By Mark Guarino
It would be hardly a surprise if democrats on election night could be heard singing “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
At least one democrat was: Barbra Streisand.
“I’m a big democrat — what can I say? I do believe we need a change of direction and I think we’re going to get it,” she told the audience at the United Center Tuesday, the first of two nights. Then she delivered up-to-date election results. Then she sang.
Streisand is, amazingly, in her fifth decade of doing the latter. At age 64, she demonstrated her voice is more sumptuous than her recordings, some of which are submerged in production gloss. While her political views are not as nuanced — early tour stops included leveling an obscenity at a heckler and getting a drink tossed at her onstage — her singing voice renders every thought with a delicate vulnerability. She is a diva for sure, but there were many moments Tuesday where she portrayed humility and longing to great effect. She became lost inside some of her most somber ballads (“Unusual Way,” “What Are You Doing the Rest Of Your Life?”), her marvelous interpretive skills transforming the large space into an intimate one.
Or was this all just good acting? After all, this was a show where, hanging from the United Center’s ceiling, was what could be the world’s largest teleprompter scrolling, not just lyrics, but stage banter between songs. (It could only take a scriptwriter to come up with lines like “I wish you many shining moments of your own.”) Streisand is obviously a perfectionist, but so skilled, her efforts became transparent.
Given news that recent shows on this tour included a George W. Bush impersonator, the stage was set for more of the same, amped up especially on election night. That would not be the case as, Streisand reported, her impersonator had another gig. So she sang. No one left disappointed.
Much of the two-hour, ten-minute show featured songs from “Funny Girl,” both the musical and film, as well as doses of big band jazz (“Down With Love”), pop (“Stony End”) and lush, orchestrated ballads (“The Way We Were”), aided by a 50-piece orchestra.
The show’s greatest misstep was the inclusion of Il Divo, an operatic group of four tuxedoed calendar hunks that backed Streisand up and was allowed their own three-song spotlight. If Streisand’s singing was like an artful smattering of raindrops, the booming voices of Il Divo coalesced into a highly pressurized hose. In a style spread by the “American Idol” generation, they butchered two of Streisand’s standards — “Evergreen” and “Somewhere” — with their bracing, booming, ham-fisted vocals. That this group was cobbled together by “Idol” judge Simon Cowell was evident.
The last third of the show (tickets remain available for Thursday), Streisand kicked off her heels and strode throughout the stage in a gown, her bare feet peeking out. As America was getting comfortable with the new election results that evening, she was already there.