The O2, London
June 1, 2013
Questioner: After an illustrious 50 year career are there any other mountains you'd like to climb?
Barbra: Mountains? I don't even want to climb the stairs. Why do ya think I came in on an elevator.
This reply to a question, left in advance by an audience member, sums up what was great about Barbra Streisand's return to the London stage. We saw something of the old Barbra, before she became an institution. Quick-witted, impish, sardonic, but now relaxed and, finally, enjoying herself doing live performances. Her first London concert in 1994 was like the arrival of the Queen of Sheba, as was her return in 2007, but this time, the European tour, has an almost laid back feel – as laid back as you can get with a 60-piece orchestra and a choir of 100. She is Barbra after all.
Perhaps this relaxed vibe is the reason she also made it a family affair - bringing on her sister Roslyn Kind and her son Jason Gould to do 'turns'. A sweet duet with Jason on How Deep is the Ocean was followed by two solos from him, which perhaps stretched the patience of some of the fans a bit too far. He is 45 but for Barbra he'll always be the big-eyed cutie we saw in the extended photo montage of his childhood, which heralded his entrance. While both can sing, neither he nor Auntie Ros have any real performance experience at this scale, and it showed.
As for Barbra, that liquid golden voice is still present. Considering she is now 71 this is astonishing and on the odd occasion when the voice does fray at the edges it actually makes for a richer experience for us all, adding some warmth to the often pristine sterility of so many of the later recordings. Her ease, her innate musicality, her actor's ability to interpret a lyric are a joy to behold. Her only sin was not being 'in the moment' now and again and being easily distracted. However, when you can pick up and change gear like see can, this is a minor quibble.
Her song list was superbly judged. Wisely avoiding trotting out the hits like some lame comeback act she instead went for a range of standards. She did bow to audience pressure and did a pre-arranged snippet of Woman in Love but said that it wasn't a song for her to sing now. The woman has taste. She took Sinatra's Nice and Easy and in a superb arrangement by MD Billy Ross she made it her own. My Man and Jimmy Webb's Didn't We were also beautifully served.
Of the back catalogue she felt compelled to deliver Evergreen (now a wedding anthem) and People (the song with the meaningless lyrics) and a particular highlight was Lost Inside of You. For that, she was accompanied by her other guest, the great trumpet player, Chris Botti. A rising star he is, as Barbra acknowledged, easy on the eye. She hasn't lost that twinkle. He recalled Miles Davis with full-blooded My Funny Valentine but his tribute to Davis with Conceirto de Aranjuez was nearly ruined by a fussy arrangement that jolted us out of its limpid blissfulness.
She ended with two exquisite tributes to Bernstein with Make Your Garden Grow and an encore of Some Other Time. For the former, she was backed by the huge London Oriana Choir, who seemed to be held back, just when their massed forces were needed most. It was a mistake her previous MD, the late great Marvin Hamlisch, wouldn't have made and it reminded us what a debt she owed to him. She repaid that debt in the show though with a stunning The Way We Were, just as she had done as the Oscars earlier this year.
After London she goes on to Amsterdam, Cologne, Berlin and Tel Aviv.
Click here to see Barbra Streisand live at the O2, London, on June 1, 2013 - The live finale Make Our Garden Grow with Chris Botti, Jason Gould, Roslyn Kind and the London Oriana choir.