review: streisand at the united center, chicago

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Streisand in Concert
United  Center, Chicago
Section 2, Row 16, Seat 6 “on the floor”
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 7, 2006

Election Day and Barbra day.  The co-occurrence of two major life events on one day is almost too much to bear.  The most amazing events, and I do believe that Barbra herself would agree, are political.  Democrats took back the House; (as of 11/8 when most of these notes were written) the Senate was 49-49 with 2 seats still being counted, and some particularly odious characters like Santorum of Pennsylvania out on their butts.  A delight. Yes, a pendulum swing but also a clear statement by the American electorate that this war is wrong.

At the venue, part of the anticipatory hoopla involves the entrance of Rosie O’Donnell from the back of the house down to her front row seats …  talking to people all the way … with a camera crew.. to my left about 5 seats but everyone was standing up so I couldn’t see her … Rosie is doing a documentary about the tour, and is a huge fan.  Understatement.

At the United Center, the stage was set up simply, and powerfully.

Prevailing sense of deep blackness and blue/purple lights accenting as in the concert ad image.  Barbra in silhouette and intense white light spreading in circles immediately around her evoked several times.  Her orchestra was on stage in a pit, with steps and a walkway over this pit, bisecting them, over which Barbra walks, sits, paces.  A mike stand downstage center.  I can’t recall if she held one in her hand during the concert – an odd detail not to remember.  Was she wired?  The lighting during the show involved lots of pin point lights occasionally pivoting out at the audience.  Three large bouquets of flowers were upstage.  White or light pink at far stage right and far stage left, and a large arrangement of red flowers (roses?) up stage center, in line with the mike and the center walkway bisecting the orchestra pit.  And almost in line with my very seat .. close but of course I could have been closer.  :)

The following commentary will involve the set list/play list (I’m a reviewer, it’s what I do) with interspersed commentary … and general commentary about Barbra more at the end.

Act I

  • Overture: the original Funny Girl overture
  • “Starting Here, Starting Now”
  • “Down With Love” (yes the arrangement she did on the Judy show and on her 2nd album (1963)
  • “The Way We Were”
  • Her own teenage composition “My First Song” (but in French)
  • “Evergreen” [and the first appearance, gak, of Il Divo]

The boys seated behind us were very excited by Il Divo — four boys from different parts of the world including a lone American from Colorado. The boys behind wanted to “do” them … Suddenly I feel like I’m at a Tom Jones Vegas floor show, not what I expected. My boys yell out to the Divo dude who looks (to them) like Kevin Bacon (our Colorado boy) and sing, talk, and yammer throughout their performance.  The boys also sang through “Evergreen” and “The Way We Were” .. but I don’t care as much about those particular tunes. These tunes represented to our boys clearly the time they “came in” (or “came out”) to Barbra. I thought at the time “If they step on any others, I will get aggressive.”

After the 3rd or 4th innocuous Il Divo tune I was frankly just waiting for them to leave the stage (as I’m sure most everyone in the arena except my boys just behind me), and Barbra came back. Our beloved. In the middle of “I Did It My Way” in Esperanto or something — not really, but an eclectic mix of language it appeared.

The boys yelled things like “I’m moving to France, that’s all I’m saying… uh .. huh.”  I laughed out loud and plugged my ear closest to them. Then Barbra, finally Barbra, alone on stage back to the part of her songbook that the boys didn’t know ….

  • “Come Rain or Come Shine”
  • “Funny Girl”
  • “His Is The Only Music That Makes Me Dance”
  • “My Man” … and nice commentary about how “His Is The Only” was in the stage version of Funny Girl in the slot occupied in the film version by “My Man” [many of us knew this!!] .. the “eleven o’clock number”
  • “People”

At some point in the Act I there was a section of patter, the kind of speaker-patter ‘Mad Libs” that those of us who do public speaking, or those of us who have seen many public speakers, will find very familiar. Here is a version of what Barbra did in Chicago:

I was on my way to [name of local cultural institution or event] and found out about [famous local eating establishment or food item] so I had to stop and try some, and then I started toward [cultural institution or event] again, but I was distracted by [2nd famous local eating establishment or food item], and then [3rd local eating establishment or food item].  And I never made it to the [cultural institution or event].

