In 1968 (I think), my Dad hitchhiked from Chicago to New York to go see Barbra Streisand perform in Funny Girl. He's crazy about Streisand, and he's often absentmindedly "dadada"ing some gentle little musical theater melody… probably 30% Streisand, who knows.
I recently got him NetFlix for the first time as a Christmas present last year, and since he gave my sister and I our love for movies, I think he said he's now watched every Streisand special there is. He knows I'm no big fan of that style of music, but he told me if I were going to watch one Streisand performance, it should be A Happening in Central Park.
"This will give a glimmer of what there is to appreciate of her, when she was at her freshest, most spontaneous, and full of excitement and poise."
So I rented it on NetFlix, and when I was incapacitated on my couch with a twisted rib, I watched it beginning to end on the good speakers…
…and pretty much saw Barbra in her full glory for the first time. There she is, this tiny, lovely Brooklyn girl gone huge, up there on the stage in front of a central park crowd of 150,000. She can seemingly handle any meter and vocal range, no matter how challenging, with an incredible vocal power and expressiveness.
There she is, with this kind of faux humility, playing the "what, who, me? wonderful?" card, telling all these little stories and holding court with this huge New York crowd. She is their icon and hero… this pantheon to all that is Jewish and Brooklyn, being totally fabulous and hardly trying.
She has one costume change and both of her dresses are totally truly fabulous, both with diaphanous wings that flutter about in the Central Park breeze. I didn't realize how amazingly lovely she was in her prime.
My favorite song of the bunch is Cry Me a River, a song I love, which she brings her own amazing flavor to. She does a few other Broadway standards I'm not familiar with.
But… there's something I still can't feel about Barbra, even at her effervescent best: I just don't find her funny! A big part of her act is about her lightning quick changes from total heartbreaking to total Jewish hilarity. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Maybe it's that I'm not so crazy about musical theater in the first place, but I constantly get this feeling that she's just not as funny as she thinks she is.
I'm sure if I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950's I'd think she was a scream. It's a kind of old fashioned humor that fits with the kind of old-school. Twice she tells a long and "umm"ey story that results in either no song, or in one instance, a 10 second song.
The person I can't help thinking about as I watch her is: Feist. Yes, Feist. Feist is in some ways the modern Barbra… the amazing, beautiful, expressive singer with an amazing range and a love for covers who captures the zeitgeist of the moment. But Feist just has so much more of a grasp of the modern idioms in this post Kurt Cobain world. When I look at dinosaurs like Barba they just seem… pretty darn cheesy in comparison.
I don't argue with my dad though, this is a pretty amazing recording, and if you've ever been curious about what all the fuss about Streisand is (more grammys than God, 60 albums, etc.) you will probably be edified to watch this performance. Plus, the price is right:
Due to the magic of the internets, it looks like YouTube has the entire thing in its entirety. Part 2/6 has the aforementioned Cry Me a River if you want to get the flavor without watching the whole thing.