Words: Simon Button
Some enchanted evening with Barbra Streisand in Hyde Park was also, at times, a somewhat shambolic one. A medley of ‘Guilty’, ‘Woman In Love’ and ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ was woefully under-rehearsed, video clips from ‘A Star Is Born’ were gratingly out-of-sync and when that film’s co-star Kris Kristofferson joined Streisand on stage for ‘Lost Inside Of You’ what should have been a touching reunion was - thanks to Kristofferson’s weak vocals and seemingly befuddled state - a bit of a cringe-worthy one.
Joining Babs on ‘The Way We Were’, Lionel Richie was in better voice but mixed up some of the lyrics and even the lady herself messed up ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ - a signature song you’d expect her to know by heart by now, since she’s been singing it on and off for 55 years.
Given her penchant for perfection, I had to wonder if heads were rolling backstage over the glitches and gaffes. But, more relaxed than I’ve ever seen her before at what was my 11th visit to a Streisand show, she seemed amused by it all - giggling when things went wrong and joshing “I wish we’d rehearsed that song” after tripping over parts of ‘Parade’.
The former funny girl is now, at 77, a very funny lady. She told the standing-only crowd “I can’t tell if you’re giving me a standing ovation” and rejigged the words to opening number ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ to include references to Meghan Markle and clotted cream. And taking a break to sip from an ornate teacup that could have come from the Ritz or Claridge’s, she invited the audience to discuss “how Ralph Fiennes is spelt never Rafe nor Fines”.
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There was also a shout-out for the previous day’s Pride, with Babs noting: “On the way here the driver asked me if I’d gone to any of the Pride celebrations yesterday and I said ‘Why would I? I knew they’d be here tonight’.”
The jokes were a bonus, though, for an audience that had come to hear the voice and Streisand knocked it out of the park vocally. Her voice is deeper than it was but she can still reach the lilting high notes of ‘Evergreen’ and belt out ballads like ‘My Man’ with awe-inspiring power.
The hushed silence that greeted a lovely version of ‘Alfie’ was especially magical in a park packed with 65,000 people, who later sang along to ‘What The World Needs Now’ in a moving plea for love and tolerance - subjects that have always been dear to Barbra’s heart.
As, of course, have dogs. So it was a little bonkers, but no surprise, when her cloned pooches were wheeled out in a shopping cart. Likewise only Babs would think to sing Christmas song ‘Silent Night’ in the middle of summer but it proved to be a beautiful moment in a show full of them. Sondheim’s ‘Send In The Clowns’ has never sounded more heartbreaking, Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Music Of The Night’ (with a wonderful Ramin Karimloo on guest vocals) never more soaring, ‘People’ never more poignant a call for humanity to pull together.
Streisand saved the biggest showstopper of the night for the encore as she sang the hell out of ‘The Man That Got Away’, making what she’d dubbed ‘A Happening In Hyde Park’ in homage to her 1967 ‘A Happening In Central Park’ concert into a never-to-be-forgotten feast for fans.
It was at that Central Park show that Babs went completely blank during one of her songs. Forgetting the lyrics shook her up so much she didn’t tour again for 27 years, when the invention of teleprompters meant she’d always have a back-up.
Teleprompters were clearly in view at Hyde Park but she still muddled a few lines here and there. Let’s hope it doesn’t send her back into retirement from performing live because Streisand truly is a one-of-a-kind superstar whose star quality and staggering voice we’ll never see the likes of again.