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Streisand returns with class, personality

People who have money may not be the luckiest people in the world, but they were fortunate enough to be able to buy tickets -- which cost up to $750 each -- to Barbra Streisand's first concert tour in more than a decade.

The icon performed a 2 1/2-hour show on a terraced, lavender-lit set outfitted with opulent bouquets of roses, a spotlit "S" seared onto center stage, and a lush 58-piece orchestra. It was a classy affair that emphasized material with slow tempos and gentle phrasing. There was no disco, no "Stoney End," and the only duet was with Il Divo, the classiest of boy bands. At 64, Streisand's voice has lost some of it's plushness and elasticity. There's an airiness to her tones where once there was silken clarity. But with her excellent pitch and colorful personality completely intact, and most important her remarkable powers of interpretation, Streisand entertained a sold-out house at the Garden with a cornucopia of songs that spanned her 46-year career.

Following the original "Funny Girl" overture, Streisand materialized from below the stage in a floor-length, sailor-style black sequined suit to sing a short opening set and wax poetic about the Celtics, the old Frolics nightclub at Revere Beach, and Boston food. Every word of her between-song chatter, and all of her song lyrics, scrolled on several large teleprompters, which the singer uses, she explained, since forgetting the lyrics to three songs in 1967.

Never for a moment, however, did Streisand seem to be reading. She remains a consummate entertainer, creating intimacy on "The Way We Were" that felt more suited to a supper club than an arena. The orchestra, led by Bill Ross, accompanied the singer with elegant, string-laden arrangements on show-opener "Starting Here, Starting Now," " Down with Love" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." Streisand briefly sat at the piano for a whimsical stab at "Ma Premiere Chanson," the first song (of a mere 10) that she ever composed.

Il Divo, a sort of Josh Groban-meets-the-Three-Tenors popera creation, then performed its own highly melodramatic miniset ("Unchained Melody" in Italian, for example) and supplied a harmony tsunami on Streisand's gorgeous version of "Somewhere," from "West Side Story." She called that song a prayer for tolerance, compassion, and peace -- a message underlined by the singer's outspoken politics, on full display in the form of Steve Bridges, a George W. Bush impersonator, with whom Streisand bantered for a full 10 minutes. While she was heckled for this quasi-humorous stunt in New York, where she (now famously) responded with an expletive-strewn retort, the Boston audience laughed exuberantly.

Streisand's musical set list could have used a bit more of that exuberance and vitality. Her "Funny Girl" medley (the title song, "My Man," and of course "People") was lovely, as was "In a Very Unusual Way" and Michel Legrand's exquisite "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" But the show was decidedly low-wattage up until the final 20 minutes or so, when Streisand broke out the big-money notes and brassy energy. Perhaps it has to be rationed now, and if so, she chose well. The concert's closing stretch featured vibrant, colorful renditions of "(Have I Stayed) Too Long At the Fair," "Cockeyed Optimist," and the incomparable "Don't Rain on My Parade," which inspired Streisand, who was by this time barefoot, to kick up her legs like a chorus girl. It was a sight, and a sound, to behold.

Joan Anderman can be reached at

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