Change, President John F. Kennedy said, “is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
“Change” and “Barbra Streisand” are synonymous and yet antonymous at the same time.
That quality of change, and of adaptability and resilience, has made the singer-actress-director-writer the most versatile performer of the 20th century. Also, the most honored. Streisand is the only artist to receive the Oscar, Tony, Grammy, Emmy, Peabody, the French Legion d’ Honneur, the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Golden Globe, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she was the first female director to win a Kennedy Center Honor.
All of which defines Streisand to this day.
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Streisand — frank, funny and fearless in a conversation with the Miami Herald that touches on her career, the post-presidential election and women’s health — says constant change has always helped her evolve.
“You know it’s funny. I wrote an article when I was 18 years old being funny, but a bit also is true. The beginning and end of the article was a random stream of consciousness — I don’t like diamonds, I like emeralds and pearls. It started with ‘Success is like a baked potato. You have to cook it and recook it.’ … But the point was, in that article, I started with ‘I don’t like diamonds.’ By the end of the article I liked diamonds,” Streisand said.
“The point is, I hope I’ve changed for the better, less self-conscious or less critical or that kind of thing. I’m ever changing and I hope for the better,” Streisand said.
Change, no change
Richard Jay-Alexander, who co-directed with Streisand her current tour, “The Music … The Mem’ries … The Magic!,” which plays Sunrise’s BB&T Center on Dec. 3 and Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena on Dec. 5, has worked alongside her for 16 years.
“What fascinates me, personally, is that she is the same girl,” Jay-Alexander said. “She hasn’t changed. Her politics, her point of view, her hunger for knowledge, her constant striving for truth and excellence. I find it all inspiring.”
Contradiction? As is the case with this enigmatic performer, both descriptions contain the truth.
She never sings something the same way twice. Of course, she’s in the meter and tempo of the song, but it’s the endless possibilities of phrasing that make her the consummate actress who sings.
Richard Jay-Alexander, Barbra Streisand’s tour co-director
Streisand is pleased by her pal’s summation. She laughs. As he waits downstairs at her Los Angeles home so they can begin rehearsals for the coming shows (“We gave him eggs and bacon and vegetables and he’s very happy”), she reveals more about her evolution.
Streisand’s passionate attention to detail, of being in control — a word that has often been used against her — and a determination that extends not only to the arts but also to her philanthropic endeavors like the Streisand Foundation and the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles are constant traits. Her activism on the Democratic front, environmentalism and family matters remains as much a hallmark of Streisand as The Voice. She lobbies extensively for better healthcare for women, particularly for gender-specific research to prevent, properly treat and identify heart attacks in women.
A good place
Despite the challenges and a presidential race that has left her “heartbroken,” Streisand, the changeling — or not — is in a good place. Her most recent album, “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” her 35th studio set, debuted at No. 1 in September, fending off a challenge from hot contemporary country act Florida Georgia Line. No other artist has had a No. 1 album in every decade from the 1960s forward. Her tour has sold out arenas nationwide and scored stellar reviews.
“I do feel very grateful for being in the place I am at now,” she said, adding, “I have a wonderful husband [actor James Brolin],” laying to waste the gossips that have hounded her career and inspired her to compose her 1977 song, “Don’t Believe What You Read.”
You know why? Because they have Joe’s Stone Crabs there. I go where the good food is.
Barbra Streisand on performing in Miami.
Her longevity and grasp on popular culture is a large reason for the tour, she explained.
“My manager said to me, ‘Barbra, you have had No. 1 albums in six decades’ so that was the idea of the first act, anyway. The first act is about singing the songs from those albums that were No. 1. The second act is of my new material.”
The Miami show will be filmed with 14 cameras and feature special guests, actors Jamie Foxx and Patrick Wilson, as duet partners on two songs from “Encore.”
Miami Beach singer-songwriter Barry Gibb, with whom she collaborated on her biggest pop success, the 1980 album, “Guilty” and its 2005 sequel, “Guilty Pleasures,” was approached to perform with her but is promoting his new album, “In the Now,” in London.
Gibb, in a September Herald interview, said of Streisand that she, along with his late brother Robin Gibb and some others he collaborated with, suffered from a lack of self-esteem, a common trait among the most creatively gifted and famous. “Michael Jackson was always worried about whether Prince was better than he. Barbra is very unique. If the song doesn’t hit her she won’t sing it. Barbra would ask, ‘Do you think my career is over?’ ”
Confronted with the quote, Streisand wants to know when Gibb said it. She delivers an immediate ‘No,’ but in the next beat parses the statement for whatever truth it may contain.
