She has the film career that Madonna so desperately wants, the longevity that Judy Garland wasn’t able to achieve, the originality that Gaga aspires to, and an unequalled set of pipes. Donna Karan is her personal dresser, she has a gorgeously handsome son, her albums consistently set sales records — and frankly, I could go on and on, but you all know that I’m talking about the original diva, Barbra Joan Streisand. She’ll be here in Toronto on Oct 23 with her Back to Brooklyn tour. Got your tickets yet?
I was at the opening night of this tour in Brooklyn, and let me tell you, she is in fine form. Seeing her live in her hometown was hugely emotional and definitely a highlight of my concert-going life. Her Toronto date promises to be a big deal as well. My lips are sealed, but you can expect Streisand to deliver some classics, some new songs, songs she hasn’t performed live before, and an exquisitely moving finale. Hint: it’s Leonard Bernstein (but not “Somewhere”), and yes, you will need your Kleenexes.
The pacing of her set list is smart, giving us soft and intimate to get started and then knocking us out with that legendary belt. Co-director (with Streisand) Richard Jay-Alexander’s touch is also felt in the emotional through-line of the show. To their credit, it’s a warmer show than Streisand has done in the past, bringing the Queen closer to her people without taking away her regal bearing. Even the Duck Sauce club track makes an appearance! It is more than just a collection of songs thrown together, but rather a love letter from someone whose career is still hitting milestones: top 10 album currently on the charts, 12-disc DVD set, a duets album and a Christmas Day film release.
Streisand works hard, offstage and on, and delivers with this concert. Her voice has acquired a huskiness that becomes her, and it brings new colours to her songbook. She has always read a lyric better than anyone but now is gifted with the kind of lived-in voice that comes only with experience and time. Believe me, whatever you have to pay to go, this concert will be worth it.
With the untimely deaths this year of composer Marvin Hamlisch and disco queen Donna Summer, both Streisand collaborators, Back to Brooklyn carries with it a currency. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of her as a past-her-best act. At Streisand’s 2006 stop in Toronto, the diverse crowd impressed me. I saw kids from Etobicoke School of the Arts beside themselves with excitement, sweet old black church ladies in hats, and conservative politicians sitting next to screeching gay men (not me, I swear). It was a very Toronto moment — all these different people jammed together — and it made me smile.
And just like the song says, memories lit the corners of my mind.
I remembered the first time I met Donnarama. It was in the basement of the Drake Hotel, at some painfully hipster straight party. I hugged the wall, not feeling the vibe, and when they introduced her I was surprised to see a drag queen at such an event. She proceeded to perform (and perform fabulously) Barbra’s obscure R&B tune “Queen Bee” and got the party grooving. We dished all things Streisand afterward and became insta-friends.
I remembered taking the streetcar home every night past the gorgeous John Abrams mural of Barbra and Pierre Trudeau in their dating days on the outside wall of the Cameron House.
I remembered her interview with the late Brian Linehan.
I remembered buying my cassette tape of the concert at HMV on Yonge Street in 1994.
Most of all, I remembered discovering Barbra: watching Yentl at age 13 on Citytv late one night. Crying my eyes out, I saw in Yentl a kindred spirit: someone caught in the depths of unrequited love, living life without a father, forging some kind of a queer identity, and wanting escape. Granted, escaping from Poland and escaping from Mississauga aren’t quite the same thing, but Yentl was the gateway drug for me, and it was all uphill from there.
I know I’m not alone in my Streisand love, and I know that for many people in Toronto seeing her live in person on our own turf is a huge deal. I sincerely wish for everyone going that the experience is as rich and rewarding for you as you need it to be. In Barbra we trust.