Matt Howe, the site runner of Barbra-archives.com, wrote this review of the concert, which will air Friday night at 9 Eastern time on PBS's "Great Performances."
I was a very lucky person in 2012 (and March this year) to see this Streisand show six times! From the Dress Rehearsal in Philadelphia to her second show in Amsterdam, I was able to see the show grow, edit, and expand past the Brooklyn theme that is chronicled on Barbra's latest CD and DVD.
Back on October 11th and 13th, 2012, the excitement was palatable at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York where Barbra sang her heart out for an enrapt audience of fans.
Barbra's repertoire in Back to Brooklyn is less quirky than the 2006 show. Here, Streisand sings several classic tunes at the top of the show that illustrate why she is the best. The three songs right after her opening set are just perfect, and, frankly, illustrative of her status as a legendary performer: “The Way He Makes Me Feel” is Michel Legrand sensuousness; “Bewitched” shows why Streisand is a master interpreter of musical theater songs and standards (“He was cold; so what of it?”); and “Didn't We” gives us “the actress who sings” performing this soaring and bitter-sweet ballad.
The only thing Streisand can do to top this trilogy of butterness is to introduce us to Il Volo—three tenors who join her on “Smile.” The CD omits “Smile” but Il Volo do appear in the DVD and PBS special. (Although their solo set from the tour is cut from this Columbia Records release.) Chris Botti and Jason Gould also duet with Streisand. Gould's solo song from the tour, “This Masquerade,” is a bonus on the DVD.
Barbra's tribute to Marvin Hamlisch never fails to elicit tears and it works on all versions of Back To Brooklyn. (It's very special that they include the video footage of Annie Leibovitz photographing Marvin and Barbra in the back of the truck with the set furniture from 1994's The Concert!)
The CD departs from the format of the TV special because it utilizes audio of Barbra's Brooklyn neighbors from the1980s documentary I Remember Barbra to introduce the show and make the bridge from the first to second act. The CD — which is 72 minutes in length—also edits down Streisand's patter. (The entire I Remember Barbra is included as a bonus feature on the DVD.)
The second act of the show features Barbra in her beautiful coral-colored Donna Karan gown. “Here's To Life” made me cry every time I saw Streisand sing it last year, and it does here, too.
Back to the CD: listening to this show in audio-only mode, the Bill Ross orchestrations really stand out. The orchestra sounds truly gorgeous, and you can hear a certain piano line or instrument in the stereo mix. The CD is sonically strong and pleasing to the ears.
It's curious that this is only one CD. Past Streisand concert recordings have been 2-CD sets (The Concert, Timeless, Live 2006). Fans aren't missing too much here, however. The only Streisand singing cut from the CD are the Q&A snippets, “Smile,” and “Happy Days.” These are all on the DVD, of course, so it's hard to complain about their omission from the CD. (One wonders why there's no Blu-ray of the concert, though.)
The PBS special differs slightly from the DVD sold in stores. PBS takes a blackout after the Hamlisch segment; the DVD includes some patter with the audience about Barbra and “buttah.” Mostly, the PBS special edits for time—and will include segments not on this DVD of co-director Richard Jay-Alexander speaking about the show when PBS takes pledge breaks. (Watch Back to Brooklyn on PBS Nov. 29th. Check local listings.)
DVD director Scott Lochmus rejects some of the previous Gary Smith techniques for editing Barbra Streisand concerts, so this show has its own unique feel. Gone are fan interviews—and most of the overture! (I miss those rare photos shown during the overture. Seeing that huge kabuki curtain drop right before the Funny Girl overture began was pretty cool, too, but not included in the DVD.) But Lochmus captures some great audience shots, all bathed in colored light.
For this diehard fan, I found Miss Streisand to be in excellent voice on this tour—better than the 2006 tour, in my opinion. She sounds lovely on this package. I even hear that beautiful vibrato that was present in her high register when she was just starting out almost 50 years ago. Several press reviews have characterized Streisand's voice—particularly the high notes—as diminished. I don't concentrate on that, so it's not a bother to me. Simply put: It is one of the joys of my life to see and hear Barbra Streisand in concert. First and foremost to me are her talents as an entertainer and song stylist and actress. That being said, Barbra is still in excellent voice. If the critics are saying that Barbra doesn't sound like she's 31-years-old any more .... well, what other artist is still singing this well and touring at Barbra's current age?
She has no precedent.
The Back to Brooklyn CD and DVD and PBS special are historic—in that show business/musical theater/Tin Pan Alley genre that Streisand occupies. This is Barbra Streisand's seventh live album, and like she says, “It's not over till the fat lady sings, and I ain't that fat!” Back to Brooklyn —her latest live show—is top notch and was captured here beautifully.