“You know, actually, that was a new time in my life when I sang with the Bee Gees. That could possibly be,” she continued. “I was singing Broadway songs and I was trying this new, I loved their music, the Bee Gees, but I didn’t know if I could make that transition into that kind of pop. I don’t think I said, ‘Do you think my career is over?’ but it was probably something about the singing.”
The experience of making “Guilty” partly in Miami studios was a happy one. The No. 1 single from the album, “Woman in Love,” features in the first act of her tour.
“He was the best producer I ever worked with,” Streisand said of Gibb. “Because he made it so easy for me. He was so talented and so competent in all the ways of producing a record. Meaning, he just said to me, ‘Sing the song. I want you to sing each song 10 times and that’s it and I’ll put it together.’
“I’ve never experienced that before or after,” Streisand said. “He was able to take my vocals and put the orchestrations behind it, the voices behind it and show me a finished record. I think the whole thing for me took three weeks. Now, I will take a year. I took a year on the last album coordinating the actors and writing the dialog. It’s a very different thing to produce one’s own record — with collaborators, of course. He was fantastic.”
The last time Streisand, 74, played a concert in Miami-Dade, not far from the “Guilty” sessions, she recalls it was in March 1963 at Miami Beach’s Eden Roc hotel. She was not yet 21 and was opening a run of dates for Italian crooner Sergio Franchi on a promotional tour for her debut album.
In a March 21, 1963, Miami Herald review, critic Jack Anderson opined, “Miss Streisand is the freshest, most provocative singer to walk into the show business clearing in many years.”
Nice. But Streisand also lets you in on the real reason she’s finally returning to Miami. “You know why?,” she teased, “Because they have Joe’s Stone Crabs there. I go where the good food is.”
Jay-Alexander adds that the timing also fits the arrival of Art Basel — Streisand is an art collector and has taken up painting, too, because, why not? Filming the Miami show, which will feature some additions to the setlist, made logistical sense.
“The AA Arena is also a great venue and newer than many others across the country. This also means we’ll probably get to see many local familiar faces, when it’s edited and finished,” he said.
Another consistent theme in her life and work is women empowerment. Prominent in her biggest box office success, 1976’s “A Star Is Born” and her labor of love, 1983’s “Yentl” — the first film directed, produced, written and starring a woman — it still defines her core values. “I sang a song called “Woman in the Moon” [for “A Star Is Born”], not ‘Man.’ Maybe it’s a woman. Who knows?”
Two months after her Eden Roc concert, in May 1963, she sang for President Kennedy, a leader she admired, at his invitation at the White House. Nearly one month after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College to secure the presidency, Streisand performs in South Florida, a part of the swing state that overwhelmingly went for Clinton.
That’s no salve.
A woman being president of the United States would show how much we’ve grown.
Barbra Streisand on Hillary Clinton and the election.
“Put it this way, I’m heartbroken, because change for me was to have a woman’s perspective,” Streisand said. “A woman being president of the United States would show how much we’ve grown. Women are very nurturing by nature and creative. I don’t want to say pro-life, but pro-life in the best sense. Meaning, they will avoid war if they can. They will nurture people, they will feed the hungry, they are basically kind people. I thought we could win this election just by the women’s vote because 52 percent of the population are women.
“But there are very strange things that happen with women, too,” Streisand said.
“I wrote about this in 1984 when my reviews of ‘Yentl’ came out. I had wonderful reviews mostly from men and not from women. I am celebrating all that women could be in this movie — that we could give birth to babies and we could be scholars. I was surprised by the kind of jealousy I encountered or competitiveness. Maybe it starts in high school when the men are learning strategy and teamwork and playing football and basketball and the women are competing for that player.”
The many voices, desires and drives of Streisand merge, as ever, into one complex character as she concludes, “It’s very sad. We’ve taken steps forward and now we’ve taken many more steps backward. The violence took over and vituperativeness rather than grace and kindness.”
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.
If you go
What: Barbra Streisand and The Music...The Mem’ries...The Magic! Tour
Where: BB&T Center, 1 Panther Pkwy, Sunrise, at 8 p.m. Dec. 3 and at AmericanAirlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, at 8 p.m. Dec. 5.
Tickets: $99 - $510