The music and the mirror has 2 voices

Babs back on B’way. Plus: Cast albums for ‘She Loves Me,’ ‘Close to You’


ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

If you’re anything like me, chances are you did a quick double-take when you looked at the lineup of singers pairing with Barbra Streisand on her latest album. Anne Hathaway? Well, she won an Oscar for a musical, OK. Ditto Jamie Foxx. And Hugh Jackman has song-and-dance man cred. But look closer: Chris Pine. Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley. Alec Baldwin. Melissa McCarthy… Melissa McCarthy??!?

Certainly all kind of voices bring different nuances to musical interpretation, but if you please: What the hell is going on here?

Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, as it turns out — a daring experiment, but one that doesn’t entirely work.

Let’s face facts: Barbra Streisand’s voice was not one designed for duets. Yes, she has some famous ones with Neil Diamond and Barry Gibb and even Frank Sinatra. But that was before she became La Streisand, before the notorious perfectionist became so legendary she suggests a form of untouchability. It’s where Sinatra was, actually, when she guested on his album of duets. Now she’s the big dog, and one known for her tightly-wound arrangements and grand, dramatic flourishes. How will she pair with lesser mortals?

The results vary song-to-song. The album kicks off with a singular trio: The playlet-set-to-music “At the Ballet” from Marvin Hamlisch’s A Chorus Line. Streisand doesn’t just sing the lyric, she plays the part of Sheila, the ageing hoofer recounting how she got involved in dance due to a troubled childhood. There’s dialogue and interaction between her and co-stars Hathaway and Ridley (both of whom acquit themselves quite nicely), but it strikes a bit of a false note: Babs’ phrasing are arch and operatic. The three don’t mesh.

And the “duet” with Anthony Newley — who died nearly 20 years ago — is more feat of engineering than orchestration, clumsily shoehorning in an old version of Newley singing his own “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” from The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd with Barbra’s new interpretation. It’s very awkward.

But her unlikeliest singing partners actually draw out her playful side. “The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened” from Sondheim’s rockiest musical, Road Show, is a swingy, fun, romantic duet with Alec Baldwin — perhaps her best song partner, because his voice isn’t overly trained. Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do” is a classic patter song, which McCarthy, all brash energy, dispatches on pitch, which is all that’s really called for.

Blindly devoted Barbra fans will love the chance to hear a coulda-woulda-shoulda of her missed Broadway opportunities — a sort of follow-up to The Broadway Album. But will she win new converts with it? Not unless Antonio Banderas and Seth McFarlane have legions of fans waiting to see what they’ll do next musically. And I kinda doubt that.

She Loves Me 2016 Broadway Cast Recording

She-Loves-MeThe plot of She Loves Me has been around for the lion’s share of a century — first as a play called Parfumerie, then the Ernst Lubitsch movie comedy The Shop Around the Corner, updated musically by MGM as In the Good Old Summertime and modernized for the Internet age in the saccharine comedy You’ve Got Mail. I’m not sure why this structure has such staying power, especially considering how twee and unlikely the central conceit is: A man (Georg) and a woman (Amalia) — both single and who both know each other — belong to a lonelyhearts club and correspond anonymously with each other, never realizing that the other was there all along!


Even in the age of Grindr, aliases, no faces, missed opportunities and amorous entanglements seem unlikely. It seems so juvenile and emotionally stunted. For it to work at all, you just have to swallow it and dive head-first into the farcical unlikeliness of it all.

That’s what the recent Broadway revival of this 1963 musical by Bock and Harnick — sandwiched between the team’s two masterpieces, 1959’s Fiorello! and 1964’s Fiddler on the Roof — does, embracing rather than mocking the overt silliness. That’s all it can do, really. It’s a sunny, sincere score filled with gooey ballads, simple lyrics and flat emotions.

Sometimes that works (it is musical theater, after all). The patter song “Tonight at Eight,” where the man (Zachary Levi) swoons over his first date that evening works outside the universe of the story: Many an audition has been tackled via its 100 seconds of exuberance. “Will He Like Me?” captures a universal sense of self-doubt and longing that also transcends the format and works as a cabaret number.

The production values on this cast recording, including the voices, are all fine, but, like the musical itself, nothing stands out. This is one of those so-called classics more honored for its longevity than for its relevance. Only die-hard theater queens will be swayed.

Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined Original London Cast Recording

Close-To-YouEver since Mamma Mia, the single-source jukebox musical has become a staple of modern theater. Oh, they have existed before — plenty of revues of Sondheim, for instance — but most have been straight-up concert shows of songs always intended for the musical theater. Turning pop into Broadway is comparatively new… and not always successful.

