3 August 2006 | EUyeshima
A Happening in the True Sense of the Term
Streisand Captured in Her Youthful Performing Prime
Barbra Streisand took a weekend break from filming her screen debut, "Funny Girl", to come back to New York to give a free concert for over 135,000 attentive fans. Unlikely ever to happen again given the top dollar she is charging for her upcoming tour, the June 1967 performance was staged in Central Park's Sheep Meadow, probably among the first of the city's "happenings" led by then-Mayor Lindsay to encourage an urban revival. Always the trendsetter, Streisand led the way for others including Diana Ross, the Dave Matthews Band and the reunited Simon and Garfunkel to stage their own happenings in later years. I'm happy to report that the restoration effort behind the audio and visual quality of this TV special is quite stellar.
But nothing is more stellar than Streisand in her youthful, exuberant prime. The camera pans from the Manhattan skyline to the assembled crowd and finally her over "The Nearness of You". Looking particularly diaphanous in a pink sheath, she does a smashing "Down With Love", a highly theatrical "Cry Me a River", and one of her typically eccentric monologues from the sixties followed by one of my favorites among her rarities, "Value" (a ditty about Harold Mengert and his car). She ends the first act with a soaring rendition of "I Can See It". It's particularly amusing to see random shots of adoring spectators looking very much like sixties squares from Squaresville.
Returning for the second half in a sleeveless red print evening gown, Streisand evokes a sweet innocence to her classic version of "He Touched Me", which is then followed by an extended comedy bit about "a schloon for the gumpert". She swings into a languorous "I'm All Smiles" and then segues into a comic beatnik number, "Marty the Martian" ("hand in hand in hand in hand
"), accompanied by a sassy saxophone. The high point is a beautiful folk-sounding ballad, "Natural Sounds", in particular, when the wind picks up exactly when she mentions the wind in the song (an eerie coincidence Streisand points out in her 1987 video introduction). She gets amusingly hammy on her signature "Second Hand Rose" and then quite stentorian on her anthem, "People".
The climax comes with a strangely appropriate "Silent Night" (it was summer). With the camera dramatically panning back from her, Streisand ends the performance with a splendiferous "Happy Days Are Here Again". Because it was so darkly lit among the throngs, it's hard to fathom the real size of the audience in the days until the very end of the show. My one regret with the DVD is that there seems to be a missed opportunity to include the entire concert, which included eleven other songs she performed that night. Even though the archival footage apparently exists, I'm just happy they have been able to capture what was quite obviously a special evening.