At 74, Barbra Streisand still knows how to put on a show.
In her first-ever visit to Texas, the legendary diva thrilled a near-capacity Toyota Center crowd that included celebrities and everyday fans who shouted the name of her dog (Sammie), cheered her hometown (Brooklyn), and gave her a warm welcome, despite a smattering of boos when she said, "There is one thing that I really wanted really badly, I did want to see a woman in the White House."
Soon after the scheduled 8 p.m. Sunday start time of her The Music...The Mem'ries...The Magic! tour, Streisand appeared promptly on stage in a black lace pants outfit and black cowboy hat, proclaiming, "Howdy, H-Town; it's nice to be here." For the next two-plus hours, she mixed songs from each of her No. 1 albums over the past six decades, including such hits as "The Way We Were," "Don't Rain on My Parade," "Evergreen," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," and "People," along with such lesser-known jewels as "Being Alive," "Losing My Mind," and "Children Will Listen."
Even if she didn't hit every high note perfectly, she still showed remarkable range of depth and spirit as she took the audience, many who were in their formative years when she first burst on the scene in the 1960s and '70s, on a trip down nostalgia lane. Along the way, I came away with these observations.
Streisand has star power
A recent New York magazine article about singers whose voices have conquered the ravages of time noted that Streisand "has deployed a perfectionist's technique, which allows her to regulate the air that passes through her pampered larynx with unequaled control. Her power lies in her breath, her timing, and the way she doses her energy."
In the Houston concert, Streisand certainly used her energy to maximum efficiency, with chatty explanations for each song that gave concertgoers insider information while providing her a little more time to get ready for the next song. Graphic visuals of album covers and film clips from such hits as A Star Is Born and Funny Girl complemented each song while reinforcing the notion that the audience was in the presence of a real star.
In addition to the excellent big-screen graphics, Streisand was surrounded by a large orchestra and three back-up singers, which added to the evening's special aura.
Streisand is ready for some barbecue
The singer told the crowd that she planned to sample some "good barbecue" while in Houston. "I've heard about a place called Killen's, is that right?" she said to wild applause. She added she was eagerly looking forward to a meal of ribs, creamed corn and other side dishes after the show.
Streisand is a political animal
While she didn't dwell too much on politics, Streisand did make her feelings known about climate change and the presidential election. "Here's my point, it's not about male or female. It's simply about who is the best person for the job," she said. And she encouraged young girls to keep dreaming because the time will come when there is a woman president.
Her comments drew huge applause, along with a few boos, which seemed a little odd to me as Streisand has never hidden her political beliefs, so why would anyone expect her to be silent this time?
Streisand also lavished praise on former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara, who were in the audience. She noted the couple will celebrate 72 years of marriage in January and lauded the former president's heroism, humility and bipartisanship. She also saluted Barbara Bush for her work on literacy and for speaking her mind on a variety of subjects.
The singer then switched the subject to album covers, noting that a bump on her nose was removed on her The Way We Were cover in 1974. "See my nose. It's not mine," she said, referencing the oversized album cover behind her. "Who took it out? The record company? The art director? I mean if I wanted a nose job, I would have called a couple of doctors, not a retoucher. I've been very successful with that bump. We've been through a lot together, that bump and I. God makes you a certain way and that's the way I should stay."
Streisand can draw a crowd
In addition to the Bushes, Streisand singled out boxing great George Foreman, Johnson Space Center director Ellen Ochoa, and Austin film director Robert Rodriguez and his mother, along with Streisand's longtime manager Marty Erlichman, who she said had been with her since she was 18 years old.
Streisand made the Teleprompter her own
Though she suffers from stage fright that has kept her from performing live during her career, Streisand seems to have overcome that fear in her later years. She seemed naturally at ease on the Houston stage, even joking that she forgot to stand during one song, rather than sit. "I haven't done this show since August," she explained. (The Houston concert is part of an extended tour that will also take Streisand to three Florida cities in the next week, with a concert in Miami on December 5 that will be recorded. She reportedly told Erlichman that she wanted to play in a few cities she hadn't been to before.)
A oversized Teleprompter that hung from the arena ceiling might have given Streisand more confidence, as it contained her entire script for the evening, including song lyrics in capital letters. While she occasionally added some impromptu comments, she stuck to the script pretty much word-for-word the entire evening.
Even so, it was a remarkable evening for a remarkable singer, whose most recent album, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, debuted at No. 1 in September — her 35th studio set. Most in the audience knew that they would likely never see Streisand in concert again, which made the evening extra-special.