An Evening With Barbra Streisand
1966 Concert Tour
August 9, 1966
Barbra Streisand's final concert of 1966 was at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Barbra Streisand's Tuesday evening concert at Soldiers’ Field is small stuff, relatively speaking. Originally, the Chicago appearance would have been one of 20 in a nationwide autumn tour with a million dollar price tag. Barbra's impending motherhood pushed the concerts forward to summer and cut the number to four.
The Streisand style, however, does not lend itself to doing things on a small scale. She may be giving only four concerts [the others are in Newport, Philadelphia, and Atlanta], but the fee remains grandiose — $50,000 a performance — and each appearance, in the opinion of Ralph Alswang, stage designer for the concerts, will be “a huge spectacle for one woman.”
Statistics give an indication of just how huge the spectacle will be. One-third of Soldiers field will be covered by Barbra’s performing arena, with about one-third of the stadium's seats available. The main stage area is 125 feat wide and 40 feet deep with long runways extending out from the stage. Diagonal scrim banners will be suspended from two, 45-foot cranes rising on either side of the stage. Thirty-ﬁve stagehands will operate the stage, light and sound equipment, the last purchased especially for the Streisand concerts. Alswang estimates the cost of staging the concerts at a quarter of a million dollars.
“Everyone always asks why she's playing in such big places,” he says. “Yes, it's a tour de force and, yes, I suppose it's also to break records. But it’s more than that. She's 23 years old and a big talent, and it's exciting for 30,000 people to see and hear her.”
Everyone always asks Barbra, on the other hand, how it sounds when 30,000 people are applauding.
“You'd be surprised,” she says, “but the larger the number the more mellow the applause becomes. It isn't thunderous. It won't knock you off the stage. It's like a huge wave . . . mellow.”
And they also ask how she feels about “reaching” 20,000 to 30,000 people at one time.
“You just don't think of it as 30,000 people,” she replies. “The more you try to 'reach' people, the less you succeed. You give the material what it needs and the audience responds to that, not to your trying to 'reach' them on any other level.”
Barbra's finger-in-every-pie supervision of everything she does has been widely reported and, according to Peter Matz, musical director for the concerts, greatly distorted.
“Barbra's instinct is infallible and always has been,” Matz says, “but she's not a stonewall.”
Between the Chicago concert and the start of filming of Funny Girl, Barbra will take her first vacation in years.
— Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1966.
BY THOMAS WILLIS
So there's this little Jewish girl from Brooklyn standing in the rain in Soldiers' field singing "Silent Night." That's right, "Silent Night."
To be absolutely truthful, only a few raindrops had fallen at encore time for Barbra last night. In fact, it would have been hard to find a better night for Miss Streisand's outdoor leave-taking — assuming she was bent on saying good-by — under the open sky.
But she did sing the Christmas carol, one chorus in the introspective mood with its touch of little girl and the other in a higher key with just enough of the brassy belt for the big climax. The applause triggered "Happy Days," sending her reveling in the fullness of a Donald Brooks creation of red, orange, and purple empire belt which must be the most playful maternity dress ever created. As a "So long, but not good-by" few moments they are all but unrivaled in my experience for kooky charm and sheer show business moxie.
* * *
The evening was all Barbra, something like 20 songs, including the title song from Leonard Bernstein's "I Hate Music" whose lyrics about stuffy concert halls and music patrons could have something to do with the outdoor farewell, altho the closing "My Name is Barbra" was doubtless the reason she chose it.
There was certainly nothing stuffy about the performance. Backed by Peter Matz's 35 musicians, placed behind scrim sails suspended from a pair of trucked-in cranes, she started with "As Time Goes By" and made it pass swiftly with most of the songs her fans wanted and a few surprises.
* * *
We heard, for example, a pair of songs from her still to be released record "Je m'appelle Barbra" and learned that a career as French chanteuse would probably be a possibility. And Sadie, the white poodle from television, joined the singer on the ramp extending front and center for "Second-Hand Rose from Second Avenue" [Nu?]. A surprise to me, as I missed her Arie Crown theater engagement in the pre- "Funny Girl" 1963 days, was her ease in handling little shaggy dog stories — we had one about a near-sighted, suicidal Latvian in Cambodia who met her optometrist on the bank of the frozen river. It is easily seen that the laughs came from the telling, not the tale.
For the benefit of those curious about such things, Miss Streisand was wearing beaded black and jewels for her first half, looking a little like a shimmering mother-of-pearl Mediterranean statue. By "Cry Me a River," she was anything but statuesque and Fanny's "My Man," "Wish You Love," and "People" had the great entertainer's throb and surrender to her audience. Like it or not, she has what it takes and delivers every minute on stage.
The arena on the lake front is all wrong for her, as anyone could guess. Sitting in the expensive seats, one could see her face register the play of pain and driving intensity from the front row, but the loudspeakers six feet away blasted your eardrums to pain. Other seats on the ground had limited visibility, for the stage was not high enough and you looked between the row ahead. As for the bleachers, I am sure you could hear, but what could you see? Celebrity notwithstanding, it's a lot to ask of an audience.
The smallish crowd of 14,220 brought a reported gross of $98,754.
— Chicago Tribune, August 10, 1966.
Below: Streisand is pictured during sound check at the stadium with Peter Matz.
Excerpts from Time's review of the Chicago concert:
The windup last week took place in Chicago’s all-but-unplayable Soldier Field. The stage was planted on the 10yd. line. The crowd of 14,220 people curled back and up into the end-zone stands like one big paying claque. Yet there was not a heckle of complaint about the low-fi sound, and plenty of uproarious laughter at even her simplest lines. A whistle whined from the neighboring railway yard. "My God!" she cried. "It’s got poifect pitch."
Barbra couldn’t sing a clinker either. Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home brought tumult. He Touched Me touched everybody. Autumn Leaves, in French yet, wowed ‘em, and People knocked ‘em out. For encores she wailed her tearful Happy Days Are Here Again and, patting her bulging tummy, crooned Silent Night. And that was that. With thunderous cheers chasing her, Barbra tripped backstage to her house-trailer dressing room. There, in a symbolic act, her private hairdresser sheared her customary complicated coif into a modified Mia Farrow cut that Barbra could tend herself. Then she headed home in her chartered Aero Commander jet.
An excerpt from The Milwaukee Sentinel's review:
A 35 piece orchestra, under the baton of pianist-arranger Peter Matz, opened the concert with a pleasing medley of Barbra's hit songs. The musicians were seated behind 10 long, interwoven scrims on which dancing lights were used effectively.
[ ... ] Costumed in a brown sequined gown, a dazzling Barbra was greeted zealously by her fans. “Where Am I Going?” beseeched Barbra in one of her first numbers, and then she went on to show them.
“Gotta Move” and “I Wish You Love” were sung with ardor—received in kind. An imaginative “Silent Night” received one of the biggest ovations of the evening. The delighted crowd listened to the ageold hymn as if for the first time.
[ ... ] Barbra, as her maternity wardrobe suggested, was singing for two. After an hour and a half of strenuous vocal activity, it would be only human were her luster to diminish. But being the superstar, she delivered her closing number, a beautifully ironic “Happy Days Are Here Again,” with the brilliance of a meteorite.
A spontaneous standing ovation was accompanied with appreciative whistles and bombastic “bravos.”
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