Full disclosure: I should say right up front that I'm not at all enamored of Barbra Streisand's movies - in both her musicals and non-musicals, in films she's directed herself and those directed by others, she tends to overwhelm with her presence, arguably sacrificing verisimilitude for the sake of what generally have been post-Classical Hollywood star-driven vehicles. There's nothing wrong with this per se - in one sense Streisand's movies were much like Marlene Dietrich's of the 1930s, or Doris Day's in the 1950s, and it would be unfair to condemn her for wanting to take as much control over her projects as she could get. But as a biopic Funny Girl has less to do with Fanny Brice than Barbra Streisand, and while movies like Yentl and Nuts certainly pleased Barbra Streisand fans, for more general audiences they're just not very credible.
Streisand the concert, on the other hand, is an ideal venue, and ideally suited to the uniquely talented diva. She's clearly feeding off her fans and in return she gives them one of the best performances of her career. Sixty-four at the time, her voice is still strong if throatier (she still hits those amazing high notes on "People") and her interpretation of the songs' lyrics has the kind of maturity that can only come with age. Barbra herself jokes about getting older, though she looks great.
As filmed, the program opens with the Overture from Funny Girl while onscreen there's a montage of the stage being set-up, and there are brief interviews with excited fans entering the area. (An older couple who saw her perform "Happy Days Are Here Again" when she was 17 wonder if she'll perform it again that evening. She does.) There's also a pretty incredible montage of Big Name celebrities arriving to watch the show (Oprah, Tony Bennett, Stephen Sondheim, Tom Hanks, Bill and Hillary Clinton, etc.) - including a brief glimpse of Streisand's actor-husband, James Brolin.
The stage, intended to resemble a smoky nightclub, apparently, is an odd jumble of railings and platforms - it looks like where they keep the tractor beam on the Death Star, or maybe the kind of labyrinthine line you have to go through to get to those E-ticket rides at Disneyland. Streisand is backed by a full orchestra conducted by her arranger, Bill Ross. The multinational, operatic pop vocal quartet Il Divo, a somewhat annoying boy band-type group for old fogies created by Simon Cowell (yes, the) is featured on a couple of songs*, but otherwise Streisand dominates, as well she should.
The program is as follows:
1. Funny Girl Overture (Original Broadway Version)
The show is a pleasant mixture of Streisand hits ("The Way We Were," "Evergreen") and popular standards ("Come Rain or Come Shine," "Smile," "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?"), songs popularized by others or in other media ("The Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera - the one number I could live without), and some interesting obscurities.
As primarily a film historian not all that familiar with Streisand's singing career, I was surprised by her excellent "Ma Premiere Chanson," which she co-wrote and confidently performs in French - I was unaware of her Je m'appelle Barbra album, one of her few non-hits. The charmingly goofy "Stoney End," first introduced by Peggy Lipton and apparently something of a cult tune with Streisand fans, is sung during an amusing Q&A break with the audience.
The show makes reference to Streisand's activism, though the Blu-ray eliminates entirely a comedy sketch featuring Steve Bridges as George W. Bush. Though it drew a mixed (if mostly positive) reaction from the audience, it's still a shame that it's not included here.
As a songstress, Streisand really comes alive by "Evergreen," offering an excellent interpretation of "Come Rain or Come Shine" and a heartfelt "Funny Girl," a performance I found vastly superior to the one she did in the 1967 movie. "Unusual Way" is another standout, maybe the best in the show.
Throughout the performance, Streisand is funny and charming, humbled by the warm reception given her. As co-director of the concert film, she strikes just the right balance of song and conversation, of intimacy with her audience, of knowing when to cut away to them reacting her singing, and of knowing when to play with a song and when to leave it alone and allow its melody and lyrics to work its magic.
Video & Audio
The 1080p high-definition presentation is extremely good. As with other concert titles in high-def, being able to see so much more detail and such a wider color palette, to be able to read the myriad faces in the crowd, to study the orchestra, and to see deep into the eyes of Barbra herself, reading her every emotion, adds an immediacy DVD just can't provide.
The audio is a knockout, with a selection of PCM 2.0 uncompressed stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and PCM 5.1 uncompressed surround. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided, but these only appear between songs; the songs themselves are not subtitled, possibly due to publishing restrictions. The menu screens are well-designed, and chapters take the viewer to specific song selections.
There are about 30 minutes worth of supplements, and all are in high-def. Streisand sings three deleted songs: "Nobody's Heart (Belongs to Me)," "When the Sun Comes Out," and "The Woman in the Moon," the latter preceded by introductions of Barbara Boxer and Nancy Pelosi in the audience. Il Divo appear in two solo numbers, "Senza Catene" and "Regresa a mi." Finally, there's an interview with key Behind-the-Scenes personnel behind the tour, and an interview about the Barbra Streisand Foundation.
Though not a fan of Barbra Streisand the movie star and director, I was quite taken with Streisand the 2006 concert, a very satisfying, often outstanding record of a living legend at her late-career peak. A DVD Talk Collector Series title.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, Japanese Cinema, is due in stores this June, and on sale now.