At one point during the first of four farewell concerts, Barbra Streisand wondered aloud whether she’s making a mistake by retiring from live performing. From an artistic point of view, the answer is a resounding yes. Streisand has never been so in command, so sure of herself as an artist. The show’s set — which might have been conceived by Cecil B. DeMille or David Lean — is an enormous, multi-layered stage, large enough to comfortably feature a superb 62-piece orchestra, and flanked by towering Egyptian columns and a pyramid. A lesser performer would have been dwarfed by the visual opulence, but Streisand’s strength as singer and communicator dominates throughout.
What makes her show memorable is the sense of history it projects. Before Streisand takes the stage, we see her as a young girl (portrayed by the remarkably gifted Lauren Frost) in an amusing vignette, making her first demo and already insisting on her own artistic vision. Streisand wryly admits, “I wasn’t trying to be difficult. It just came naturally.”
Opening with such favorites as “You’ll Never Know” and an intensely effective “The Way We Were,” she recalled early appearances in New York’s Bon Soir by presenting an urgent, pain-soaked performance of “Cry Me a River.” All of the show’s material relates to Streisand’s past and present, or as she puts it, “here’s to old times, new times, first times and last times.”
Knowing from the start that she was different, Streisand accepted the fact that she was “a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls,” and capitalized on her individuality. That attitude is apparent in her renditions of “I’m the Greatest Star” and “Second Hand Rose,” and adds a note of autobiography which brings “Don’t Rain On My Parade” to breathtaking heights of emotional power.
A letter written by her long-deceased father is videocast on a giant overhead screen, leading into “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”
This song, blended with “You’ll Never Know” and “A Piece of Sky” is set against triple screen images spotlighting Streisand onstage and in the last scene of “Yentl,” as well as with her alter-ego Frost — a segment that brought 15,600 screaming people to their feet.
Streisand’s admirers are more than fans and many of them (celebs included) came to worship at the shrine. Cries and shrieks came from every level of Staples Center; a shout of “Barbra, you’re my life, I love you madly” was particularly ear-splitting. Requests were called out in the middle of numbers, and she often stopped and asked, “What was that? Who said that?” Mostly, however, she kept on course, bathing in the affection of her audience without letting its enthusiasm derail her.
Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting it Together” provides a haunting background for clips of her life as singer, director, actress, mother, wife and political activist. Brilliantly integrating the present with the past, Streisand sings duets with Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra, along with contemporaries Barry Gibb, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and Neil Diamond.