Streisand: 2007 Europe Concert Tour
The Barbra Streisand Sound Check
Wednesday 18 July 2007, 4:30 pm
By Glen Knott
Photos on this page courtesy of Glen Knott
Having been a Streisand fan for 26 years, I made a promise to myself after Barbra’s London concerts in 1994 that if she sang in public again I would try and be there. My dream of seeing Barbra perform live came true when I made the trip to New York to see her in concert at Madison Square Garden on 9 October 2006 – the night she famously told a heckler to ‘shut the f*** up!’. I saw Barbra again at Castletown House in Ireland on 14 July following a scoop on e-bay – I got a second row seat in front of the stage for £92! I also booked a VIP package with Mark Butler Associates to see Barbra at The O2 on Wednesday 18th July including attendance at her ‘Sound Check’ on the afternoon, at 4.30 pm.
Following arrival at the O2 at 3.45 pm, us ‘VIP-ers’ were ushered upstairs to a suite on a high floor, candle lit and beautifully decorated with fresh flowers. Following registration, we were given pink champagne and canapés to enjoy. The suite overlooked the stage and one of the sound crew could be heard repeatedly saying ‘testing, one two’. Cleaners were busy sweeping, polishing and vacuuming the arena. Those who intended to go to the sound check had to hand in cameras and phones which could not be taken into the arena. They were handed back after the sound check. At around 4.25 pm, we were escorted to floor seats near the back of block A2 right in front of the stage. Marty Erlichman appeared and invited us to move closer to the stage, to rows D and E.
Conductor Bill Ross commenced the proceedings by asking sections of the band to play parts of ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. The trumpets went first, then strings. It was really interesting hearing the different parts of the orchestra play this song without Barbra singing with them. After around 10-15 minutes, the concert director Richard Jay-Alexander appeared together with Barbra’s 4 Broadway singers – Peter Lockyer, Michael Arden, Sean McDermotte and Hugh Panaro. Dressed casually, they waved at us and, following a briefing with Richard, sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, making use of all sections of the stage to check mic volume etc. After the song they told the audience – around 40 VIP-ers – that it was Jim Brolin’s birthday today and they subsequently sang a few bars of ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. Jim was sat on the front row, busy texting on his mobile. He looked a little embarrassed but joked enthusiastically.
Barbra then appeared from stage left to enthusiastic applause from the audience. She was wearing fitted black pants, a black sweater and a very fashionable poncho style black jacket. She wore her black rimmed, tinted glasses and a beret style hat on her head. She thanked everyone for their applause. Barbra’s PA Kim then appeared and showed Barbra some papers, before disappearing off stage.
One of the first things Barbra did was look up to the teleprompter, which hung high over the floor seating. Barbra said it was too high up and she would suffer a stiff neck using it as it was! She said it needs to be lowered by 3 feet. She then called out to Marty, who appeared after a few moments. ‘Marty, that needs to come down three feet’ she exclaimed! Marty didn’t say anything but I noticed at the evening show that the teleprompter had been lowered.
With the 4 Broadway singers still on stage, Barbra sang sections of “I Finally Found Someone” and “Music of the Night” with the guys. There was lots of huddled off-mic chat. I later found out from Hugh that he was giving Barbra and the other singers some tips about “Music of the Night” because he had sung it in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and wanted it perfect as the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was attending the performance that evening.
Barbra asked the audience how people become a ‘Lord’. No-one knew so she said she was going to address Andrew as ‘Sir Andrew’ at the show. The guys exited and Barbra commented how great they all were. She then told us that she had not stopped eating on her tour and had put on 7 and a half pounds! She said she loved ‘Krispy Kremes’ (the doughnuts). Barbra and Richard then asked the audience what people in London ate these days – they were going to mention it in her script that evening. Someone shouted out ‘MacDonald’s’ which Barbra laughed at ‘No, they don’t eat MacDonalds over here, surely” she said! The audience could not agree on what food was hot in London and so Barbra said she would not mention specific foods. She then told us that she gets attached to her things and has had the same handbag for many years and a friend suggested they go buy a new one from Harrods. Barbra said she never actually made it to the handbag section as she got held up in the food hall, tasting various delicacies! She said she had come straight from Harrods to the sound check.
