Hyde Park, London
She may have to read her jokes from a screen, but Streisand has charisma to burn and the hits, when they come, are fantastic
Talks as much as she sings … Barbra Streisand performing at Hyde Park, London, July 2019. Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
Her appearance in Hyde Park is not only the first time Barbra Streisand has played in London in six years, she informs the audience. It’s the first time she’s performed an outdoor show in 52 years, since she gave a New York concert called A Happening in Central Park, a title presumably given for reasons of modishness rather than its resemblance to the other happenings staged around the US in the Summer of Love: it’s hard to imagine anyone was tripping on LSD and rattling their love beads while Streisand belted out Happy Days Are Here Again. She was, after all, the breakout star of The Other 60s, when Broadway and light entertainment rolled on as if the Beatles had never happened, a “nutty little kook” who could do the lot: sing, act, and entertain an audience with Jewish comedy between songs.
Six decades on, she needs a little help with the latter. A vast teleprompter pumps out not just the lyrics, but the script for the on stage anecdotes, including directions as to when she should put on a British accent, although if her spontaneous asides aren’t spontaneous, at least they’re funny: “My driver asked me if I went to the Pride parade yesterday. Why would I go? I knew I would see everyone there here tonight.” In the intervening years, she’s dallied with mainstream pop, although you get the feeling that’s not where her heart lies. Tonight, she compacts all of it – her cover of Laura Nyro’s Stoney End, her pounding duet with Donna Summer No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), the songs Barry Gibb wrote for her fantastic 1980 album Guilty – into one brief medley, which gives her more time to sing Silent Night. This is a pretty weird thing to sing in the middle of July, but, as anyone conversant with the aforementioned Happening in Central Park knows, she has form when it comes to unseasonally launching into carols: she sang Silent Night there, too. You could argue that it’s evidence she remains on brand half a century on: still kooky after all these years.
She seems more comfortable knocking out Sondheim and Second Hand Rose: “Second hand poils, I’m wearing second-hard coils.” Her own coils tumbling over a hot pink Zandra Rhodes gown, she sounds largely fantastic: should anyone in the crowd be wondering what havoc the ravages of time can potentially wreak on someone’s voice, there’s a guest appearance from Kris Kristofferson as proof. Streisand talks as much as she sings, duets with Lionel Richie on The Way We Were and at one point cedes the stage entirely to Broadway star Ramin Karimloo, which the audience take surprisingly well given what some of them have shelled out to be here. “How do you get to be in the front rows?” Streisand asks, to which the answer may well be: I remortgaged my house.
But they don’t seem to mind: they’ve paid to be in proximity to a legend, and she’s here, at least most of the time. And when she sings Send in the Clowns, you’d forgive her almost anything: it sounds heart-stopping, tear-jerking, whatever superlatives you want to throw at it, a reminder that some legends are legendary for a reason.