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Television Specials [DVD] [Import]
A feast for Barbra Streisand fans, The Television Specials collects five one-hour programs she recorded between 1965 and 1973 when she was known simply as a recording artist and Broadway star rather than a film director, reclusive performer, and political activist. The first is My Name Is Barbra (April 14, 1965), shot shortly after she played in Funny Girl. Shot in black and white, it's a little different from the other variety shows of the day (e.g., The Judy Garland Show) in that there's no parade of guest stars or dancing girls. That's a good thing, as those are the numbers that get dated very quickly . Instead, we have all Barbra, even if she's more comfortable singing than doing comedy monologues. The show winds its way through an Alice in Wonderland sequence which ends in a plain but magnificent rendition of "People," then has Streisand in a store's fur department. Last is a simple concert setting that includes a Funny Girl medley with "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "The Music that Makes Me Dance." The closing concert segment would become a staple, and the peak, of all her shows.
Color Me Barbra followed on March 30, 1966 and is, naturally, filmed in color. The first sequence was shot at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with Streisand wandering among the masterworks and antiquities, even singing "Where or When" dressed as Nefertiti. Next she's among a circus of animals, singing "Try to remember" to the elephant or poking fun at herself by telling the anteater "We have so much in common." Again, the final act is her just singing at a mike, with "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and "It Had to Be You." Making its home-video debut, The Belle of 14th Street (October 11, 1967) is something of an oddity. It's styled like a vaudeville show, with period costumes (including the audience) and old-time numbers. Jason Robards (singing and dancing!), John Bubbles, and others guest-star. Streisand plays a modest stripper for "Alice Blue Gown," plays an operatic diva for "Liebestraum," then does double duty as a boy (pre-Yentl) in the audience invited to sing a duet of "Mother Macree" with the on-stage Streisand. The last segment is Streisand singing (accompanied on stage by David Shire before he wrote shows on Broadway with Richard Maltby) such songs as "My Melancholy Baby," "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," and a medley that includes "My Buddy" and "How About Me?"
The highlight of the collection, A Happening in Central Park (September 15, 1968) is refreshingly free of gimmicks and concepts. It's just Streisand with an orchestra in front of a live New York audience. "The Nearness of You," "Cry Me a River," "I Can See It," "Second Hand Rose" (the audience enjoys singing along)," "People," and "Happy Days Are Here Again." Barbra Streisand... and Other Musical Instruments (November 2, 1973) returns to the concept-show format. Streisand takes her place among the symphony orchestra members sporting her own instrument: her voice. One medley groups a number of favorite songs but in "international" settings, such as "People" accompanied by sitar and "Don't Rain on My Parade" by bagpipe band, and Streisand changes costumes to match. Ray Charles is on hand for four songs in the second set, then Streisand returns to the orchestra to sing such songs as "On a Clear Day" and "The Sweetest Sounds."
Picture quality is good, and sound is presented in original mono, 2.0 stereo, and 5.1 surround. The only bonus features are three introductions Streisand filmed for the 1987 home-video releases, but the set is beautifully packaged with a detailed booklet of liner notes, photos, and song lists. The five 50+-minute programs are ungenerously spread over five discs, however. --David Horiuchi
Well, this set proves them right. The disks from Barbra's earliest television specials show what a truly unique, limitless, talent she is.
MY NAME IS BARBRA was the first opportunity that America got to see the legend. She appeared on local shows as a guest and was wowing them on Broadway in Funny Girl (she talks about that during the show). This was the first time when all and sundry could study the phenomenon up close.
CBS was nervous when Streisand insisted on no guest stars (a staple up to that time) or chorus lines. It was a big risk and the odds were against the 24 year old from Brooklyn. And she scored and won over everyone!
With only fantastic songs to guide her, Barbra re-invented the special. Breaking it up into a three act play she sang about the wonders of being a child. Then it was off to Bergdorf's fur vault for the fabulous fashion medley and then she capped it all off with a concert.
Next year, she came out with the bookend companion piece, COLOR ME BARBRA. Act One took place in a Philadelphia art museum where Barbra Streisand's selections were inspired by the art itself. The next part was the circus act where she did everything from singing to an ant eater to waltzing with an elephant. Again, she capped it off with a no-holds-barred concert.
THE BELLE OF FOURTEENTH STREET was regarded as her first flop by the critics but do give it a try. She recreated the vaudeville routines and sang some very nice numbers (a duet with herself; talking about Irving Berlin who was the new kid on the block during that time period). This time she had back-up performers (including Jason Robards) and her voice was lovely but broadcast at the height of the love revolution and the age of Aquarius, it was considered "dated". It is hardly a flop by anyone's standards when viewed today.
A HAPPENING IN CENTRAL PARK is the edited version of a young Barbra performing in New York City during a warm, summer night. Again, it was just Barbra and wonderful music - no back up singers, no gimmicks. And she pulled it off working the crowd into a frenzy.
BARBRA STREISAND AND OTHER MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS is a curio. She will try anything and her experimenting is always unique if not totally on point. Singing classics altered to the native rhythms of various countries produced a strange effect. Singing along with electrical appliance is also odd (to put it politely) but no one can say Barbra isn't game. However, her duet with Ray Charles is a classic.
All in all this collection is a must for all Barbra and/or music lovers.
I'm old enough to remember seeing the televised Central Park performance and knew immediately that she was something special, with a certain delivery that was hers alone. There were other specials since then and, of course, she went on to act in movies and on Broadway.
But these first specials stand apart from the rest,showcasing a young Streisand who appears, at times, to be nearly as amazed as her fans at her performances, which truly seem to pour directly from her soul, unedited, unrevised.
She is friendly, accessable and just awkward enough to be totally irresistable. None of the famous "diva" reputation seems to be showing here. She appears to be enjoying every moment in front of her fans and she hasn't become used to celebrity yet. The novelty of it all shows on that beautiful face, a face which is truly testimony to how so many imperfect parts can add up to one glorious whole.
The specials themsevles would be reason enough to buy this set but there are some added features which make it even more attractive, including rare photos, detailed liner notes and little known trivia. From My Name is Barbra to a Concert in Central Park to the rarely seen Belle of 14th Street, this is a must for Barbra's many fans!