I get why producers do it. You need an anchor to bring in audiences, and familiarity seems like a marketing dream: You don’t have to sell the concept, just the songs. Sometimes, the trick is shoehorning a plot around an existing setlist; sometimes it’s about arranging the songs for theater consumption.

That appears to be the concept behind Close to You, a London-originated musical devised by Kyle Riabko and set to the songs of the ’60s composer Burt Bacharach — Bacharach Reimagined, the subtitle promises. So I guess my question is: Did Burt really need to be reimagined?

The third number on this album — a mashup of “The Look of Love,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Arthur’s Theme” — proves the danger of trying too hard: The tempo of “I Say a Little Prayer” is almost dirge-like, instead of the effervescent champagne of a song Dionne Warwick turned it into. Yes, there’s an R&B undercurrent with gospel-like harmonies, but half the fun of the song is its speed. The arrangement is the song.

That happens on a few other key numbers from the show. But ultimately, it’s the appeal of Bacharach’s music itself — somehow still fully a product of the 1960s, yet as catchy as a summer cold — that fuels this musical. The catalogue that  Bacharach created, often with lyricist Hal David, didn’t really need to be fiddled with. But the structure is there, on display, both durable and unforgettable.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Barbra returns to ‘Tonight Show’ after 50 years

Babs and Jimmy

DVR alert! Barbra Streisand — who famously was called an exciting new star by the new host of The Tonight Show (on Johnny Carson) more than 50 years ago — returns to the place it all started tonight. She’ll make a rare television appearance, singing a duet with current host Jimmy Fallon, tonight on the NBC series.

The pairing isn’t so extraordinary. Barbra’s new album, Partners — which we reviewed here — drops tomorrow. Why not duet with Fallon? After all, she does one with Elvis.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Michael Urie opens ‘Buyer & Cellar’ tomorrow night

Even though he trained in theater here in North Texas, Wednesday night will be something special: the professional Dallas stage debut of Michael Urie, in his one-man show Buyer & Cellar. Urie recreated his starring role in the off-Broadway hit — about a man who curates Barbra Streisand’s memorabilia mall — with a handful of performances at the City Performance Hall. Welcome home, Michael! We look forward to enjoying you again … for the first time.

0630 flash

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: Denise Lee’s ‘The Divas of American Music’ at the Winspear

With the Grammy Awards coming in less than three weeks, this coming Friday brings Dallas Voice’s annual Music Issue, so leading up to it, we’re gonna set the mood with reviews and interviews of trendsetting musicmakers all week long. First up: Denise Lee.

Broadway has told us for decades that life is a cabaret (old chum), but you got a sense for that being true inside Hamon Hall at the Winspear last night. That’s where before an enthusiastic crowd Denise Lee, one of Dallas’ reigning doyennes of song, celebrated her personal divas, from songwriters like Dorothy Fields (“No one ever remembers the lyricist,” she clucked, especially when they are women — she noted that the Songwriters Hall of Fame contains only seven women inductees) to stylists from Carole King to Barbra Streisand.

“This is a hard business,” Lee observed from the stage. But she makes it look easy.

Anyone familiar with Lee knows that her personality is casual and unfussed. She joked about her wardrobe malfunctions (“It’s amazing what you can do with Super Glue,” she sighed) and toyed with the mike stand; when she needed to refer to some written notes, she removed a paper from her bra (“these aren’t just to look at”). It was as friendly and warm and engaging as an evening with a friend and a bottle of wine.

But none of it would have mattered without the songs. Lee performed everything from “America, the Beautiful” to Lady Day’s “Strange Fruit,” to songs from Bonnie Raitt, Nina Simone (a roiling version of “Mississippi Goddam”), Joni Mitchell. Of course there was Aretha. But whoever popularized them first, the songs were all Lee’s own. She’s our diva.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DVD REVIEWS: ‘Wilson Phillips: Live from Infinity Hall’ and ‘A MusiCares Tribute to Barbra Streisand’

Take cover

Like just about everyone in the early ’90s, I had the CD Wilson Phillips, the all-girl trio made up of the daughters of founders of the Mamas and the Papas and the Beach Boys. And like just about everyone else, I forgot about them until Bridesmaids. OK, not forgot — but like Hootie and the Blowfish, they were one of those groups that had a great first album, an unforgettable single (“Hold On,” which I still have to listen to in its entirety when it plays on the radio) and then their moment was gone.

