Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.
It may be only 3.2 miles from Barclay’s Center on Atlantic Ave. to Barbra’s childhood apartment on Newkirk Ave. in Flatbush, but in the space-time continuum, that distance is both near and far.
Near, in the sense that to coin an old phrase, “You can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl.” In all the ways that still really count, Barbra is honest, funny, scrappy, sentimental, challenging, generous, book smart, street smart — and most of all real. This last description is a quality she shares with many Brooklynites.
Far, of course, is her well-documented journey from the tiny Bon Soir nightclub in Greenwich Village to this cavernous arena, where she reined over 15,000 loyal and lucky subjects this past Thursday and Saturday.
I really can’t describe the concert much better than Wesley Morris of The New York Times – so for those who haven’t read his superbly observed review, you can do so here.
Just like a great book or movie, a great concert can be a transformative experience. A two-hour marathon that runs the gamut from heartbreak to elation.
Sitting at the soundboard in a packed-to-the-rafter’s arena, is the perfect observation deck to experience the concert through the eyes of people who’ve paid their hard earn money to be there.
Here’s what I witnessed this past Saturday —
First comes the P.A. announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, please be aware that in a few moments the lights will dim abruptly. Kindly take your seats…the show is about to begin.” Seconds later, the house goes dark and wave of applause crests with the booming tympani drum launching the opening fanfare of “People.”
A travelogue video now appears on a gigantic screen spanning the entire back wall of the stage. With crystal clarity, we’re treated to snippets of Barbra performing in concerts around the world. Skipping non-sequentially from L.A. to New York, Toronto to Tel Aviv and points in-between – the filmed visuals unexpectedly cut to a live feed of tonight’s audience, their faces beaming in anticipation.
The final video image of Barbra suddenly freezes and the center of the big screen unexpectedly begins to part. At this point, a front-lit figure dramatically appears… standing alone in the white light… diminutive but mighty. The tension is palpable. As the majestic lighting cue completes its full reveal, the entire arena rises to their feet as one in thundering abandon. Although Barbra has been fabulously welcomed by kings and commoners alike for decades, even she seems surprised by the gale force reception tonight. At this moment, I try to read her mind. What must she be thinking? “Local girl makes good” is only one of a myriad of conflicting emotions that could well be careening through her head.
I gaze to my right… to my left… above and behind… taking in the expressions of the many faces around me …all eyes fixed upon this solitary figure whose very presence recalls so many days gone by and so much hope for the future.
Then she begins humming the opening notes of “The Way We Were.” It’s a sound as startling as it is instantly recognizable — an injection of serotonin delivered directly through the ears to the brain. The audience heaves a collective sigh, and as spontaneously as they’d leapt to their feet, they now settle en masse back into their seats.
Then she sings, “Mem’ries, light the corners of my mind” and I look around again…
I notice a couple clinging a little closer. Two rows behind them, a middle aged man gently wipes a tear from his eye and smiles at the man standing next to him. A young woman silently mouths, “Can it be that it was all so simple then?” A security guard who is supposed to be discouraging the occasional iPhone photo taker realizes he’s outnumbered. He gives up and turns his attention back to the stage. Another couple catches my eye. Something’s amiss. The wife is watching Barbra on the overhead screen with rapt attention, but her husband seems disinterested. Too bad for him, because he’s about to endure at least two more hours of this unashamed adulation!
As the song concludes, the audience rises to their feet again. If the previous shows on this mini-tour were any kind of predictor, there’s going to be a lot of that “up and down” tonight.
A chorus of voices in unison shout, “We love you Barbra,” so she turns her head to the section of seats tucked so far into the upper left corner, they’re nearly behind the stage. She peers through the spotlight glare in their direction. Genuinely surprised she exclaims, “Oh, I didn’t even know you were there! Hello!! Thank you…I’m taking it in…I feel it.” Having made their connection, Section 105 goes bonkers again. Then, Barbra turns her attention to the front-of-house and declares with genuine feeling, “Hello Brooklyn, my hometown!!” but the rest of her sentence is drowned out by another deafening roar that can only mean one thing… “You’re always welcome back here.”
This is my sixth time experiencing this show which took Barbra and team, a solid twelve weeks to conceive and rehearse. To see the fruits of our collective labor blossom like this is supremely satisfying. It goes without saying that no one worked harder than Barbra herself. Now that the show is up and running and firing on all cylinders, my private enjoyment is hearing the variety of musical choices Barbra takes when she fully inhabits a song. As much as she wants to surprise the audience, she also wants to surprise herself. In that sense, although the show essentially follows the same blueprint each night, in a very real way, each performance is totally unique. For as long as I’ve known her, Barbra’s never sung any song the same way twice (in concert or in the studio), and for these concerts she’s been particularly free, walking that vocal high-wire without a net. I love seeing the Mona Lisa smile that crosses her lips when an unexpectedly perfect new note seems to appear out of thin air. That self-satisfying “I did it!” look always puts wind in my sails! If you happen to appreciate the mystery of how great artists ply their trade, those fleeting moments of pure perfection are worth the price of admission.
So whether you arrived by bus, bridge, plane, train, limousine, taxi, subway, Uber or by simply clicking the heels of your ruby slippers three times – on this balmy Saturday night, all yellow brick roads heading towards the Emerald City, made a small detour to in Brooklyn, New York.
There, a woman with the talent…the brains…and the nerve proved the Wizard was right when he told the Tin Man, “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”
By Jay Landers (better late than never!)
August 13, 2016