Barbra Brings “Brooklyn” to Las Vegas

Barbra chose a flowing rust-red gown to wrap up her show. Photo by Russell James

By Marilyn LaRocque

Vibrant yellow letters on a billboard-size screen proclaimed “Back to Brooklyn.” A gigantic photo of the Brooklyn Bridge reinforced the headline. Brooklyn’s most famous, most fabulous native, Barbra Streisand, was in town to wow over 16,000 fans packed into the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas for a November 2 concert. Adding sizzle to the stage were teenage heartthrob Italian tenor trio Il Volo and dynamite pop-jazz trumpet phenom Chris Botti. It was a “homecoming” for Streisand who launched the cavernous performance venue on December 31, 1993 and January 1, 1994, two weeks after it opened, her first touring gig in about 27 years.

As show time approached, the over-sized graphics segued into montages of “family scrapbook” photos of Streisand from childhood—with her pet collie, lounging on the beach in a plaid bikini, plain-Jane yearbook picture—through her stellar career in concert, on the stage, and in films—shots with Liberace and with Judy Garland, the “Funny Girl” marquee of the Winter Garden. Then, sudden darkness as spotlights focused on the center runway of a stage surrounding a symphony orchestra. Rising slowly from the Arena’s depths, a circular platform dramatically revealed the diva as cheering fans roared their welcome. A sparkling icon in a floor-length black sequined skirt with a leg-revealing sheer, embroidered side panel and jacket with white satin collar, Streisand added more glitz with a magnificent diamond necklace reflecting the elegant festoons of a French crystal chandelier.

No pyrotechnics or flamboyant effects for her. Her stage “set” was a small, round, black “ice cream parlor” table and chair, a small vase of half a dozen roses, changed to complement her outfits, and a black coffee cup from which she sipped periodically with a red straw.

The evening was filled with gems from her signature repertoire. It opened with “On a Clear Day,” her unmistakable undulating voice—controlled, mellow, occasionally husky, enveloping the listeners. She sang sitting down…then stood up…”Have you ever sat on sequins,” she quipped, as she strolled across the stage.

Trumpeter Chris Botti’s sensual sound oozed over the audience. Photo by LeAnn Mueller

The evening progressed through everybody’s favorites…”Nice and Easy…Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered…Memories…Evergreen—sung for a couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary…Through the Eyes of Love…Don’t Rain on My Parade…Didn’t We.” Her one assertive departure began her second set, “Enough Is Enough,” a tribute to the late Donna Summer. Commenting “I love to sing music I love by people I love,” she recalled the late composer Marvin Hamlisch, her longtime friend and musical director for her 1994 tour, and mentioned his kindness and ability to “always make me laugh,” then sang several of their most famous hits.

She again donned black sequins for the show’s second segment, this time a pants suit with the jacket’s cowl collar elaborately edged with enormous crystal jewels. A “Q&A” segment was accompanied by elated squeals from the audience as Streisand read the name of the person asking the question. She revealed— she prefers fantasy TV over reality TV, she’ll keep singing as long as her voice holds out, hoped to make a sequel to “The Way We Were,” but it didn’t work out, and, when asked if she were still “kooky,” she responded that “kooky is cute in your 20’s” but now, “at my age…” she shrugged and rolled her eyes, “it usually means slightly crazy.” Laughter!

Barbra and Il Volo covered the crowd with “Smiles.” Photo by Russell James.

Age popped up again when she was joined by Il Volo…Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto, and Gianluca Ginoble. When she asked the tenors how old they are, they replied, respectively, 19, 18, and 17, following which she admitted that she “was older than their combined ages of 54.” (Streisand is 70.) The trio sang in both Italian and English and brought down the house with “O Sole Mio…Now or Never.” In the style of THE Three Tenors, each tried to outdo the other on the virtuoso trills. With the addition of Streisand, they morphed into a quartet for a close harmony arrangement of “Smile.”

For the third, and final, section of the show, Streisand wore a flowing, draped, rust-red gown that billowed when she walked and plunged to her waistline. The duo of Streisand and Botti was magical. Botti’s subtle, sensual, then soaring tone made your heart ache in “Funny Valentine” and “What’ll I Do.” “Lost Inside You” produced the one flub of the evening when Streisand came in too early, which she jokingly acknowledged. Botti’s vibrant jazz solo of “If I Ever Fall in Love” was another emotional awakening, and his richly textured duet, “Emmanuel,” with glamorous violinist Caroline Campbell brought the audience to its feet.

“Scrapbook” photos projected on gigantic screens illuminated Barbra’s life. Photo by Russell James.

A film made in honor of Streisand’s birthday by her son, Jason Gould, added a personal touch. Gould soloed on “Lost in a Masquerade” and paired with his mother for “How Much do I Love You.” His vocal styling mirrors hers. For the grand finale of the 2-1/2 hour concert, all the vocalists plus the Desert Angels choir, rang the rafters with “Make Our Garden Grow” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.”

The show was seamless—precise pacing, pauses, inflection. But there was a secret. Sequestered among the catwalks and strobe lights, a huge black screen “video prompter” scrolled the script for the show, word for word. White arrows signified continuous flow of lyrics or patter; pink indicated a slight pause; red was stop. Red hash marks meant prolonged stop. Performers’ cues appeared in pink capital letters. No wonder the show ran so smoothly.

No matter. That’s Streisand, the perfectionist!

Barbra relaxes pre-show with Il Volo, from left…Gianluca Ginoble, Piero Barone, and Iganazio Boschetto. Photo by Russell James.

Barbra Streisand and “Return to Brooklyn,” with guest artists Il Volo, Chris Botti and Caroline Campbell, and Jason Gould, perform at the Hollywood Bowl on November 9 and 11. Planning ahead at MGM Grand Arena, Andrea Bocelli returns on November 24.

Food, wine, and travel writer/editor Marilyn LaRocque has visited the seven continents, experiencing not only sights and sounds but also foods and wines. In Paris in May, she was named Vice Chargée de Presse Nationale, Des Etats Unis, of Les Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest and largest food and wine society. She was Senior Food & Wine Editor for LUXURY Las Vegas magazine for nearly 10 years and immersed herself in the cuisine scene in this over-the-top city. She knows and has written about celebrity chefs, their restaurants, and food and reported dining trends not only in Las Vegas but throughout the world, from South Africa to Scandinavia, New Zealand to South America. She knows master sommeliers and mixologists and has written extensively about wines and spirits, particularly California, as well as Oregon, Virginia, and Kentucky (Bourbon) and Tennessee (Whiskey). She has dined at globally celebrated restaurants such as Taillevent (Paris), Noma (Copenhagen), Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (London), Per Se (New York), and French Laundry (Yountville). She has served as a judge in culinary competitions, been guest lecturer at Le Cordon Bleu, Las Vegas, and served as PR consultant for the 2012 UNLVino, Nevada’s oldest and largest wine event. Photo by Jim K. Dekker