In some ways, it was a surprise, because their close harmonies showed skill (though the band broke up in 1993 anyway). But not it seems less of a surprise, as Live from Infinity Hall (Masterworks) — the DVD of their new album, Dedicated, a tribute of covers originally recorded by their famous parents — reveals a depressing limitation of talent. When Wendy and Carnie Wilson and Chynna Phillips sing in unison, the support of each provides context, if not power; when they go into solos, as they do on the Pet Sounds classic “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” I had to stop the DVD for fear of being driven to madness.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Top 10 Broadway Diva solos

The other day, my publisher asked me to recommend some songs to bolster his iPod library: The top 10 female Broadway diva solos of all time. (He told me not to spend too much time researching it, even though he doesn’t pay me by the hour, but just give him an idea off the top of my head.) Obviously, if this is going on an iPod, the songs need to be, at least in principal, readily available, so that means no replacement casts of concert performances of Babs doing “The Music and the Mirror.” I limited myself only to cast albums of Broadway shows, not movie soundtracks, and of course I am limited to solos by women.

Below is the list I came up with, roughly in chronological order. What do you think? Any obvious ones you would have included? (P.S My boss said the list was just the ticket.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones


Streisand dazzles (as usual) on new CD of songwriters’ lyrics

THE WAY THEY WERE | Babs has sung the lyrics of Marilyn and Alan Bergman for decades; now she has an album dedicated to the songs she and others have made famous.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

For Barbra Streisand, releasing an album is old hat… especially when she returns to the familiar. Her new album (dropping Tuesday) — her 33rd, following 2009’s Love is the AnswerWhat Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman, has been on her to-do list for some time: On it, she honors her frequent collaborators, who composed the lyrics to the Yentl soundtrack, “The Way We Were” and more.

It’s almost unfair to review Streisand anymore. Her production values are top-notch and there is no denying her voice still gorgeous after 50 years. For what she does, it’s perfection. Add to that her status as a music legend, especially among gay men, and nitpicks might seem blasphemous. But regardless of what the makers of Glee think, she’s still human, and while Matters works in the usual Streisand oeuvre, she also refrains in her tone.

On the opener, the Oscar winner “The Windmills of Your Mind,” Babs lets the construction shine more than her vocal interpretation, delivering drama but still holding back. Still, her voice is solid, like a perfect wine glass: delicate but sturdy. She continues such subtlety in subsequent tracks “Solitary Moon” and “Something New in My life” (where slight hints of grit in her voice are surprisingly refreshing).

She closes the 10-track album with songs that also rely on similar structure. Face it: She’s diva enough to not mind showing off. But her touches to “I’ll Never Say Goodbye” and the title track are exquisite.

Soon into the album, though, the impact is lessened. Covering Sinatra’s “Nice ‘n’ Easy” doesn’t fit her style. Streisand is not overly sexy, but this track needed to be flirty and sultry; instead she sounds like mom singing a silly “come hither” tune in front of all my friends. Awkward!

There is a downturn in the second half as “Alone in the World” and “So Many Stars” play on. They make less of an impression and she’s less engaged with the lyrics. An Academy Award-winning actress could put a little more emotion into it.

“The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye,” though, is a floating dream, and is easily a highlight, as is “That Face” performed jazzy and playfully. Streisand even sounds less on guard than her previous tracks, more relaxed.

For diehard fans, this is Streisand at her finest: Quality production, impeccable voice, timeless tunes. For the rest, this is the same over again. With nothing to prove, I wish she’d be more daring in her music the way she’s willing to be with her films (Little Fockers, anyone?).

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Best Bets • 08.27.10

Saturday 08.28

We’d go for the food and the beef

This has caused quite a dilemma. If we were going to Visions: The Women’s Expo this weekend, we’d want to nosh on Fort Worth chef Scott Jones’ culinary demonstrations, but there is no way in hell we’d miss the Hot Firefighters Auction. Along with fashion shows, style makeovers and exhibitors, we are learning one thing — it’s hard to be a woman.

DEETS: Dallas Market Hall, 2200 N. Stemmons Freeway. Through Sunday. $10.

Saturday 08.28

Marvin’s room is gonna be a big one

Composer Marvin Hamlisch may acheive gay icon status because of his work with Barbra Streisand (an Oscar for “The Way We Were,” yo), but he doesn’t need a diva to prove he’s amazing. He’s gonna give it up for Dallas George Gershwin style as part of the pops series of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Which means, you’ll witness a legend at his best.

DEETS: Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. 8 p.m. $22–117.

Sunday 08.29

We get it — comics aren’t just for kids

A weekend of adults dressed in sci-fi outfits may be daunting but two things make this Dallas Comic Con worthwhile. Battlestar Galactica’s Edward James Olmos appears and Dallas’ own The Variants (aka Zeus Comics) make an showing.

DEETS: Richardson Civic Center, 411 W. Arapaho Road. Noon. $10–$20.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010.

—  Rich Lopez