Barbra Streisand in Concert at the Air Canada Centre—Toronto, 17 October 2006
Imagine Barbra Streisand on-stage with little of the glamorous diva about her. Impossible? Maybe so, but she’s been telling us for decades not to believe the stories we hear: birds that fly free in her house leaving droppings everywhere, her reputation as an egotistical diva who orders workers to look away when passing by, etc.
Maybe it’s time we listened.
On-stage in Toronto tonight she was casual and relaxed, with no air of trying to prove herself or do anything but have fun and entertain, performing one song after another that has lodged in the public consciousness over the last 43 years, since her self-titled debut album tossed her to instant fame at the age of 20.
True, this was no ‘Barbra at Carnegie Hall’ blow-out. Garland was a mere 38 when she made her landmark recording. Streisand is 64. And though the voice still has power, it has lost much of its edge. She can still belt or croon in that wondrous pianissimo that redefined pop singing. But she wasn’t there to amaze so much as share with us what she’s been doing for many years—singing in that distinctive style that was revolutionary in its time.
Belting wasn’t new in the ’60s—Judy Garland had established that as her ground. And crooning was something many pop singers had learned to do with polish. But that way Barbra had of opening up a song and colouring it with dramatic truth—that was the revolution! That, and the voice, of course.
So there she was, the legend, onstage before us looking as relaxed as if she’d dropped into our living rooms for a little song and chatter. She was funny! She was off-hand (despite the teleprompter)! And she made you like her as a person, not a goddess. She even took off her shoes to sing the second act in bare feet. More than anything, she was someone you wanted to know and chat with beyond those two-and-a-half hours onstage, because there was nothing the least bit scary about her, the way meeting Madonna would be.
She trotted out all the old hits: The Way We Were, Evergreen, Funny Girl, Somewhere, People and a few surprises you might not have expected her to tackle in concert again: My Man, When the Sun Comes Out and Don’t Rain On My Parade. She was challenging herself, she said, having a “last hurrah” doing all those things she wasn’t sure she could still do. She made you laugh and feel nostalgic—no matter your age—because you’d shared something with her, some part of your life where an old Streisand tune had a secret meaning just for you … and millions of others, too, of course.
The schtick and the schmaltz the press has been talking about? Yes, there was a photo of her son, Jason, offered as an introduction to Children Will Listen. It was a sweet moment—a mother sharing a favourite photo from a family album. But there was nothing gushy about it, and the photo disappeared when the song began. The Bush routine? Not bad, actually. However it may have started out, by the time it hit the stage at the Air Canada Centre it was a reasonably funny skit. Not mean or petty, as we’d been led to believe, but genuinely amusing, much as you’d expect a conversation between Barbra Streisand and George Bush to be.
It felt like an in-joke between old friends. Because an old friend is exactly what she’s become.
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