Last night, Barbra Streisand took to the stage at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to kick off her short Back to Brooklyn tour, which moves into that New York borough’s glistening new Barclays Center later this week. And what a jam-packed three-hour show it was, bolstered by a 60-piece orchestra, trumpet mogul Chris Botti, and Italian tenor trio Il Volo. Here, some observations from the show.
Streisand treated the show like a dress rehearsal for New York. When Streisand announced the tour, a lot of people wondered why the heck she would open it here. One longtime local concert official explained to me that it was basically just a dress rehearsal for the big New York shows, which will, undoubtedly, become a DVD, PBS special, etc. And based on Streisand’s performance last night, it really was just a dress rehearsal, albeit one where people were content to pay $200 to sit really far away from the stage (and $500—face value!—up front).
The teleprompter-enabled singer flubbed at least three vocal entrances, joking at one point, “Just point to me when you want me to sing.” Her voice was reserved. She hardly gave it her all, but, hey, she’s gotta save herself for the big shows in New York. And to say that “her upper register is suffering,” as one fan seated close to me said, is putting it mildly. Meanwhile, her onstage conversations with Botti, the guys from Il Volo and her son (we’ll get to that) were, at times, painfully awkward. “Just get on with it,” is what I imagine more than a few people were thinking.
Streisand kept the Republican bashing to a minimum. Streisand’s politics are well known as is her penchant for making her audiences sit through diatribes about how much Republicans have ruined the world. Last night, her only foray into politics was when she went to a box of questions submitted by concertgoers. Philadelphia’s Jim Biggins wanted to know her opinions on Mitt Romney.
“Oh, Jesus,” she began. “I wasn’t going to get political. But I love Big Bird. I hope nobody tells Romney how to get to Sesame Street—or Pennsylvania Avenue.” Most applauded, although the guy to my right crossed his arms and shook his head as I am sure many others in the 20,000-seat facility did.
Streisand doesn’t sing more than she does sing. People will go on and on about “Barbra Streisand’s three-hour show” the same way that people go on and on about Bruce Springsteen’s long-winded three-hour (and up) romps. But Springsteen spends almost all of that time singing, strumming his guitar, and hopping around on stage.
Streisand, by comparison, sings surprisingly little, taking at least two too many breaks throughout the show, when she turns the spotlight over to other talents, like Botti and Il Volo and heads backstage to put on a new gown. And there’s a long intermission. She’s too chatty. And there’s simply too much filler for the ticket prices. I mean, a drum solo? Really?
Streisand gets $200 for the above seat. If you were wondering what the view (or at least the camera view) from a $200 Barbra Streisand seat looks like, let the above photo serve as documentation. I wasn’t supposed to be sitting in section 204a, where I snapped this photo. No, my free $500 review ticket (provided by Streisand’s publicist) was second row center. As in two rows from Streisand’s glory.
But my 62-year-old mom, who had the 204a seat, tripped and fell on her way into the Wells Fargo Center, breaking her glasses, spraining her wrist (at least we hope it’s just a sprain), cutting her face and busting her knee. Given that she could have never even made it to 204a and that she never would have been able to see anything if she had, I switched seats with her, which was, I’ve since been told, a major no-no in the world of big concert review protocol. Consider me admonished! Apparently being a good son doesn’t matter much to the music industry.
Update 10/10/2012 4:45 p.m.: X-rays show that mom broke her hand during the fall at the concert. I’m told that Streisand’s people are “furious” that I gave my injured mom my seat.
Streisand was awesome in Funny Girl. A woman sitting near me, Arlene K., told me that she had seen “all four of Streisand’s ‘final’ concerts” and that she first saw her in Funny Girl … on Broadway. “I’m older than your mother,” she said. Arlene was beaming pretty much the whole time, taking copious notes for her girlfriends.
I could see how, if you had fallen in love with Streisand when she was on stage in Funny Girl way back when, that the woman could do no wrong. But Arlene’s husband was a reluctant date. “I don’t really like her personality,” he said, referring, I am assuming, to Streisand and not his wife. “She always seems so self-centered. It’s always all about her.” And he said that before the legendary narcissist asked the audience, “Can you see me on the big screens?” Talk amount compliment fishing.
Streisand really loves her son. I mean, really, loves her son. After a lengthy video montage of Streisand and her son, Jason Gould, whom you may recognize from Say Anything and Prince of Tides, which mom directed, Gould stepped out and sang “How Deep Is the Ocean?” with her. Some of the harmonies proved challenging. Then he did “The Masquerade Is Over” by himself. Ugh. Show business nepotism rarely yields desirable results. Just ask Van Halen fans.
Streisand will have none of your photo-taking. The instructions were pretty clear. No photos. And no videos. If you want a picture or video, buy a CD or DVD. Most fans did abide by Streisand’s wishes, as evidenced by the fact that there’s currently only one video from last night on YouTube, a distant clip (above) of Streisand doing a little Broadway medley. Just be glad the videographer didn’t turn on the camera for the disco number. Yes, I said disco number.
Streisand needs to stop touring. That was the determination of my second-row-stationed injured mother. Well, then she backtracked and said that Streisand needs to stop playing these giant rooms, like the Wells Fargo Center or similarly proportioned Barclays Center. She’s right. The rooms are just way too big, the opposite of intimate. Fine for Madonna or Peter Gabriel or Van Halen. But do you really want to spend that kind of money to watch a stage queen like Streisand on a monitor? Yes, says Arlene, who says she’d do it again in a second.