What this fine show gives us though is a timely reminder that we have already forgotten some of the undoubted highlights of this career. Pulman tartly remarked that a ‘CD is like your mother’s will – you can never have too many copies!’ Buying hers, if you cannot catch this tour of Liza Sings Streisand, will take you back to the original with dividends. You can’t stay too long at this fair………
Liza Pulman is currently taking time out from Fascinating Aida to tour her own show devoted to the career of Barbra Streisand. She comes to Crazy Coqs with a six-piece band, the Stardust Ensemble, directed by Joseph Atkins, who is also responsible for the slinky and sophisticated arrangements of the numbers.
We might think we know Streisand’s career and songbook, but this show served as a useful reminder of the scale of her back-catalogue and the length of her time at the top. While there were many familiar numbers, there were also a lot of less well-known gems, and all framed in Pulman’s familiar sharp, wry, perceptive repartee, which made sure that the evening never became a kind of gloopy wallow in Streisand’s greatest hits. We got a lot of information and anecdote that was fresh and stopped short of undifferentiated hagiography.
The sizeable band was something of a mixed blessing. As Pulman herself put it, it was at times as you had the whole London Symphony Orchestra in your bathroom alongside you. This is especially so in the confined space of Crazy Coqs where the stage is really designed for only a singer and a pianist.
However, given the talent of the instrumentalists present (piano, trumpet, drums, saxophone and other winds, electronic bass, and guitar) it was a real treat to have exactly the right textures in place for each song. Those orchestrations, mainly but not always lush, take you straight back to the glorious days of New York City in the liberated ‘60s, which Streisand embodies and represents.
It was particularly refreshing to hear again some of the songs from Streisand’s early years that tend to get eclipsed by her later Hollywood and Broadway successes, and especially songs written for her by the likes of Harold Arlen.
What came through is the clear idea she had of what suited her voice and persona right from the start; also her perception that a slowed down or up-tempo version of a standard would allow her to transform it in her own image.
Pulman’s voice is well suited to this repertory: her classical training gives her the natural control of dynamics and breathing to be able to reproduce Streisand’s remarkable ‘through-line’, though she is more often precisely on the beat that Barbra was/is. She also reproduced that silky command of tone and precise diction that marks out Streisand as an instantly recognisable voice.
The standards are dispatched with great aplomb: Happy days are here again demonstrated admirable control of the microphone and built to a tremendous climax. Don’t rain on my parade was just a bit too loud when the band let rip, and Memories was made a bit more complicated in the accompaniment than it needed to be. However, the items from Funny Girl were right in the groove in evoking the role that Streisand made her own, even though others have since mined that vein in very different ways. People who need People was the inevitable encore and delivered as straight and sincere as it should be without a hint of archness.
The revelations for this reviewer lay in how Streisand (and here Pulman) perceived how someone else’s song could be reframed into her own aesthetic. We heard Billy Joel’s New York state of mind, Neil Diamond’s You don’t bring me flowers any more, a bossa nova version of On a clear day, Randy Newman’s I’ll be home and Carole King’s Just call out my name in terms that re-made the song with extra depth and fresh meaning.
This takes us to the heart of Streisand’s art: her creativity lies not only in her unique performance style, nor even in her own original compositions, but in seeing the potential of material originally devised for different purposes. Her embrace sends the song back into the world a new-minted object. Pulman reminded us of Judy Garland’s generosity towards her younger colleague in the mid-1960s, and it is perhaps this gift of reinvention in a unique way that she recognised as a passing of the baton from one generation to another.
Streisand is of course still very much with us as Pulman kept on reminding us, and it is premature to review her career as a whole. What this fine show gives us though is a timely reminder that we have already forgotten some of the undoubted highlights of this career. Pulman tartly remarked that a ‘CD is like your mother’s will – you can never have too many copies!’ Buying hers, if you cannot catch this tour, will take you back to the original with dividends. You can’t stay too long at this fair…