Barbra Streisand gushed more than once that Monday’s concert at downtown Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena, the closing date of her 13-concert “The Music...The Mem’ries...The Magic! Tour,” was to be her last concert.
She never grandstanded the statement or milked it for melancholy. She said it with what sounded like gratitude — a theme she would return to often during the two-plus-hour, 26-song set. This was the longest show of the tour, which was fitting since this Miami date was being filmed for eventual broadcast on Netflix.
At the start of her show, as a video homage to her career ended and the screen parted to reveal the star, Streisand hummed a few bars of the wistful “The Way We Were” and said, “This is what this evening is all about.” She followed by singing the first line of “The Way We Were,” one of her signature songs. (Most artists would be so lucky to have a signature song; Streisand has four or five.)
Mem’ries light the corners of my mind, she sang.
Streisand turned to an audience member and inserted a quip, “You can close your mouth now,” before picking up the tune again.
She was, and is, a Funny Girl and Funny Lady. “The last time I played Miami I was the opening act for Sergio Franchi” at the Eden Roc on Miami Beach in March 1963. Back then, “a tweet was what a bird did and the only people who had cell numbers were people in jail. My God, have I been around that long?”
What brought Streisand back to Miami? “I love the restaurants. I’m a foodie. I love Cuban food — ‘¡Maduros, me gusto!’ she teased, launching into some brief Spanish that had her Miami fans chuckling. “I got the highest marks in Spanish class,” she insisted.
Time and its misty colored mem’ries haven’t dulled her sense of humor or much of anything else about the woman who had the nerve to sing “I’m the Greatest Star” on the Broadway stage in “Funny Girl” at age 22 and who has spent the next 52 years proving it on album after album, movie after movie, and, in the last 22 years after she resumed touring, something she eschewed in the 1970s and ’80s, tour after tour.
“What a wonderful last performance and audience,” she said again with a flourish before she even sang the second song of the night, “Everything,” from “A Star Is Born.”
Say it isn’t so, Barbra.
Backstage in his dressing room after the concert, her manager Marty Erlichman, who has been with her since she was 18 in 1960, said she has indeed spoken of this Miami show being her last undertaking of its kind. But she also left the door ajar. Perhaps less structured one-offs. We can hope.
Putting together a tour as complex as this one, with Act One featuring hits from each of her 11 No. 1 albums (she’s the only artist in history to score a No. 1 album in every decade from the 1960s through 2010s) and a second act devoted largely to Broadway standards, where she seemed most at ease, is no easy feat, not even for the young.
Streisand is 74, though you would never know it from her voice or appearance or the energy she displayed this night. True, her peerless mezzo-soprano no longer has its highest range. Decades ago, she effortlessly scaled the heights of “Evergreen” or “A Piece of Sky,” whose closing sustained phrase she added to the end of an achingly gorgeous, solemn and affecting “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” to close the first act. Exquisite.
“Papa, Can You Hear Me?” for which she reenacted a scene from the movie she directed, “Yentl,” was, arguably, the highlight of the evening.
But the actress who sings is even more skilled today. The deepness in her voice adds a rich luster to old tunes like “Woman in Love” and “Happy Days Are Here Again,” a song she sang for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton. The rasp that intruded on the lovely “By the Way” late in the set only added humanity to an instrument some once thought too perfect, almost inhuman.
Streisand phrases masterfully. She instinctively knows just when to place emphasis on a portion of a song so she can still achieve the stratospheric money note, as on a bravura “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” When she sang softly, her pristine vibrato melted sustained lines seamlessly one into the other, stitching notes like a master tailor on a solo “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” or on Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.”