The crowd went wild. Laughter. Recognition. The local “shout out.” Works every time.

Intermission

About 20 minutes, time for us to use the contents of our flasks and cups of ice we had procured for just this purpose earlier in the evening. Time to look around at the crowd – wild.

Act II

  • Overture: focuses on “On a Clear Day” and “Yentl” and “Prince of Tides”
  • “Music of the Night” – Il Divo starts out.  Gak gak gak.  But Barbra emerges dramatically during the song, of course evoking her duet with Michael Crawford on the Return to Broadway recording.
  • Melody line of song she tells us that Jason wrote for her during the filming of ‘Yentl”
  • “Children Will Listen”
  • Some strange song I have never heard

Takes off her shoes at this point.  I wonder whether she does this every night.  I believe in my heart of hearts this is an homage to Judy (notes on this later)

  • “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” (I thank the powers that be that the boys are not singing along)

Barbra’s Truth Cards filled out by audience members entering the venue. Included “How’d you like staying at Rosie’s house in Miami?” .. Hee hee.

  • “Stoney End” – a partial piece, as a fill-in for the absentee Bush impersonator. This was fine by me (he was apparently at some election night events) .. I was the only gal in our little crowd of three who was enthusiastically applauding Barbra’s overtly Democratic shout outs
  • “Happy Days are Here Again”
  • “Have I Stayed Too Long At the Fair” [Barbra didn’t say this, but this was written by the same dude who wrote “Something Cool” .. Billy Barnes .. also from Barbra’s 2nd album release]

Barbra recites a long quotation from Saroyan at this point, after some reflections about how much she herself has grown in recent years: “In the time of your life, live”

  • “I’m Just a Cock-Eyed Optimist” – I believe after she did a little commentary in the vein of: “I know I wear my politics on my sleeve, but tonight we’re not Democrats or Republicans, we’re people”
  • “Somewhere” – and Il Divo comes in for a last time, and after my profound disappointment at seeing them YET AGAIN, I do admit that they contribute to a grand musical climax to this tune
  • “This Will Be My Shining Hour” – and what a great cabaret tune .. I’ve never heard Barbra perform this before
  • “Smile” – fabulous tune written by Charlie Chaplin, and performed by Barbra on her Movie Album of a few years ago

When she left between “Shining Hour” and “Smile,” Barbra receded through the floor, very very melting Wicked Witch of the West. I wasn’t sure I liked it — I believe that she entered like this too at the top of the show, but can’t recall (I was just too excited).  But she re-entered on stage and exited up stage right after “Smile,” imploring us to drive safely.

At the time of writing most of these notes, the day after the concert, I listened to Judy Garland’s version of “Supper Time” performed and recorded in early 1964 on her CBS TV show, after I listened to Barbra’s version of the same tune from her album “People” released that same year, fall 1964.  Judy’s voice is perceptibly, oh, wearier perhaps, than it was during her famous “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” duet with Barbra recorded just a few short moths before (September or so, 1963). Barbra’s voice was belting. Barbra was 21 in April 1964; Judy was 42 in June 1964. And yet, which voice, which story, which storyteller, really moves me in these recordings from 40 years ago?  Judy’s.

A fellow Judy fan described her voice, specifically a passage I love of her version of “Stormy Weather” from the Carnegie Hall recording (the final “Can’t go on …”) as “power on the verge of control.”

Today, Barbra seemed more human in performance and, to me, more moving than she has been in recorded form. She did Judy’s shtick of removing her shoes (Judy did this, famously, during her record-breaking  run at the Palace in New York City in 1951 and 1952). She sat on the stage steps – not the apron (no Barbara doesn’t feel that close to her audience — respect and distance is her style). And her voice was not pristine. It shows her age in a delightful way. Rich and sometimes a little craggy at the edges. Perhaps now entering Judy’s world of “power on the edge of control.”  Beautiful.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 8, 2006)

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