All of her fans who packed the Staples Center on Monday night knew that Barbra Streisand, by her own words, doesn’t like to do live concerts. They also thought that there was a possibility that this concert, the last in a 20-show tour, might be the last chance they would get to see this superstar. And so, when after her first number, “Starting Here, Starting Now,” La Streisand let fly a sentence about this being “the last time…,” the faithful held their collective breath. But like a savvy, durable diva, she was only teasing them, for it would just be the last time “I’ll wear this dress! What did ya think I’d say?”
Relax, folks, she’ll probably be back. There’s no reason for Streisand to quit now. Her voice at 64 is still in excellent shape, with all of the old sustaining power and passionate identification with the texts. If her voice was a bit grainy in texture in this setting, that can be probably attributed to the amplification. Besides, there are her charities and causes to fund and foreign countries where she’s never sung to conquer (she hinted that she would consider offers).
Moreover, Streisand must have been in a jubilant mood; the midterm elections had gone the Democrats’ way while her tour was under way, and prominent politicos dotted the audience, including incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
The show apparently had been altered little since her New York appearance last month, tilted toward Broadway (Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jule Styne), standards (“Come Rain or Come Shine,” “My Shining Hour”), surefire ballad hits from film (“The Way We Were,” “Evergreen”) and material from early albums; only a trace of her rapprochement with pop-rock in the ’70s and ’80s could be heard. Teleprompters guided her way, as she acknowledged.
The first half continued to find Streisand reflecting upon her past, curating a carefully conceived sequence that centered upon several songs from both the Broadway and film scores from “Funny Girl.”
At one point, she donned reading glasses and went over to the Steinway to play a simple, touching figure and accompaniment from her “first” self-penned song from the album “Je m’appelle Barbra.” Midway, though, she interrupted “Evergreen” to introduce that four-man tag team of “popera” stars Il Divo, whose throbbing voices shattered with painful distortion whenever they combined forces in their three-song mini-set (do we really need to hear “My Way” again in that style?).
The second half got political in a hurry, as the uncanny (and very funny) George W. Bush impressionist Steve Bridges reprised his act with Streisand as his straight woman. As per the current party line, Streisand stressed optimism and conciliation with the other side — and in this context, “A Cockeyed Optimist” actually sounded like a political statement.
But given the election results, Streisand just had to end the concert by digging out a song she sang and transformed at one of her earliest TV appearances back in 1962 — “Happy Days Are Here Again” — and she sounded overjoyed delivering it for real.