A Streisand Encore, 5 Decades Overdue
The New York Times - City Room Blog.
By JOSEPH BERGER
Barbra Streisand performing on a public school stage in Brooklyn at age 7 as part of her yeshiva school. Her principal, whom Ms. Streisand identified as Mrs. Weisselberg, looks on. Photo: Barwood Films.
They may not be the luckiest people in the world, but Brooklyn people who want to see Barbra Streisand struck a jackpot of sorts Wednesday: the singer confirmed that she is returning to her home turf, to perform for the first time since she graduated from Erasmus Hall High School as a fiercely ambitious teenager and became, well, Barbra Streisand.
“Brooklyn to me means the Loew’s Kings, Erasmus, the yeshiva I went to, the Dodgers, Prospect Park, great Chinese food,” Ms. Streisand said in a statement announcing the concert, which is set for October 11. “I’m so glad I came from Brooklyn — it’s down to earth. I guess you can come home again.”
Ms. Streisand, who seldom performs and has not given a major concert since her European tour in 2007, will be one of the major attractions at the new Barclays Center, the 19,000-seat sports arena that will be part of the Atlantic Yards housing and entertainment complex. The complex is rising at the juncture of four of the borough’s increasingly genteel neighborhoods: Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Boerum Hill.
The 70-year-old Ms. Streisand, who introduced such classics as “People” and “The Way We Were” and won an Oscar for her performance as Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl,” did not grow up in those brownstone precincts but mostly in nearby middle and working-class Flatbush. She was the second child of Emanuel Streisand, a teacher at an upstate prison who taught English to prisoners, and his wife, Diana, a cantor’s daughter. Her father died when she was a toddler and the family moved in with Ms. Streisand’s grandparents, to a 4-story brick apartment house at 365 Pulaski Street in Williamsburg, then to a federally financed housing project at 3102 Newkirk Avenue in Flatbush.
She attended an Orthodox girls yeshiva, the Yeshiva of Brooklyn. Recently, Ms. Streisand sent the Times a photograph that shows her giving her last solo performance in the borough, as a skinny 7-year-old, while her principal, a Mrs. Weisselberg, applauds.
She left the yeshiva after three years, and eventually attended public schools. She graduated in 1959 from Erasmus Hall, which has since been replaced by five smaller schools but was a veritable factory of accomplished people at the time. Its graduates include writers Bernard Malamud and Mickey Spillane; Nobel Prize winning researchers Barbara McClintock and Eric Kandel; cartoonist Joseph Barbera, football star Sid Luckman; builder Samuel LeFrak; and the actor Eli Wallach.
Within two years of graduating, she gave a concert at the Bon Soir nightclub in Greenwich Village, which led to her breakthrough appearance on television’s The Tonight Show, then starring Jack Paar.
Susan Friedman, who graduated from Erasmus in 1959 and whose maiden name was Skollins, remembered Ms Streisand as a member of the prestigious Erasmus choir, which gave annual Christmas concerts, and also remembered that Ms. Streisand sat behind her in an honors Spanish class.
“She was ST and I was SK,” recalled Ms Friedman, a retired language teacher. “She wore her hair pulled back in a bun. I do remember her having a good sense of humor. She must have been a good student or she wouldn’t have been in my class.”
“The year after I graduated I opened a magazine and there she was,” Ms. Friedman added. “I said, ‘Barbra Streisand? That’s the girl in my Spanish class.’ ”
Ms. Friedman seemed delighted by the news of the concert. “She remembers where she came from, and she wants to give something back,” she said.
Ms. Streisand singing at Madison Square Garden in 2006. Photo credit: Kevin Mazur
Another 1959 Erasmus graduate, Harvey Wielstein, 70, a retired apparel importer living in Scarsdale, remembered that Ms. Streisand worked as a cashier at Choy’s Oriental, a local Chinese restaurant, and handled telephone orders. He worked as a deliveryman at a kosher meat market and once dropped an order off at Ms. Streisand’s apartment in Flatbush. She rewarded him with a 25-cent tip, generous for the time.
“Barbra was the beatnik of her time,” he said. “She wore black leotards.”
Because of Ms. Streisand’s identification with Brooklyn, the Streisand concert is a feather in the cap of the promoters of the arena, which will hold 220 entertainment events a year. Concerts by Jay-Z, Leonard Cohen and Andrea Bocelli are scheduled, as well as the roughly 40 home games of the newly christened Brooklyn Nets basketball team. The developers have been fighting neighborhood critics who say the crowds and traffic will overwhelm quiet small-scale neighborhoods. News of the concert was first mentioned on a blog that tracks the issue, Atlantic Yards Report.
Bruce Ratner, the developer of Barclays Center, said that two years ago he received a phone call from Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn’s borough president, urging him to call Martin Erlichman, Ms. Streisand’s longtime manager, about arranging a Brooklyn concert.
“He said, ‘This is possible but I have to discuss it with Barbra,’ ” Mr. Ratner recalled of his conversation with Mr. Erlichman.
A year ago, he pursued the idea again with Mr. Erlichman, at a restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, and then at the Fresco by Scotto restaurant in midtown Manhattan. The final negotiations were handled by Brett Yormark, the arena’s chief executive.
One reason that Ms. Streisand never performed in Brooklyn, her associates say, was that she became a superstar so quickly, and there seemed to be no auditorium in the borough large enough for someone of Ms. Streisand’s appeal. Tickets for the concert. which go on sale May 21, will start at $90, but the most expensive seats will cost $650, according to Barry Baum, a spokesman for the arena.
The neighborhood around the stately Erasmus Hall campus is today populated largely by immigrants from the Caribbean. The singer’s photograph hangs near the school’s entrance. Students are told during orientation of the star’s legacy, but those who know her name are not familiar with her songs or movies. Levar Bobbsemple, a senior at the High School for Youth and Community Development, one of Erasmus’ five small schools, knew Ms. Streisand was famous. “I think because of singing,” he said.
Still, Ms. Streisand’s presence is especially felt through her donation to the Erasmus campus chorus, which could be heard, singing, down a hallway on Wednesday. Its members may harbor ambitions not all that different from those Ms. Streisand had when she was a student.
Randy Leonard contributed reporting, and Alain Delaquérière contributed research.