By Jay Cridlin – Tampa Bay Times.
Each note brought sighs of reverie, each lovelorn lyric oohs and ahhs and applause.
All Barbra Streisand had to do was smile and sing, and the sold-out crowd at Tampa’s Amalie Arena was a big bowl of buttah in her palms.
“I’ve never been here, never been to Tampa-St. Pete,” Babs admitted Wednesday night, as if the nearly 12,000 fans in attendance didn’t know.
This was Stresiand’s first local concert after a half century as a stage and screen icon, and given her notorious aversion to touring, there’s no reason to think she’ll ever be back, giving the night a historic, once-in-a-lifetime feel. It certainly must’ve felt that way to the floor-seaters who’d shelled out four figures to bear witness.
Streisand, 74, with an armory of Hollywood awards to her name, delivered a set that covered the arc of her music and film career from ingénue to icon, Miss Marmelstein to Roz Focker. In between songs she showed photos, told stories, rolled film clips, and even made a little coffee talk with her long-suffering Florida fans.
The Salvador Dali Museum? She’s been to Dali’s actual house, but sure, that sounded fun, too. “I would love to go there, just to say, ‘Hello, Dali!’”
Bern’s Steak House? She’d been eyeing the dessert room menu for later. “This is a place you get chocolate cheese pie? With a side of Lipitor, of course?”
Every now and then, she’d respond to an overheated fan screaming out from the stands. Like the guy who requested Funny Girl’s I’d Rather Be Blue: “You want me to put on roller skates, too?”
Truth is, Streisand could’ve crooned an old phone book, and fans would have cheered. Her voice is in the conversation for greatest of all time, and even at 74, it can still sweep you up in a sack of sap and schmaltz until you’re pawing in your purse for a hanky.
The first set, Streisand devoted mostly to her No. 1 albums across six decades, which meant tearjerking move themes like The Way We Were and Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)), and Top 40 tiptoes into yacht-pop (Woman In Love) and disco (No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)). It was a cavalcade of hits by ‘70s songwriting superstars (Marvin Hamlisch, Neil Diamond, Paul Williams) that Streisand still champions like few others.
“In my opinion,” she said of Stephen Sondheim‘s Being Alive, “this kind of music will never sound out of date, am I right?”
Streisand spoke at length between each song, telling stories about her life in film and music, battling for control of each project. She sang Papa, Can You Hear Me?alongside a clip of her younger self in 1983’s Yentl, a film she directed. Of her 1976 feminist ballad Everything, she said: “That was my philosophy then, and I think it still is.”
She kept the political chat to a minimum (“It’s been a very interesting time in the news recently, but I’m not going there”), but during Being At War With Each Other, she rolled clips of protesters in Selma and South Africa, marchers for women’s rights and Black Lives Matter. When photos appeared of Orlando’s Pride nightclub massacre, the crowd applauded. At the end of the clip, a message materialized on screen: “Love is always the answer.”
“To all you little girls who want to be president of the United States, don’t stop dreaming,” she said. “Little boys, too.”
The prodigious reputation of Streisand’s magical mezzo-soprano invites close scrutiny, and so perhaps the stray dodgy notes she struck stung more than they might have coming from a lesser diva. Up in the cheap seats (if you can call $100 upper-deckers “cheap seats”), her soft, vulnerable delivery, a strength on quiet ballads, got swallowed by the swell of her 13-piece backing orchestra, especially on upbeat numbers like How Lucky Can You Get and Don’t Rain On My Parade.
But can Streisand, on a good day, still hold her own with the Adeles and Lady Gagas of the world? Yeah, absolutely she can. It’s all in that pure, pristine vibrato, arching from octave to octave, melting each sustained note into the next. You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, especially the second verse (“Now after loving me late at night…”)? Gorgeous. A delicate, crystalline Pure Imagination? Effortless. Each sustained, belted climax was a high hanging curve in Streisand’s sweet spot, and she blasted each one deep into the gap.
It is clear Streisand wouldn’t still be touring if she didn’t feel her voice was up to the task. Even in a tour this exacting, she remained her harshest critic, nitpicking album covers and never thinking twice about asking for more volume or less light. When she sat down for Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me), she arched an eyebrow at her spotlight. “Don’t we have a smaller spot or something? Seems like so much lights. It’s an intimate song.”
Even her scripted stage banter, much of which was cued to screenshots and film clips behind her, was not immune to self-critique.
“There’s nothing like your first time,” she said at one point, pausing immediately thereafter. “Which I’ve said already, but that’s okay. I’ll change it for my next show.”
In Tampa, though, this was one first time they’ll be talking about for ages – especially the end, when Streisand popped on and off the stage for an endless run of show-stopping encores (People, Happy Days are Here Again, I Didn’t Know What Time It Was) before offering one more, Everything Must Change, as a sweet and jazzy digestif.
“Isn’t this a weekday?” Streisand mock-chastised the crowd. “Wow. I want you to drive very carefully okay? Okay, I’m going to do do another one. What the heck? You’re beauuuuutiful!”
Here, again, came the oohs and ahhs and cheers. Fans in Tampa had been waiting 50 years for this moment with Streisand. One more song for the road sounded grand.
— Jay Cridlin