Barbra then sang a new song which I have never heard before. It was a blues style number, very cool and a new style for Barbra. She said she was not singing it as part of her evening shows, only at the Sound Check. At this time, Barbra’s assistant Renata appeared on stage with Barbra’s fluffy white dog, Samantha, whose tail wagged furiously when she saw Barbra. Barbra was deep in conversation with Richard and Bill and didn’t notice Samantha come on stage. Renata had brought Barbra a piping mug of tea! She then spent some time going through the teleprompter script with Richard, changing things. For example, the bit where she talks about her son Jason, she said she wanted to change the part ‘they come into the world so pure’ to ‘they come into the world with nothing written on the slate [Barbra accidentally referred to Jason as her ‘friend’ at the evening show]. Barbra commented that she needed Teleprompters in order to do her shows. She said that at her ‘One Voice’ concert in 1987, held at her former home in Malibu, everyone stood up for “America The Beautiful” and she couldn’t see the words on the teleprompter. She said she was dodging to see the words of the song!! We all laughed. When they were through changing the script, Barbra thanked us all for coming and, after about 40 minutes from entering, left the stage saying ‘see you all later from the stage’.
After the sound check, I spotted Marty Erlichman near the front of the O2 and went over to talk to him. Marty was very friendly and personable. I mentioned how bad I thought the security was at the Ireland concert, with people storming the stage, repeatedly walking in front of the stage and lots of people standing and squatting in front of the stage as Barbra sang “Papa Can You Hear Me” in the second half. Barbra had commented on the mic ‘no fighting guys!’ It took Barbra’s own security team to shift the people, including some opportunists who had sat in other peoples’ seats delayed due to the weather and traffic, to move.
I asked Marty if this was Barbra’s last tour and he said that she may tour Asia, but maybe not until 2008. I asked him how long he had represented Barbra and he said since 1962 when they met in New York City. I said he must have many stories to tell. He said he is going to write a book and will tell his story, whilst Barbra is working on her autobiography. After some further chat, Marty invited me and a very nice guy named Jeremy to join him backstage after the show. He told us to look out for his PA, Michelle. At this point I thought I might get to meet Barbra briefly, and I was naturally very excited!
After the show we made our way over to security and spoke with Marty’s PA. She issued us with our VIP passes and we were escorted into the VIP lounge of the O2. There we mingled with the likes of Joan Collins, Richard E Grant and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I congratulated Andrew on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which he said had opened the night before and he was very pleased with. Barbra’s PA Kim came and fetched Joan and Sir Andrew, who were taken to meet Barbra in her dressing room. They were gone for about 10 minutes.
I chatted at length with Barbra’s Broadway singers, who were all absolutely charming. They each said that Barbra is a dream to work with. Hugh commented that when he was on Broadway, he dreamt that one day Barbra would be in the audience watching him. Now he was working with her, it was a dream come true for him. Michael, who is 24, said he was having a ball and loving the tour. I asked him what he will be doing after the tour and he said he would be appearing in a comedy called The Return of Jezebel James, aired Wednesdays in the US on Fox TV. Peter was enchanting, a real gentleman. He said he had played Chris in Miss Saigon and his girlfriend – who was with him on the tour and seemed to photograph everything that moved – had played Kim opposite his Chris. I only spoke briefly with Sean, who said he was having a great time on tour and loved the shows, especially the Dublin show as his family were in the audience that night. I spoke longest with Hugh, who was a doll. I asked him which show he thought was the best on the tour and he said that the Berlin and Manchester shows were his favourites.
I asked Hugh what they were discussing on stage when they were huddled together around Barbra. He said that Barbra was on antibiotics and the guys, with Richard, had been giving her some tips on how to sing over a sore throat. I asked Hugh how Barbra’s dog, Samantha, had managed to accompany her on the tour. He said Samantha has her own ‘pet passport’ and there is someone who just looks after her full time, that is their job. I asked Hugh if he hoped to do the Asia tour next year and he said yes, definitely, if he is free. We joked about a ‘get out’ clause in his contract if he is back on Broadway at the time so he can tour. Peter then came back over and I asked him how he found the UK. He said they hadn’t seen much of it as they flew straight from Manchester to Dublin and from Dublin to London. We joked about the exchange rate being 2 dollars to the pound, which is great for the British. He joked the exchange rate wasn’t so good for the Americans – he said the guys had been busy with foreign exchange trying to get the best possible rate after being paid for the Dublin show! At around midnight everyone started to leave. I made my way out of the building. It was a hive of activity with the famous set in pieces on the floor, metal poles everywhere. On my way out of the O2, I passed all the dressing rooms, names printed on each door.
Unfortunately Barbra did not appear in the VIP lounge and I left disappointed. I spoke to Marty who said she left quite quickly.
Whilst I didn’t get to meet Barbra, I was exhilarated at having met Marty, Richard Jay-Alexander, the four Broadway singers.I returned to the Mark Butler VIP Hospitality suite to collect my Tour Programme. The next day I sent it to Hugh in London at the boys’ hotel, The Langham on Regent Street, and asked him if he would sign it, and get the guys to sign it. He kindly sent it back, duly signed (thanks Hugh). The sound check and the experience of seeing Barbra perform twice on the same day was something I will cherish forever and will never forget. And what about Barbra ... she was so cute, sublime, entrancing, majestic – unforgettable.
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