Streisand’s eye for detail, along with her concert co-director Richard Jay-Alexander, remains uncanny. A full video screen display of all of her album covers was breathtaking as it featured the images not in chronological order, but seemingly by image design. For instance, “Je m’appelle Barbra” sat next to “The Way We Were” since her hands faced left on both covers. Off-white colored albums “ButterFly” and “Guilty” and black and white covers for “Greatest Hits, Vol. 2” and “Till I Loved You” sat cohesively side-by-side. Shots in which her eyes are the focus, as on “Yentl” and “Release Me,” were similarly displayed together. For anyone else, this would be random, a happy accident. For Streisand and her colleague, one can only imagine how much time they labored over something few but the most observant of her fans would relish.
One of the treats of a Streisand concert is in listening to her spend considerable time explaining the stories behind her songs, movies and album covers. Her “A Star Is Born” soundtrack — among mainstream movies, only “Rocky” knocked out Barbra’s film at the box office in 1976, by the way — has that iconic Francesco Scavullo photograph of a bared Kris Kristofferson palming the frizzy head of an equally bared Streisand. Staring up at that cover, she answered what we’ve been curious about for 40 years, “If you’re wondering what I was wearing during this shoot, it was musk.”
Actually, for the millions who had the LP cover image framed on their walls during the Carter administration, she basically wore a hunky Kristofferson. She amusingly and belatedly blasted her longtime label Columbia for fixing her nose on the cover of her album, “The Way We Were,” in 1974. “If I wanted a nose job, I would have gone to a doctor, not a retoucher.”
As such, the stage felt like Streisand’s Malibu living room, complete with a tea set she sipped from often, a throwback to her concert at the Forum in 1972. She treated her audience warmly, as if her house guests.
For the Miami show, there were special treats. Actor Patrick Wilson (“The Conjuring”) accompanied Streisand on “Loving You” from Sondheim’s artsy “Passion.” The number tapped the acting skills of both — Wilson had to voice the introductory dialogue of an ambivalent lover to Streisand’s besotted woman — all the while requiring them to belt opposite one another. Wilson sounded even more commanding live than he does in the studio, quite the feat.
Even better — not vocally, perhaps, but from an endearingly emotional standpoint — Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, who joined Streisand for their pairing of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music.” Foxx and Streisand’s mutual admiration felt genuine and touching, so much so that when they had to slip into their roles for the song’s introductory dialogue, the shift was momentarily awkward.
Foxx, who sang with Streisand on a couple of dates of this tour (but not Saturday night in Sunrise at the BB&T Center), seemed in awe to be singing with the superstar. Foxx was funny, too, as he showed Streisand how, in his youth, he used to imagine how a duet of “The Way We Were” might have sounded had Streisand sung it with Sammy Davis Jr. Foxx sang both singers’ parts, credibly, to her, and the audience’s, delight.
Streisand also showed a recent clip from WSVN-7 that featured Miami Army veteran Sergio Lopez, who was injured on a tour of Iraq. His dream was to see a Barbra Streisand concert. She introduced Lopez and his mother in the audience to a standing ovation, one of many this night.
Unlike the pre-election dates of the tour, Streisand kept politics out. But she did keep in a strong segment on the threat of global warming to introduce “Pure Imagination.”
“Interesting time in the news. I’m not going there or we’d be here all night,” she teased. Besides, “Music transcends politics.”
And Streisand transcends show business. The career she displayed through song, visuals and chatter in concert is unlike anybody’s. There won’t be another Streisand — the singer who dared to act, the movie star who dared to direct, the woman who dared to do what men receive accolades for and women suffer unkind labels for attempting.
To borrow from another of her signature tunes on this supposed last night, the Miami people who witnessed this artist in her still formidable condition were, indeed, “the luckiest people in the world.”
Streisand Miami set list
“The Way We Were”
“Being At War With Each Other”
“Woman in Love”
“No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”
“Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’ (Evergreen)”
“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”
“Children Will Listen”
“Papa, Can You Hear Me?”
“Who Can I Turn To”
“Losing My Mind”
“Loving You” [With Patrick Wilson]
“Isn’t This Better”
“How Lucky Can You Get”
“Don’t Rain On My Parade”
“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” [With Jamie Foxx]
“Happy Days Are Here Again”
“By the Way”
“With One More Look at You”
“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”