Monday, 11 June 2007

Funny…Did You Hear That

... by Allison J. Waldman.
Recently, I was reading The Barbra Streisand Forum, in particular the comments about the song “Funny Girl” in the concert and how much it’s become a favorite of many, many fans. I have to agree 100%. Really, what a great rendition and performance by Barbra. It was a highlight in both shows I attended and it’s brilliant on the CD.

I think it’s interesting to note that within the film Funny Girl, the song—which is very lovely—is virtually lost. It seems to be that with such a wealth of great music in the show/film Funny Girl that the song “Funny Girl” is fighting an uphill battle.
When I saw the film for the first time, I was 12 years old. I had heard the original cast album, but I wasn’t yet a Streisand fan. So when I sat in the movie theater, my impressive pre-teen self was blown away as soon as I heard Barbra sing “I’m the Greatest Star.” I was over the top by “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and in a puddle of tears after “My Man.” And I don’t think I was alone. Those three songs—not to mention “People”—were iconic, powerhouse theater music! Dramatic, intense, memorable and—for me at that time—relatively new. I was completely caught up in the film, her character and how those songs expressed Fanny’s ups and downs. Without those songs, would Barbra have won the Oscar? An interesting question, but there’s little doubt the music was an essential component and a definite plus!

Now, cut to 2006 and Barbra’s U.S. concert tour. In a beautiful sequence, Barbra revisits Funny Girl on Broadway and in the movies. The one song that stands out as fresh and new is “Funny Girl.” It’s the same song, but Barbra presents it anew and it comes out like a fine, brilliant jewel.

To me, the inclusion of “Funny Girl” shows just how amazing Barbra is selecting music and staging shows/concerts (by shows, I’m referring to her TV specials). She has a sense of theatricality, mood, tone and surprise. The songs fit together, but they are not just a string of greatest hits. For instance, in My Name Is Barbra, Barbra presents herself to the TV world with the song “Much More.” It immediately informs you that this woman is for real. She’s telling you about her drive, her desire, her need and her determination for more – much more – than you may have thought before she started to sing.

But that’s just one way she’s consistently chosen the right material. In Timeless, Barbra talks about movie music and completely surprises us by doing “Alfie.” For true fans, we remember that she sang the Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune on What About Today. For the rest of the audience, “Alfie” was something new and exciting. It was also beautifully done. Again, brava Barbra.

Aside from “Funny Girl,” I think a few other songs in the 2006 concert warrant attention – and heaps of praise. “Unusual Way” is a song that I, as well as many other fans, have always wanted to hear Barbra sing. Her interpretation is fantastic; everything I hoped for and more. She envelops the song with her own unique characterization and in doing so reveals the haunting mystery of the words. It’s not an easy song to understand fully, but Barbra’s interpretation makes it a song everyone can recognize.

Another new song also captured my heart, “My Shining Hour”—and wouldn’t you know it, it was written by Barbra’s favorite composer Harold Arlen with the amazing Johnny Mercer (“Moon River”). Gorgeous, rich and simple all at the same time, “My Shining Hour” is sheer magic. And as my good friend Guy Vespoint commented, it’s the kind of song most performers would position at the top of the show since the lyrics say, “This will be my shining hour…” not “this was my shining hour.” Again, you can see Barbra’s mind at work. She’s surprising us, tickling our expectations, leaving us intrigued and amused.

Reaching back to her early albums, Barbra unearthed two songs that deserved to be heard again through the prism of the Streisand of 2006: “My Premiere Chanson” and “Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair.” As an unabashed, unapologetic devotee of Je M’appelle Barbra, Barbra’s first song is a gentle, touching preview of the songs she would later write (few though they may be).

“Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair,” on the other hand, is a long-lost Broadway song (by composer Billy Barnes) that Barbra sang extensively in her Bon Soir days. As a young woman, barely out of her teens—she was attracted to the drive of the song, and the parental allusions must have felt autobiographical to Barbra – “Oh, Mother dear, I know you’re very proud, you’re little girl in gingham is so far above the crowd. No, Daddy dear, you never could have known, that I would be successful, yet so very much alone.” In her new interpretation for the 2006 concert, Barbra’s performance was more poignant and personal than ever. In an twist that took me completely by surprise, instead of singing, “I found my blue ribbons all shiny and new, but now I discover them no longer blue” as she had in every previous recording, Barbra sang, “I found it was easy, to capture success, but now I’d be willing to settle for less.” Oh, my, what a great lyric. What a perfect way to cap the song! Well, guess what – that was the original Billy Barnes’ lyric. 1960’s Barbra changed it because it didn’t jibe with who she was at the time. 2006 Barbra resurrected Barnes’ lyric because now it was precisely right for how she feels today.

Finally, on a personal note, I’m happy to report – and I think it may show in my writing – that I’m feeling much stronger now and doing much better. As most of my Barbra friends and readers know, I was recently diagnosed with a relapse of cancer. It was looking quite grim for a while there. The doctors weren’t sure I’d be able to live long enough to enjoy Barbra’s next CD. Yes, it was that serious. Fortunately, further tests revealed that the cancer I have is a recurrence of the same cancer I recovered from in 1996. It took 11 years to metastasize to another part of my body – which is a horrible shock that it came back at all – but on the plus side, it’s highly treatable. With chemotherapy, I should have a full recovery.

I want to thank everyone who has contacted me with cards and emails offering get-well wishes and positive thoughts. Your kindness is much appreciated. And for those who have also PayPal-ed contributions to help me pay for my medical expenses, I thank you sincerely. At times like this, if you’re lucky, you discover that your life is touched by many, many people – near and far – and their concern and caring means so much. I consider myself a very lucky person, and I have many wonderful people to whom I owe eternal thanks.

Allison J. Waldman

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