November 30, 1985
Barbra Streisand: Taking Time To Look Back, Ready To Move Forward
By Peter Berk
For some singers, every note seems an exercise in uncertainty, every nuance seems forced and theatrical, every lyric seems insincere and every pause seems awkward. For Barbra Streisand, and a handful of others, though, every note soars, every inflection is chillingly sublime, every lyric is rich with meaning and even the pauses are eloquent. Only a select few singers have that unique, elusive ability to forge a sound all their own, and clearly Streisand is one of them. Now, on the eve of her 25th year as a known performer, she's gone home again and returned to her musical roots with the release (on Columbia Records) of “The Broadway Album." For many the record is a welcome, but unexpected gift from Streisand, who seemed to have left that facet of her life in the past. Then again, Barbra Streisand’s career has been marked by unpredictability from the very beginning.
Streisand’s penchant for taking chances was evident early on when she turned the normally upbeat “Happy Days Are Here Again" into an ethereal, melancholy ballad. That, however, was only the first of many surprises she had in store for us, because right after we got to know and admire Streisand the singer, we discovered Streisand the actress, in such hit stage shows as I Can Get It For You Wholesale and Funny Girl. Next, we saw just how smoothly she was able to make the often bumpy transition from stage to film acting, when she again portrayed Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, and won an Oscar for her work. Many films followed, some dramatic, some comedic, some musical, and some, like Yentl, all three. Meanwhile, as a recording artist, Streisand also surprised us with her chameleon-like ability to move easily from the blissful reveries of "The Way We Were" to the aggressive rhythms of A Star Is Born. She even showcased her talents as a composer, sharing an Oscar for "Evergreen." Now, we have the chance to be swept up in a wave of deja vu and hear the Streisand we first heard all those years ago.
As "The Broadway Album" took shape early this year, it became more and more of a labor of love for Streisand, and at the same time, a tremendous challenge. “l had been thinking about doing an album of Broadway songs for years," she told the New York Times recently. “Musically, I've felt compelled to try everything . . . Once I commit to a project, whether it's a record or a movie, I become so involved with every aspect that I become obsessed." One of her obsessions in choosing material for the album was the work of Stephen Sondheim, and thus his music and/or lyrics can be heard on “Somewhere,” “Being Alive,” “Putting It Together,” “Pretty Women/The Ladies Who Lunch,” “Something's Comin',” “Not While I'm Around” and “Send In The Clowns,” a song Sondheim even changed lyrically just for the album. Of all these songs, however, one proves the most revealing about Streisand herself.
“No one's gonna buy it.” “lt's just not commercial.” “Nobody’s into this kind of material.” “You have to think about your career.” No, these aren't reactions to “The Broadway Album,” but voice-overs addressed to Streisand during the LP's opening number, “Putting It Together.” While the record contains 11 numbers, from such shows as West Side Story, Carousel, The King And I, Sweeney Todd, Porgy and Bess, Company and A Little Night Music, it is this song from Sunday in The Park With George which best reflects Streisand’s passionate dedication to the whole project, even in the face of would-be critics.
Peter Matz, the album's co-executive producer, and the orchestrator/co-producer of most of the cuts, told Cash Box last week, "A lot of people were hesitant about the whole concept, how it would fare commercially, and some were unsure about my involvement. Barbra, though, was straight-ahead about the project, as she is with everything she does. That's just the way she is. She made all the decisions about the material, and always has total control of everything, from the songs to the liner notes.”
When asked how he approached the album conceptually, Matz remarked, “l didn't want to orchestrate these songs exactly the way they had been in their original shows. As Sondheim told us, ‘the music as it was done then made that particular statement, and now that's over.’ These songs aren't in shows now. We wanted them to have a new life, although with such fabulous material, we didn't want to change too much either.”
Columbia Records, which was besieged with close to a million advance orders for the LP, is giving “The Broadway Album” a huge-scale promotional push. A first single, “Somewhere,” has been released, with proceeds from it to be split between PRO-Peace (People Reaching Out For Peace) and AMFAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research. A video version of the classic West Side Story song, directed by William Friedkin, has also been released. However “The Broadway Album" fares, though, once again Barbra Streisand has gone against the grain and done exactly what she wanted to do.
Related Page: The Broadway Album
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