Barbra Streisand … a baffling but ultimately rather brilliant three-hour performance. Photograph: Harry Herd/Redferns via Getty Images
Self-awareness and a sense of proportion are not concepts with which Barbra Streisand has been on speaking terms for several decades, at the very least. When Streisand was building what she describes as "her dream house" in Malibu in 1995, she not only included a pond in which the fish are colour co-ordinated with the nearby barn, she also built her own "19th-century village of shops" in her basement. Then she thought this was all such a marvellous idea that she wrote a book about what a brilliant designer she is: My Passion for Design.
- O2 Arena,
- Tel Aviv
So it was to be expected that Streisand's London concert, which kicked off her European mini-tour this weekend, would be baggy, self-indulgent, baffling, sorely in need of editing and ultimately rather brilliant in a Streisand sort of way.
Her extraordinary voice is still near enough intact, with only a few cracks in the richness in the upper register. The set, especially in the first half, showed off her range beautifully, moving nimbly from the energetic disco anthem No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) to the delicate The Way We Were, before roaring into a breathtaking rendition of Some People from Gypsy. At these times, Streisand seemed less like Streisand the phenomenon and more like Streisand the incredible talent.
But only Streisand the phenomenon would be allowed to stage such a self-indulgent show. At three hours it is at least an hour too long, and the hour that should be cut is the one that doesn't have Streisand herself in it. Sweetly but misguidedly, she includes her sister Roslyn Kind and her son Jason Gould in the show, allowing them solo performances. Equally misguidedly and now downright creepily, she and Gould sing a duet that would have worried even Dr Freud. Did the audience pay up to £450 a ticket to hear a 46-year-old man croon to his mother that his love for her is ocean deep?
To open the second half of the concert, the big screens showed a clip from Funny Girl in which Omar Sharif solemnly informs Streisand: "You are beautiful." That is swiftly followed by a video her son made for her extolling her brilliance as a mother. Such insistent ego-fluffing would be weird coming from anyone other than the woman who, through sheer force of will, convinced Hollywood that Sharif, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Redford, James Caan and Nick Nolte would all be driven mad with desire for a sweet-faced girl from Brooklyn.
Her choice of songs, though, at times showed a commendable refusal to kowtow to the audience. While she happily sang Evergreen, My Funny Valentine and My Man, she flatly refused to sing Woman in Love "because I don't believe in the philosophy". It's impossible not to admire Streisand. And that's only partly because she keeps telling you to do so.