Barbra Streisand(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Barbra Streisand
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
[Editor's note: Barbra Streisand's 2006 concert tour kicked off on October 4 in Philadelphia and will play New York's Madison Square Garden on October 9 and 11. TheaterMania decided that there was no better person to report on the first performance than Steven Brinberg, the popular entertainer whose Streisand show, "Simply Barbra," has been a success all over the world. The show will be seen at the Metropolitan Room in New York from October 11 through 15, and in numerous engagements in California in November. For more information, click here].

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Since I make my living portraying Barbra Streisand, going to see and hear the star in concert is more than a research project for me; it's an out of body experience! Having seen her perform more often than most of her latter-day fans, starting with the One Voice concert and continuing through her first two subsequent tours -- including a memorable performance in Sydney, in the rain -- I now approach her shows as both a fan and a student.

It's amazing that, in spite of Barbra's having done only two Broadway musicals and the fact that the most recent one was 42 years ago, she is forever associated with the Great White Way. I think even those of us who have attended many of her concerts would trade it all to have seen her in Funny Girl. Clearly, the highlight of her sensational new concert is all of the music we get to hear from that show -- including the thrilling overture and the verse to "People," which Barbra didn't sing in previous concerts. (Psychically, I recently started doing this also!) She also sings selections from South Pacific, St. Louis Woman, Nine, West Side Story, and other musicals.

The concert is one great moment after another, an incredible program of beautiful songs performed by the Greatest Star. Of course, I noticed some things that the casual fan might not; for example, the tempos. At one point during her first performance in Philadelphia, conductor Bill Ross was rushing a bit and Barbra shot him a priceless look worthy of Bea Arthur -- the same look she gives James Caan as Billy Rose in Funny Lady when he is showing off his stenography skills.

I also noticed that Barbra wore more eye makeup in the second half of the concert than the first -- but still not enough! If I could barely see it from the seventh row on the floor, where I was sitting, I'm sure the people in the cheap seats couldn't see it at all. (Even Rosie O'Donnell, who was in the audience, seemed to have more makeup on!) No matter; Barbra still looks great, and a decade younger than she is.

When some stragglers walked past her during the first number to get to their seats in the front row, there was another priceless Bea Arthur look from Barbra. And the usual fan call-outs inspired some classic, dry replies from the diva, such as "You'll kill your throat." I've never seen her so relaxed -- maybe that was thanks to the Xanax she talked about taking for stage fright -- and so warm.

Sitting in a terrific if bank-account-crushing $750 seat offered me an experience I never had when I sat in the heavens. Every little gesture meant so much more. I counted at least five of those famous sighs from Barbra; I do only one in my current show, but I have a much smaller budget than she does! I also spotted three instances of her using her left hand to brush her hair off of the right side of her face.

I could have done without the overlong George Bush segment, even though I'm certainly no fan of the President. Instead, I'd rather have heard Barbra sing the famed Judy/Barbra duet of "Get Happy" and "Happy Days Are Here Again" with Liza Minnelli. Or maybe she could have put back one of the songs she supposedly cut after the dress rehearsal.

Also, I really would have liked to have heard more numbers that she's never done before, from musicals with parts she could have played. It's amazing, for instance, that to date she has only sung a few lines of one song from Gypsy -- "Small World," in the Color Me Barbra circus medley -- although it's rumored that "Some People" is among the many gems sitting in the vaults.

To experience Barbra performing the Funny Girl songs live made me wish again that she would do another musical on Broadway. That's not likely to happen -- but there's always the next concert to look forward to since, thankfully, the word "farewell" is nowhere to be found in the publicity for this tour. I hope I can someday see her at Carnegie Hall or Radio City, rather than in an arena. (The woman seated next to me in Philadelphia consumed an entire meal during the show, which would never have happened in those other, vaunted halls.) I don't think Barbra would want to attend an intimate concert in an arena, either!