts and her many talents are boundless and limitless and that she, like all the great standards and show tunes she’s so keen on, never go out of style.
The Way We Were
Being At War With Each Other
You Don’t Bring Me Flowers
Woman In Love
Enough Is Enough
Children Will Listen
Papa Can You Hear Me?
Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)
Losing My Mind
Isn’t This Better
How Lucky Can You Get
Don’t Rain On My Parade
Happy Days Are Here Again
With One More Look At You
Everything Must Change