I didn’t expect to see Barbra Streisand in Vancouver this week.
But see her I did; along with 12 000 other new best friends in a packed hockey stadium. And she was fantastic.
It happened when, in Canada for business, I overheard my cab driver mention Babs was in town.
Faster than you can say “Pass the maple syrup,” I was online and forking out $200 to see the great diva in concert. It was a risk: a crude diagram of the seat, up from the side of the stage, was so ambiguous, the view could have been lousy. But I had to give it a shot.
You don’t have to have loved The Way We Were to appreciate that Barbra Streisand has one of the most superb voices in showbiz.
Once inside the Rogers Arena stadium, peppered with pictures of hockey greats, I was overjoyed to find my seat was ideally placed, metres from stage.
“I’ve come from Ontario to see her, she’s my idol,” Joan, the lady beside me, enthused.
On the other side a Filipino fellow nodded, “I flew in just for this.”
To the fine strains of a 50-piece orchestra, on she floated, every inch the shimmering superstar, in black sequins and flowing robes.
Proving that 70 is the new 35 – with that timeless blonde bob and sophisticated poise – she had us all on our feet from “Hello,” then powered through a phenomenal song-list of Broadway hits and other classic songs.
Of course, The Way We Were, dedicated to its composer, her long-time pal Martin Hemlisch, who died in August, brought us all to our feet; as did a surprise duet with her sister, Roslyn Kind.
Babs is, famously, a genuinely stroppy diva. Her forceful personality, intense perfectionism, and demands for rose petals in her toilet bowls, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Lyricist Paul Williams reportedly described working with her as akin to “Having a picnic at the end of an airport runway.”
Still we weren’t there to be her friend, just to look, listen, and swoon.
She also treated us to a few numbers with Italian cutie-pie trio, Il Volo. Babs reminded us that their combined ages, totaling 54, are 16 years younger than her own – and so what? Their voices melded together perfectly.
She later played us a small family film made by son Jason Gould for her birthday, featuring pics of the loving young Funny Girl with cute little bubba Jason. At the end, Jason, a grown man with lots of curly hair who looked like an extra from Seinfeld, surprised the crowd by marching onstage and belting out a couple of numbers .
“I’m so proud,” beamed Barbra after he got through Masquerade with aplomb (he wasn’t quite in the Il Volo league, but he was certainly in tune), and the audience roared.
Barbra later answered some written questions from the audience handed in before the show.
Asked what it was like going out with former Canadian PM, Pierre Trudeau, she paused. “Come on Barbra, tell us!” screeched one raucous crow, directly behind me.
“OK, he was fantastic – a gentleman, elegant and brilliant. I loved him like I loved my own father,” she said (hopefully not in exactly the same way.)
What guilty pleasures did she have? “I’m Jewish. Every pleasure is guilt!” she snorted.
I was surprised to note that other than this seemingly spontaneous session, every utterance was scripted, and on a giant auto-cue. She even used it to say, “I don’t usually drop addresses, but I’ve often run into Chris at 1600 Pennsylvanian Avenue ,” when introducing trumpeter Chris Botti, with whom she belted out a superb My Funny Valentine.
(Yes we all know you’ve been to The White House , Barbra! Some of us have even read how Clinton entertained you there one night, when Hilary was away, then appeared at a press conference next day with scratch marks on his face.)
No doubt the giant auto-cue was to help the star overcome the pathological fear of forgetting her lines she’s harboured for decades.
“I forgot the words to a song in New York in the 60s and it stopped me from performing live for 27 years,” she confessed.
Hence, despite being the world’s greatest female singer, she’s only sung at live concerts 88 times in her 50 year career.
I feel so privileged to have seen this brilliant show pony in her first and only Vancouver show. A bedazzling performance from a genuine superstar.
Barbra doesn’t appear to be coming to Australia any time soon, but her new album, Release Me, features hits recorded in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.