Seattle Symphony Sparkles with The Barbra Streisand Songbook at Benaroya Hall
As principal Pops conductor of the Seattle Symphony, award-winning Broadway and film composer Marvin Hamlisch, who started in showbiz as a rehearsal pianist on Funny Girl, on Broadway is the ideal person to front Seattle Symphony's pops concert The Barbra Streisand Songbook, which opened a 4-day run at Benaroya Hall Thursday night. The affable, genial and endearing Hamlisch strode upon the stage boasting of his recent 40 pound weight loss, and while he may have less girth, his mirth and musical artistry were in peak form. Featured vocalist (and Streisand look and sound alike) Julie Budd, and surprise special guest Stephen (Simply Barbra) Brinberg paid homage to the woman who has made everything from Funny Girl to Meet the Fockers memorable, backed by the masterful the 17 piece orchestra, which provided all the evidence one needs as to why the Great American Songbook is unparalleled.
The opening Overture (first created for Streisand's first return to the concert stage) was a greatest hits medley that set a high standard for what was to follow, which included sultry salute to Marilyn and Alan Bergman built around "The Windmills of My Mind, and a Yentl medley spotlighting gifted pianist Kimberly Russ. When the focus was squarely on Hamlisch, backed up by the musicians on a wistful rendition of his biggest hit "The Way We Were", you could compare the audience's response to a group swoon.
Capitalizing on her similarities to Streisand, Ms. Budd raised the roof on her entrance number "On A Clear Day," offered a savory and heartfelt "Music That Makes Me Dance" a torchy "My Man", and a full-throttle "Don't Rain on My Parade". Yet the artist scored her highest marks and really unleashed her own vocal style when she took on standards only tangentially associated with Barbra, from a wildly impressive "This Nearly Was Mine", to a bountiful Babes in Arms medley, to an Edith Piaf tribute on "If You Love Me."
After a jokey intro about the real Streisand, many in the audience seemed to think the real thing had arrived when Barbra impersonator par-excellence Steven Brinberg, looking like Barbra circa early sixties, dazzled with some patter and tunes from his Simply Barbra show (which he is doing at Kirkland Performance Center, one-night only, Monday June 13th). Brinberg bowled over the crowd with his hilarious duet to "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" before evoking the mid-seventies ballad Barbra with a tender "Summer Me, Winter Me." Budd and Brinberg helped bring down the curtain together with "Happy Days Are Here Again".
Hamlisch's closing remarks encouraged audiences to bring their kids to these concerts to hear the kind of music he grew up with and continued to help keep in vogue. "It's not that they don't want to hear it; It's that they can't hear it," he said, reminiscing about how shows like Ed Sullivan used to bring this music into our lives. Mr. H, thanks for keeping it in our lives and in the Seattle community.
The Barbra Streisand Songbook at Benaroya Hall runs Friday June 10 at 8PM, Saturday June 11 at 2 & 8pm, and Sunday June 12 at 2pm. Concert tickets from $17 to $91 can be purchased by calling the Seattle Symphony Ticket Office at (206) 215-4747 or (866) 833-4747 outside the local calling area, faxing the Symphony at (206) 215-4748, ordering online at www.seattlesymphony.org, or visiting the Seattle Symphony Ticket Office in Benaroya Hall at Third Avenue and Union Street, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Simply Barbra performs June 13 at 7:30pm at Kirkland Performance Center. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at www.kpcenter.org or by calling 425-893-9900.