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Music Review

Barbra Streisand enchants with career-spanning show

Barbra Streisand performed in Boston for the first time in about a decade.
Barbra Streisand performed in Boston for the first time in about a decade. Paul Marotta/WireImage for BSB

It’s probably not too surprising that Barbra Streisand, playing Boston for the first time in about a decade, received a standing ovation as soon as she hit the TD Garden stage on Tuesday night. She’s a doyenne of American pop with a novel-length discography and a seemingly insatiable creative appetite, and a voice that can belt as convincingly as it can turn almost completely inward.

But Streisand’s talent doesn’t just come from her ability to remake the American songbook in her own image; she’s also a savvy businesswoman with a will of steel. Tuesday’s show was a run not just through her biggest hits but also her career. Powered by kaffee-klatsch banter and unforgettable songs like the show-opening ballad “The Way We Were,” Streisand retraced her journey from Brooklyn to Malibu, from PTA assemblies to presidential audiences.


Watching Streisand observe her directors on “Funny Girl” and “The Way We Were” during a cinematic montage that she narrated live, and then seeing her put that instruction to use while behind the camera for “Yentl” and “The Prince of Tides,” was a testament to artistic tenacity. Even her upcoming album, “Encore,” which comes out Aug. 26 and was plugged with a mini-infomercial midway through the show, has her directing marquee names from Hollywood (Melissa McCarthy and Hugh Jackman among them) in duets borrowed from Broadway shows.

“I like to look forward and not back,” Streisand said at one point. She was talking about the autobiography she’s currently writing, but that observation could have easily applied to the way she paired songs from her catalog with modern problems. She recontextualized the Carole King-penned “Being At War With Each Other” by pairing it with images from Baton Rouge and present-day gay-rights rallies; the dreamy “Pure Imagination,” from the early-’70s fantasia “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” was transformed into a look at the world’s wondrousness, an implicit warning against ignoring environmental change. A staunch Democrat, Streisand made no bones about who she’d be pulling the lever for in November – although she did thank those Republicans who’d bought tickets despite their political differences.


If anything could bridge the chasms that have cracked open during this election cycle, it’s Streisand’s voice, which has weathered ever so slightly but still has the emotional depth and careful phrasing that drew in audiences all those years ago. “Funny Girl”-borne tracks like the romance-dreched “People” and the defiant “Don’t Rain on My Parade” — not to mention other Streisand-fronted standards like “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” — would no doubt be singalongs at other artists’ concerts. But on Tuesday, the audience wanted nothing more than to soak up Streisand’s voice, knowing that the opportunity to do so was rare and worth treasuring.

Barbra Streisand

At TD Garden, Aug. 16

Maura Johnston can be reached at maura@maura.com.