By Jay Landers.
Howdy, Barbra fans! It’s Nov. 26th, 2016 and we’re in H-Town! That’s right, I’m talkin’ ‘bout Houston, Texas – “Energy capitol of the world,” home to NASA, Clutch the Bear and the world-famous Astrodome.
The team is back: Marty Erlichman (Barbra’s manager), Richard Jay-Alexander (Barbra’s co-director), and approx. 100 others, including Tommy (security), Peter, (lights), Chris (sound), Amy (script supervisor), Marty H. (tour director), JJ (production supervisor), and Renata (everything). We’re all watching and listening to Barbra, her ace musicians (lead by Randy Waldman) and background singers Stevvi, Andrea and Amy, run through tomorrow’s show – the first of four, which will culminate in a sold-out Miami concert to be filmed for broadcast. Barbra’s in fantastic voice, looking youthful, radiant, and exuding such positive energy, that any concerns about how long it would take to regain her footing after a few months layoff have instantly vanished
When I last posted about “The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic” tour on Sept. 7th, the blog was titled “The Party’s Over…Or Is It?” That phrase came to mind in Toronto, after witnessing the final concert of a highly successful tour which earned Barbra some of the greatest accolades of her storied career. But after she’d fulfilled her 10-show commitment, no betting person would have wagered a week’s pay on the slight hunch she’d agree to even a few more dates. That said, after she’d invested so much time and effort to create the show, and her vision was so perfectly executed, it was difficult to accept the idea that this iconic star wouldn’t grace the stage again, somehow…someday …somewhere.
Admittedly, I didn’t imagine it would be in Houston, Texas, but when she finally agreed to a limited number of additional concerts, Barbra told Marty she’d like to play in a few cities she’d never been to before. Interestingly, her decision to perform again was enhanced by a confidence, bordering on near certainty, that the next president of the United States was going to be a woman. The lyrics to “Happy Days Are Here Again” would be transformed from wish-fulfillment to celebration. We all thought the same. Alas, that dream must be set aside for another 1,460 rotations around the sun, but as the saying goes, the show must go on.
So, here we are. Barbra is on-stage, singing her heart out, while dozens of workers scurry across the girders and catwalks, hanging lights, trusses, microphones, speakers and miles of cables leading to who knows where? And as I’m listening to her sing “Children Will Listen,” I’m really struck by a comment she once made that “art and music transcend politics.” This election put many of us in a fog, but in a way, at least for the two hours we’ll be transported by her stories and songs, all will seem right in the world. She’ll be our bridge over troubled water.
Being something of a pop musicologist, I’m also struck by just how demanding the Streisand songbook is. Many, if not most, of Barbra’s “standards” are hers and hers alone. It’s not a catalog that can simply be phoned-in night after night. Yes, there have been a handful of great artists over the decades who have tackled “People,” “The Way We Were,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “Evergreen” and others, however, few if any have come close to topping the original versions. Compared to the Sinatra, Beatles or Bacharach songbooks which have been recorded by thousands of artists of every stripe, the diversity of Barbra’s repertoire presents a far more challenging vocal mountain range to traverse. Of course, in the recording studio (Barbra’s venue of preference) she can sing any song as many times as she likes. In an arena, there’s only one chance to get it right. Needless to say, that’s part of the thrill of experiencing this singular artist in concert. She’s always walking that fine line between honoring the established melodies and pushing herself to make subtle, unexpected and daring changes…and we get to take the ride with her.
Tomorrow’s concert will be particularly memorable, because two special guests will be in attendance. At Barbra’s personal invitation, the 41st President of the United States of America, George H.W. Bush and First Lady, Barbara Bush will take their seats alongside 15,000 other fans to spend time with an artist, the likes of which Houston has not seen before.
It’s no secret that Barbra is a lifelong Democrat and President Bush is a lifelong Republican, but she, like millions of other Americans, appreciated how, time and again, President Bush and President Clinton were able to set aside party affiliation to marshal their combined powers for the greater good of the country. In “reaching across the aisle,” they demonstrated how a mutual desire to help those in need can trump any philosophical differences. Yet more proof that “People who need people…are the luckiest people in the world.”
For those who enjoyed the first round of shows earlier this year, you’ll recall that in her opening remarks, Barbra explained that she’d be singing songs from all ten of her #1 albums. That number has now increased to eleven with the chart topping success of Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway. Other than that, the show is much the same, but with a few surprises you’ll hear about soon!
Until then, let “The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic” go on…and on….