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Review: "The Music...The Mem'ries...The Magic" - Barbra Streisand

by Sophie Nevrkla,

‘Ladies and gentlemen, please be reminded that the lights will dim abruptly; kindly take your seats, the show is about to begin.’ These are the words that greet the listener as Barbra Streisand’s latest live album opens with the ‘People’ overture, from Funny Girl, the musical which made her a stage and screen star. As the audience claps and screams in approval, Streisand laughs and greets them: ‘Thank you’, she says, ‘and welcome.’

Streisand is a titan of show business. With a career spanning over 50 years, Streisand has established herself as both a hugely successful actress and singer: she has sold over 150 million records worldwide and won ten Grammy awards, as well as two Academy Awards, five Emmy awards, a Tony, and 9 Golden Globes – she remains the only woman ever to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Director (for Yentl, in 1983). In amongst this dizzying litany of achievements, her immense ability as a singer stands as just one bullet point on a list. However, with this new live album, Streisand reminds us of her astounding vocal talent (which has not remotely faded over the years) as well as her ability to command an audience with subtlety and humility.

Aptly, for an album entitled The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic! Streisand’s first number is ‘The Way We Were’ – a song about looking back. ‘Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line’ she asks us. This song takes on new meaning with Streisand performing it as an older musician, to a room full of older, loyal fans: it is no longer just a song about a forgotten love affair, but about the youthful days which she and her audience can look back on fondly. ‘And this is what’, she says, before she begins to sing, ‘the evening is all about – the memories.’

The rest of the album winds its way through Streisand’s repertoire without cutting corners: feminist anthem ‘Everything’ and the intimate ‘Evergreen’ (both from her hit 1976 film A Star is Born) are highlights, as well as ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ (usually sung as a duet with Neil Diamond, though this time, Streisand goes it alone and manages just fine). Her voice soars on Yentl’s ‘Papa Can You Hear Me?’, throbbing with its trademark emotional intensity, and ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ sounds as triumphant as it did in her original performance of Funny Girl. On all these tracks, Streisand’s skill as a storyteller is clear. She has a way of making you feel that she is singing every song specifically to you: every chuckle, every bit of vibrato, every vocal improvisation, feels as though it is meant for you and you alone. Streisand remains the consummate actress.

As the album draws to a close, one of her final songs is ‘People’ – a piece sung by a character who struggles to find and sustain human connection. ‘People who need people, are the luckiest people in the world’ Streisand sighs. However, before she begins, Streisand shares a story about a fundraiser held at her house a few years ago, in aid of women’s heart disease. She tells the audience about a fact that Bill Clinton shared in his speech at the fundraiser, about human DNA: ‘This study showed that no matter where you were born, Cuba, China, Malaysia, Madagascar, our genetic makeup is 99.9% identical to every person on the face of the earth. We are so alike, every one of us. So it’s simply a fact, that we’re all really just… people.’ Streisand brings a new warmth to a tragic song, sung by a young, heartbroken woman, performing it with the wisdom of an older women who has the benefit of hindsight. Here, her young self and her current self meet as one.

The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic! is an epic journey through the musical catalog of one of the biggest stars of our time. It is moving, powerful and brings new meaning to old songs by revisiting them after time has passed. Highly recommended.