TORONTO – THE PARTY’S OVER – OR IS IT? WHAT WILL SHE DO FOR AN ENCORE? By Jay Landers
September 07, 2016, 4:00am
When a project is nothing more than a germ of an idea in search of a blank piece of paper to land on, it’s fraught with possibilities. Only in hindsight can one evaluate whether the results were worth the effort.
When Barbra agreed to embark on her recently concluded “mini-tour” – 9 cities / 10 concerts – her decision was tempered with some ambivalence. That’s actually an understatement. First of all, putting a show together takes a heck of a lot of brainpower… but the real work comes when the artist has to stand up on that stage each night and be great. It’s very rewarding, but it’s work just the same – and when you live footsteps away from the sand and sea, with a world-class rose garden and a cozy screening room to watch first-run movies in your pajamas, the thought of simply laying low is never far from mind.
Had she been willing, as many artists are, to basically stick to her tried and true songbook, and just perform her familiar hits as they were originally arranged… then toss in the occasional, “Hello (name city), I’m so glad to be here tonight,” that might have been more than sufficient to keep the general audience engaged. After all, just to experience that once-in-a-lifetime voice in living color, would be a treat for anyone. But it wouldn’t have satisfied Barbra.
Starting with an empty canvas, only one thing was absolutely clear at our first meeting. Whatever we collectively came up with had to engage all of Barbra’s creative senses – musically, visually, intellectually and emotionally. It also had to be topical… after all, the tour would take place in an improbable election year. As an actress/writer/director and world-citizen, Barbra knew the evening would require a story arc – an emotion-filled journey with a beginning, middle and end.
It took 12 weeks of daily writing and rehearsing to create The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic!, and the first 2 weeks overlapped with the delivery of the final mixes, mastering, and artwork for another project Barbra had been working on for well over a year – Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway.
That the concert happened to coincide with the release Encore was fortuitous, because as the show began taking shape, Barbra realized it was a perfect opportunity to test-drive some of the new material from the album in front of an audience. That would make the show more of an adventure for her, and not just a walk down memory lane.
The timing between the two projects kept the entire team’s creative motors running at torque speed. Barbra didn’t take a single day off between finishing the album and starting the tour. In this full-tilt 24/7 mode — with a generous amount of elbow grease and Renata’s delicious cooking — those afternoon-into-late-evening listening/writing sessions with Barbra, Richard Jay-Alexander, Marty Erlichman and yours truly, became our routine. It was exhilarating, but required a single mindedness that excluded all other activities. The summer turned into a run on sentence…a continuum where every creative arrow in our collective quivers were drawn, aimed and released trying to hit the bullseye — that sweet spot where Barbra would love her own show as much as we hoped the audience would love it.
Slowly but surely, just as the ambitious record marketing campaign for Encore was being formulated by Marty and Columbia Records, the many concert elements were coming together too: fine tuning the right keys, arrangements, background singer auditions, stage design, and visual packages. Some of the in-studio videos we shot to promote the record, were incorporated into the show, and we also asked a few of Barbra’s guests on the album to sing with her in-concert. Cross-pollination was in the air!
I’m fairly certain it was the first time in Barbra’s limited concert tour career, that the twains of album and tour actually met!
Now, I’m going to take a not so giant leap of faith by assuming anyone who’s read this far already knows the tour was a monumental triumph for Barbra, and her new album Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, entered the charts at #1 in the US, UK and Australia. Happily, the results did measure up to the effort.
During the sound checks for the tour, I’d often sit in the 3rd or 4th row inside the empty arena and watch Barbra, Richard Jay and the musicians rehearsing. I recall one time she was wrestling with the extreme echo coming from her stage monitors. It’s disheartening to sing when you can’t hear yourself properly, and no amount of button fiddling seemed to be helping the situation. I could clearly see her enthusiasm waning and I didn’t want her falling into a negative frame of mind so soon before the show. I walked up to the foot of the stage, caught her attention, and she leaned down to hear me. “It’s a shame you can’t sit in the audience and watch Barbra Streisand perform in concert” I said. “You’d be blown away!” I never throw false flattery in Barbra’s direction, because she’d instantly see right through it. I said it because I meant it.
As I conclude this series of concert blog snapshots, I want to share a little something with you that’s actually happening right now… in real time…as I’m typing this…
Today, Sirius Radio XM relaunched The Barbra Streisand Channel. Twenty-four hours a day of wall-to-wall Barbra music, drawing from her six-decade career, without commercial interruption.
I’m in Los Angeles, and it’s 1am (Pacific time). Barbra’s on the East coast (so 3 hours later) and she’s been texting me every 3 or 4 minutes for the past hour, asking if I’m listening to the station (I’m not)…and then sending a series of one-line “reviews” of her own records: “The orchestra’s too low,” “I sound pretty good on that one,” “What album is that from…no memory of recording it,” “Too much bass,” “Love that arrangement.” It’s like a pilot evaluating their own aeronautical skills in mid-flight.
Well, I can’t even begin to describe the joy it brings me to know that Barbra Streisand is actually listening to herself (something she NEVER does) on her own radio channel at 4 am. As the Greenwich Village beatniks of yore might have said, “She’s digging herself.” And so she should!
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing some of the “behind the curtain” comings and goings of this tour. I don’t often (in fact never) speak on Barbra’s behalf, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that she’s not only delighted by how much the audiences seemed to enjoy the concerts each night, and how the new album has been so warmly embraced, she’s also enormously grateful that you continue to be moved by her music year after year.
As for me, I can only say again how privileged and blessed I feel to work in the service of someone whose artistry I truly admire.
So that’s it for now. Thanks for all the lovely feedback you’ve sent me for jotting down these idle ramblings! Until next time…