It was pure serendipity that legendary songstress Barbra Streisand began her Friday night concert at the United Center with a gorgeous rendition of "On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever," the haunting and lovely ballad from the 1965 Broadway musical of the same name. As the lyrics proclaim: "On a clear day/How it will astound you/ that the glow of your being/outshines every star."
Streisand not only glowed, she was positively luminous in her glittery black ensemble, stylishly longer hair (and almost no makeup), literally ascending from far beneath the stage floor to a thunderous ovation from nearly 20,000 of her closest pals. And outshine every star she did, turning in nearly three hours of song, anecdotes, video clips, political swipes (she is famously Democrat), and guest stars that included the Italian trio Il Volo and the ever-jazzy trumpeter Chris Botti.
The singer endeared herself from the get-go, proclaiming her love for Chicago's architecture, and reminding those old enough to remember that she first played here when she was just 18, at the legendary piano bar/lounge that was Mr. Kelly's.
Billed as her Back to Brooklyn tour, the evening was filled with nostalgia, from a video montage of photos from Streisand's childhood, to a "summer 1979" short film featuring her borough neighbors singing the praises of their favorite singer, to a special video "birthday card" from Streisand's son (more on that later), to a loving tribute to the late composer Marvin Hamlisch, whom Streisand first met when he was the rehearsal pianist for the Broadway production of "Funny Girl," the musical that propelled Streisand to superstardom.
Accompanied by a full orchestra, standouts on this night included a stunning turn on the Rodgers and Hart classic "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," a poignant "The Way We Were" (using Hamlisch's original orchestrations), the hugely emotional Jimmy Webb scorcher "Didn't We?," and a sizzling and soulful take on Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do?" (with Botti on the trumpet) that seemed to conjure up the kind of dark, smoke-filled rooms that Streisand played when she was an unknown nightclubber singing for rent money along New York's endless lounge circuit of the early1960s.
And though the upper register of Streisand's vocals were just a tad light on two of her most iconic songs, "People" and "Evergreen," it mattered little. At 70, the singer still possesses one of the most pristine voices in music, a voice that completely and sumptuously envelops a room, even one the size of the cavernous United Center. There is an intimacy and honesty in Streisand's delivery, a caressing of lyrics --- all rare treats in this age of lip-synched, overblown concert extravaganzas.
The evening was a family affair, too, as Streisand's son Jason Gould (from her long-ago marriage to actor Elliott Gould) joined his mother on stage for a duet of "How Deep is the Ocean" followed by a solo effort on "This Masquerade."
And in the second-to-last offering of the night, Streisand surprised everyone with the arrival of her sister, cabaret singer Roslyn Kind, who joined her most famous sibling in a rousing counterpoint duet of "Happy Days Are Here Again/Forget Your Troubles Come on Get Happy" (much like Streisand and Judy Garland once belted out in 1963 on the latter's television show).
At one point early on, Streisand was accompanied by Il Volo (three young tenors, ages 17, 18 and 19, who possess ridiculously gorgeous voices that belie their tender years) in a lovely duet of "Smile," the Charlie Chaplin classic that has become a staple for both Streisand and the trio in their concerts. It was the perfect bookend to "Here's to Life," a syrupy anthem that came near the concert's finale, with lyrics along the lines of "having no regrets." After 50 years in show business, Streisand is all smiles--- embracing life, she told her audience, living in the moment, with nary a regret in sight. Happy days, indeed.