Gender politics, environmentalism and anti-Trump zingers rounded off Barbra Streisand’s two-and-a-half-hour, sold-out concert at Staples Center Tuesday night, the first in the singer’s nine-date “Barbra: The Music…The Mem’ries…the Magic!” tour.
At 74 years old, Streisand doesn’t always hit the power notes — as ironically evidenced in opening number, “The Way We Were” — but a few spots of pitchy imperfection could hardly detract from the sheer magic of watching a living icon return to the stage after a three-year absence, recounting her storied career through a varied set list that included tracks off each of her No. 1 selling albums, from “Stoney End” to “Woman in Love” to “No More Tears (Enough is Enough),” her disco-fied duet with the late Donna Summer.
A steady rotation of guests joined Streisand on stage to promote her 35th studio album, “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” which drops Aug. 26. Renaissance man Seth McFarlane, whom Streisand affectionately called “such a good whistler,” teamed with the songstress on “Pure Imagination,” while Jamie Foxx continued to prove himself a vastly underused crooner in a stirring, soulful revamping of “Climb Every Mountain.” Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds sang “Evergreen” with Streisand, a duet from “Partners,” her 2014 album featuring an all-male line-up.
The crowd was exceedingly colorful: a man with a toy poodle, James Corden, up-and-coming “Pure Genius” series heartthrob Augustus Prew, and a gaggle of elderly ladies who snapped at a concertgoer for crinkling her bag of McDonald’s fries too loudly. There were sleek Hollywood housewives and Orthodox men in yarmulkes.
It was exactly what one hopes for when going to see Barbra Streisand in concert.
There were so many highpoints to Streisand’s show, not the least of which was the singer’s commentary on her album covers over the years. We learned that Streisand has a soft spot for “Yentl,” the first film she directed (her emotional rendering of “Papa Can You Hear Me?” elicited a misty-eyed response in the crowd), that she was experiencing “a bad hair day” during the photo shoot for “The Way We Were” (hence the black headcovering) and that her nose was touched up in post.
“I became very successful with that bump!” declared Streisand, a clarion call for ethnic inclusivity that has worked to ingratiate Jewish female fans — and anybody not born with a ski-slope schnoz — for decades. “That bump deserved to stay in the picture.”
Streisand also revealed she’s working on an autobiography, that’s she’s voting for longtime friend Hillary Clinton, and, riffing on a famous scene in “Funny Lady,” that being famous “is fan-fucking-tastic.”
There were a couple of schlocky moments over the course of the concert, mainly in the way of international superstar mentalist Lior Suchard, whose comedic bit with Babs between songs felt a little too much like Vegas-motel-meets-suburban-bar mitzvah. However, the exchange did give way to one of Streisand’s most biting quips of the night: “The only person’s mind he can’t read is Donald Trump’s because he doesn’t have one.”
Streisand waxed political throughout the show, presenting a slideshow filled with stark images of polluted landfills and whales washed ashore, and touted the prescient words of famed 19th century abolitionist Frederick Douglas, who proclaimed, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Streisand called this current election cycle “a doozy.”
But there is hope, promised Streisand, who launched into two of her all-time, inspirational fan favorites, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “People,” which had everybody singing along, animated hand gestures and a few leg kicks included.
Streisand ended the night with “Happy Days are Here Again,” one of the most influential recordings of all time and a song that she’s sung for three presidents, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton.
“I hope in the next several months I’ll be singing it to the next President Clinton!” she proclaimed. “And I love Obama!”