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Barbra Streisand and Other Musical Instruments

The recording of Babs' latest concert tour is finally here! Plus: Notes on the cast album of High Fidelity and new solo CDs starring Barbara Cook, Donny Osmond, David Burnham, and Jessica Molaskey. logo
In her hilarious new book What Would Barbra Do?, Emma Brockes ribs Miss Streisand for the video of the mid-'90s concert in which she duetted with a playback of herself singing "A Piece of Sky" in Yentl. Brockes remarks on the spectacle of "Babs serenading a cinema-size screen of her own face at ear-bleeding volume," accurately describing it as "a sort of event horizon of the ego."

The greatest thing about Streisand's 2006 concert tour was that it was free of such blatant self-aggrandizement. It seems clear that many fans have a love/hate relationship with the diva, rejoicing in her phenomenal singing while bemoaning her rampant ego as well as her tendency to make heavy-handed political/social statements in her music and to turn her performances into therapy sessions. (Remember the Timeless concerts, in which she sang to her inner child?) It's a relatively rare occasion when one can bask in the lady's talents without having to put up with her nonsense; happily, this was the case with her recent tour, as reflected in the new, two-CD live recording from Columbia.

Only in a few tracks is Streisand's age apparent; her voice occasionally seems a bit husky, and she sings "Starting Here, Starting Now" and one or two of her other big hits in lower keys than the original recordings. Elsewhere, she sounds basically the same as she did 40 years ago. That is to say, her voice is still one of the greatest in the history of popular music. The huge orchestra (conducted by William Ross) plays thrillingly throughout the recording, especially so in the Funny Girl overture, performed in its original Broadway orchestration.

One more bit of good news: The album offers much less of Streisand's guest performers, Il Divo, than those of us who attended the concert had to sit through. Not surprisingly, the material that this cheesy foursome performed on their own is not included here; their participation is limited to backing up the star on "Evergreen," "The Music of the Night," and "Somewhere." Streisand will soon be touring again, in Europe this time, but not with Il Divo. Instead, she'll be singing with Broadway's Michael Arden, Peter Lockyer, Sean McDermott, and Hugh Panaro. Smart decision!


American pop music of the 1970s has a bad reputation, largely but not completely deserved. Donny Osmond's new CD, Love Songs of the '70s (Decca), is representative of the era in that it includes "I Can See Clearly Now," "Laughter in the Rain," "How Deep is Your Love," "If," and several other really nice tunes alongside such dreck as "Sometimes When We Touch," "Mandy," and "Alone Again, Naturally." Osmond, who has starred in Beauty and the Beast and Little Johnny Jones on Broadway, and in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Canada, makes the best possible case for all of these songs. His voice is strong, clear, and wonderfully adaptive to the various styles of music. Indeed, when I first heard "Will It Go Round in Circles?" coming through my sound system's speakers and checked the CD booklet to find out the name of the guest vocalist, I was amazed to discover that it's Osmond himself!

Barbara Cook is one of the finest singers Broadway ever yielded, but some of the CDs she has released over the past several years have seemed unnecesary due to their overlapping repertoire. Far less well-traveled by Cook is the material on her latest album, No One Is Alone (DRG), a studio recording of the program she performed at Carnegie Hall last November. The baker's dozen of musical theater treats collected here range from "Something's Coming" (West Side Story) to "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" (Oklahoma!) to the title tune (from Into the Woods), all sung with the clear-as-a-bell tone and deep emotional commitment to lyrics that have been Cook's hallmark throughout her more than half-century long career.

Jessica Molaskey often performs with her spouse, the equally gifted singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli, as in their current engagement at the Café Carlyle. Although her new album from PS Classics, intriguingly titled Sitting in Limbo, is essentially a solo disc, Molaskey duets with her hubby in two mini-medleys: "I Want to Be Happy" / "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "The Circle Game" / "The Waters of March." On her own, she's bewitching in an eclectic repertoire that includes "Heavy Cloud, No Rain" (Sting), "There Will Never Be Another You" (Harry Warren/Mack Gordon), "Hearts and Bones" (Paul Simon), and the title tune (Jimmy Cliff/Guilly Bright). Why this woman isn't a star of the first rank is beyond me.

Another phenomenally talented singer who hasn't yet achieved the fame he deserves is David Burnham, currently touring the country as Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza. When you listen to his new CD from LML Music, you may well find yourself swooning as he unfurls his gorgeous bari-tenor in a well-chosen program that includes Craig Carnelia's "Flight," "Maria" from West Side Story, and "I Wish I Were in Love Again" from Babes in Arms, plus terrific duets with Eden Espinosa ("As Long as You're Mine" from Wicked), Destan Owens ("Muddy Water" from Big River), and his former Piazza co-star Elena Shaddow ("The Prayer," by David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager). Since Burnham is not heard as Fabrizio on the Broadway cast album of Piazza, it's great to have his recording of "Love to Me" from that beguiling Adam Guettel score, even if he sings it here without the Italian accent. And, let me tell you, his rendition of the Mancini/Mercer standard "Moon River" is one of the most beautiful ever.


For evidence that Broadway's biggest flops are not necessarily its worst shows, look no further than Ghostlight's cast recording of High Fidelity, which lasted a mere 32 performances (including previews) earlier this season. Make no mistake: HF had some significant flaws, including one uninteresting main character and the lack of any real plot. But the recording demonstrates that the show was far superior to a great many others that have run far longer.

Most of the songs by Tom Kitt (music) and Amanda Green (lyrics) are winners; among my personal favorites are "Desert Island Top-Five Breakups," " "Nine Percent Chance," and the highly amusing "It's No Problem." Also very funny is "I Slept With Someone (Who Slept With Lyle Lovett)" and its sort-of reprise, "I Slept With Someone (Who Handled Kurt Cobain's Intervention)." The vocal performances of Will Chase as record-store owner Rob, Jenn Colella as his erstwhile girlfriend Laura, Jay Klaitz and Christian Anderson as his employees, and the rest of the cast are excellent.

Conventional wisdom holds that the release of a cast album can do much to spur future productions of a show even if that show wasn't a hit in its original production. Here's hoping that proves to be true again in this case, and that this imperfect but highly entertaining musical will have a life beyond Broadway.

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