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A warm, open and elegant Barbra Streisand opens 'farewell' tour

David Patrick Stearns [The Philadelphia Inquirer]

A warm, open and elegant Barbra Streisand opens 'farewell' tour

PHILADELPHIA -- Is this truly farewell? The opening performance of what's likely to be Barbra Streisand's farewell, 16-city tour certainly felt that way: Much of Wednesday night's sold-out show at the Wachovia Center summed up her 40-plus years in show business, dipping as far back as her mid-1960s nightclub repertoire, progressing to her Broadway show "Funny Girl" and to movies such as "The Way We Were." And then she went for broke. In the second half, Streisand was fielding questions from the audience when, in a moment of faux spontaneity, she was visited by a particularly keen George W. Bush imitator (real name: Steve Bridges). A longtime Democrat, Streisand quizzed him on various hot-button issues such as global warming, only to have him give glib, breezy answers, like proposing to solve the national debt by selling Canada. "They don't use half of it!" he exclaimed. Of course, they sang a duet -- the one, in fact, that Streisand sang with Judy Garland years ago, blending "Happy Days Are Here Again" with "Get Happy" (the faux Bush filling in for Garland). Much of the audience that paid as much as $750 cheered, but there were also hecklers, one of whom seemed to yell, "Barbra, you stink!" She took it in stride, reminding the audience that we live in a country where such fun freedom of speech is allowed, and returned to a reflective mood by singing "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair" from the TV special "Color Me Barbra." And since she asked the question, has the 64-year-old singer stayed too long? To judge from ticket sales on the tour, cities like New York and Atlantic City, N.J., can't get enough, while others, only days before the performances, have tickets available at all prices. Vocally, the opening-night performance raised a red flag or two. Though she sounded splendid in the few bits of the dress rehearsal I caught Tuesday, the marathon of songs she laid out for herself Wednesday night sometimes left her voice thin and labored. That's not necessarily her usual vocal state (she was reportedly rehearsing until 11:30 p.m. Tuesday). Yet at every turn last night, the voice accomplished what she was after, often with greater elegance than before. The older Streisand can make a tiny inflection carry far and say more than many of the great vocal flourishes of old. Also, the vocal lustre mattered less here, partly because she has rarely generated such warmth and openness. She poked fun at her immoderate eating habits with a litany of area restaurants she had patronized, and admitted that the invention of teleprompters allowed her to return to the concert stage (an explanation that was, of course, scripted on the teleprompters). Often, performers are only so open and unguarded when the end is truly in sight. And that -- more than the luxurious 50-piece orchestra, the stage set (seemingly inspired by the Broadway show Chicago) with tables and platforms arranged around the musicians, plus various interludes by the vocal quartet Il Divo -- gave the concert a sense of occasion. There was a time when her feminist sensibilities would prompt her to avoid songs with retro sentiments such as "My Man." However, the song is indelibly associated with her character in "Funny Girl," the comedienne Fanny Brice. And her rendition of the song last night was as compelling -- maybe more so -- as any she delivered 30-plus years ago. At times in the past, she has been so classy, so dignified, she seemed like a singing CEO. Not here. She seemingly had nothing to hide and nothing to lose. How often with a major singer and cultural icon do you experience that? ___ © 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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