Oy. Brandon Trost’s ‘An American Pickle’ started out pretty well. I was starting tp get on-board with the time travel idea and I had to admit Seth Rogan was pretty charming in his dual role, as Herschel, who get transported to modern times after being stuck in pickle brine for one hundred years; and as Ben, the mobile app developer millennial who meets his great grandfather. Then the movie turns into a movie with sophomoric trick trying to get cheap laughs, and I started to dislike both characters. Bu then the film kind of lost my interest, and I started to scroll my Instagram feed. It’s a shame, too, because it held such promise, and all of what happens after just bored me – the only thing that perked me up after was the post credit scene between the two men watching Barbra Streisand’s film ‘Yentl.’ To me this was a wasted opportunity.
It has been a very long time since I last saw ‘Funny Girl.’ I remember when I first saw it – I was a youngling and was voraciously devouring ‘old’ Streisand – I was spending time at the New York City Public Library and reading everything in their archives about her. I was a high school student in the 80s and I was trying to ‘catch up’ on things I have missed (I wasn’t even a year old when the film originally came out) I remember being awed by the film, and by her – but curiously, only viewed film then only once – I was trying to cram in as much as I can, listening to Original Cast Recordings, watching movie musicals. I do remember seeing this on the big screen, at the Film Forum in New York around the mid 90s at some kind of retrospective, and I think I went because I wanted to experience the movie at an actual movie theater. So here I am, around 25 years after that. Much has happened to my life since then, and I would also like to think my taste has evolved. Will I still love the film as much?
And the answer is yes, I do. There’s something about the material that still gets to me, after all of these years – the ugly duckling getting her prince, the way you can love someone so much you lose yourself in it, in him – these themes could be stories of my past life. As a middle aged man, I don’t know if I could still relate whole-heartedly. I would like to think I am much wiser now, and can look at Fanny Brice with some objectivity. I get you girl, but move on, he’s never gonna change. Or perhaps the harsher message: he’s really just not into you as much as you are, and he will probably never.
Streisand still commands the role, and maybe in our lifetime we will never see anyone else play Fanny Brice as effectively. This time around, I confess to embracing the film’s limitations: the second act can never match the brilliance of the first, and the film is totally bloated – I wonder if it could have worked as well (if not better) if the whole piece was more intimate. And there’s that part of me now that maybe would have wanted the retention of “The Music That Makes Me Dance.” Still, I can count in one hand films I have a total emotional connection, with, and this is one of them. Maybe in ten years I will watch it again and see if I feel differently. I suspect not.
Happy Birthday Barbra.
Yes, I am a Barbra superfan, but I would like to think I blindly just accept everything she does as gospel. When I first read about her new album. “Encores: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” I have to admit I was skeptical. Another duets album? Didn’t she just release one, “Partners,” and didn’t I not really love that album? But, I told myself, this is a Broadway album, and I have been eagerly awaiting an album of theater songs from her. And certainly the song selection is fantastic, with rare gems from Sondheim. I mean, what theater queen wouldn’t rejoice?
Like I would resist, right? I have been living with the album for the past couple of days and I have been living large. First of all, one MUST get the Target Deluxe version, because there are four extra tracks there, and every single one of those extra tracks is a slice of heaven, which makes me wish she had done a full album by herself. But we all live in Barbra’s album and we get what she wants to give us.
First of all, she sings one of my favorite songs of all time, “Fifty Percent.” And I have to confess, the first time I heard her full version of that song here, I wept – like Oprah ugly cry wept. There’s such sheer beauty in it, and sometimes I think I get too jaded with life being life that I forget that art – music – can still touch me. And how many times have I heard ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,’ and feel like I am hearing it for the first time, because I think this song is perfect for Barbra right now – she is older, wiser, most comfortable.
Actually, I can’t remember the last time she was this comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, you can feel her steely control in everything here, but maybe older age has taught her to let go a little bit. Two Sondheim classics round out the extra tracks: “Losing My Mind” and “Not A Day Goes By,” and she gives thoughtful renditions of both.
But back to the duets. There’s giddy fan in both ‘The Best Thing That Happened To Me,” and “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,’ and I am not even mad that they replaced the brilliant Irving Berlin lyrics in the latter with more topical ones. There’s a lot more of Barbra the actress in most of these tracks, and time will be the judge if I will tire of the spoken narrative scenes she inserts before the songs. And truth be told, a lot of the overblown production can be too much: can we really still believe she is Sheila in ‘At The Ballet’? And I cringe at the generic feel-good sentiments in ‘Pure Imagination,’ and especially ‘Climb Every Mountain,” which is my least favorite track in the album. But when she is on point, she is brill – She is a wonderful Fosca in ‘Loving You’ with Patrick Wilson and in ‘Take Me To The World,’ you can sense the entrapment of her feelings.
So there’s more to love than like here, even if I have to be honest, the voice really isn’t what it used to be. But at 74, she is still, as her cliche goes, like buttah. And Barbra the actress, she is here right now in this album, and for now, this is the best thing that happened to me.
When I was a kid growing up, and idolizing Barbra Streisand, I never thought I would ever perform live. But here I am, on my fourth time seeing her. And yes, even as a fan I will be the first to admit that her voice isn’t what it used to be (but whose is?) Still, at 84, it’s still pretty powerful. The clarity is pretty much gone ( I describe it as like listening to her old voice via a transistor radio) but she still hits all the notes. Perhaps it doesn’t come as effortlessly as before, but by God she gets them.
The first act is dedicated to songs from her Number One albums, and she has had one from each of the last six decades. She starts with ‘The Way We Were,’ (‘Save The Best For First,’ she says) and then goes into deep catalogue songs. My heart went into palpitations that she sang ‘Everything,’ from the A Star Is Born Soundtrack, though I wasn’t too keen on ‘At War With Each Other,’ from the ‘The Way We Were’ album, as I think it’s such a preachy treacly song. We hear bits of ‘Enough Is Enough,’ “Stoney End’ and ‘A Woman In Love’ though all those didn’t exactly come out as cohesive (They were probably out in more as a nod to fans) She goes into ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ and I don’t know why that song always slays me now. I was never a big fan of it, but you know, life happens, and suddenly the song has a lot more meaning to me than I care to admit.
The second act is not as focused. She sings songs from her upcoming album ‘Encores’ which she duets with singing male actors. An overblown arrangement of ‘Who Can I Turn To’ with Anthony Newley may be a bit too much at times, but it’s mostly harmless. And ‘Evergreen’ is wasted with arrangements from her last duets album. I love her bits from ‘Funny Lady’ and of course I am in show queen heaven when she sings ‘Losing My Mind.” (I had hoped she would sing ‘Fifty Percent’ but alas, no.) My favorite part of the whole show is the encore – I loved her dramatic version of ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” I love her wistful, thankful, love-ful arrangement of it. In Barbra’s hands, the song becomes a true celebration.
And her concert feels like one. I would say that the audience is filled with mostly life-long fans. It was nice to stand outside the arena after the show and just start chatting with other fans. It felt like we all belonged in the same cult and we just saw our Goddess. Chuck all this to future water-colored memory.