Las Vegas, Nevada
July 2—30, 1969
Showtimes: 8:15 and Midnight
In 1969, Barbra returned to Las Vegas (after her first gig at the Riviera with Liberace) to open Kirk Kerkorian's new International Hotel. She would perform in the 2000-seat main showroom. (Elvis Presley followed Streisand on the main stage four weeks later, on July 31, 1969.)
Columnist Perry Phillips set the scene in his July 4, 1969 story:
Kirk Kerkorian opened the doors of his lavish International Hotel with the biggest grand opening I've ever seen here. Two thousand guests jammed the Showroom Internationale Wednesday night to see and hear Barbra Streisand sing up a storm and usher in what undoubtedly will be a new era for this desert spa.
... By most standards, a 2000 seat showroom would be cavernous. However, I didn't get this impression in the Showroom Internationale. The room has a balcony that seats, I would estimate, around six or seven hundred. The main floor is about the same in size as the High Sierra Theatre of the Sahara Tahoe. The balcony is reserved for those wishing cocktails only during the dinner show and the room is serviced by two huge kitchens. It is a beautiful room and should prove one of Las Vegas' biggest showcases. I can't recall ever seeing so many celebrities for an opening night here. I spotted Phyllis Diller, Dick Smothers, Cary Grant, Robert Culp, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Dale Robertson, Danny Thomas, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, Abbe Lane and Andy Williams just to name a few.
Streisand's manager, Marty Erlichman, told Billboard magazine “She was nervous about going back to the stage. Then we found out the hotel wasn't ready. There were no chairs, tables or booths in the theater. She was rehearsing in an empty room. I took her around to some of the shows so she could get a feel of things.”
Peter Matz was Barbra's conductor, working with a 37-piece orchestra.
Streisand appeared at the International sans an opening act. The audience, therefore, ate dinner at 8:30 pm and Barbra appeared on stage to perform at 10:30 pm.
Streisand's opening night at the International wasn't a success with the critics.
Marty Erlichman and Streisand spoke to columnist Earl Wilson about her original idea to open the show: Streisand wanted to enter wearing dungarees and say to the audience, with a shrug, “The hotel isn't ready yet, either.” Then she'd exit while the orchestra played the overture, and re-enter wearing her opening night chiffon gown.
“It's kind of tricky,” Erlichman said.
“I know, but I like to take a gamble on opening night,” Streisand explained. (She gave up the idea of the casual entrance, but did sing “I've Got Plenty of Nothing”—meant to be an ironic joke about her supposed $1 million payday for performing at the hotel—as her opening number.)
Charles Champlin reviewed her July 2nd show:
... Even allowing for the opening night tension, Miss Streisand's appearance was a curious, cold and intensely disappointing 80 minutes worth. As her admirers know, she has a superb voice, pure and powerful. She is also an actress and comedienne of great gifts and she has a spiky directness of manner.
The trouble was that manners had become mannerisms. Her performance had been finely calculated but that magic rapport which Sinatra, Tony Bennett—and Miss Lee—can establish with their audience never really got going for Barbra. It was a performance which originated in a cool intellect rather than a warm heart; it was a hand-out, not a sharing.
There were specific problems: The show was too long; the selections were largely an extended and finally counter-productive plug for her three movies and a new album. The chat between songs was self-conscious and unconvincing.
The 36-piece orchestra seemed to be miked so that the brass output was muffled, leaving a rather shrill and fussy accompaniment for her. As a song stylist, in fact, Miss Streisand tends alarmingly toward the over-elaborate and the dynamic extremes, even though her most successful songs have probably been her simplest.
But the specifics mattered less by a good deal than the fact that Miss Streisand seemed a dazzlingly efficient and invaluable but chillingly impersonal machine. She is a superior talent who still, it turns out, has some lessons to learn.
Cue Magazine compared Streisand to Peggy Lee —also playing the International in its 500-seat Casino Theatre: “Within hours after the opening of the International Hotel here, word went racing through New York show-biz circles that Barbra Streisand—the inaugural performer in the main showroom—had bombed. The acclaim a glossy first-night audience withheld from her it lavished extravagantly on Peggy Lee in the smaller Casino Theatre, giving her a moist-eyed, table-pounding, triple-standing-ovation send-off she could never forget.”
Singer Dionne Warwick wrote in her autobiography that Streisand's “actions onstage took away some of the positive perception and ‘glimmer’ I had given her. As usual, her voice was impeccable; her designer outfit was definitely made specifically for her. But she was brash and sang mostly to the orchestra, with her back to the audience.”
Although it's doubtful Streisand sang with her back to the audience, she did respond to the criticism by explaining,“I was aloof on opening night because I was in a state of shock. You could feel the hostility of that opening night audience, all the gamblers who were there because they're important to the hotel, all the actors who resent the fact that you're doing things they think they should be doing. It's total fear time up there.”
Barbra also stated, “Some performers get a thrill out of winning over a cold audience—I talked to Elvis about it last night; he does—I don't. It turns me off.”
She also rang up columnist Joyce Haber and complained that the hotel's decor “was mixed dumbo. Especially ugly were the stuffed, life-sized replicas of George and Martha Washington on either side of the stage. Someone said the room was so large that even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would have been swallowed up.”
Streisand honed her act, though, and newspaper writer Rick Du Brow wrote about the re-worked show mid-July 1969:
... Every time she rings off the finale of “He Touched Me,” the electricity bill in Las Vegas doubles, and the voltage is felt by one and all.
She is the nerviest performer you will ever see. I mean, it takes some kind of nerve to sing “Jingle Bells” with the temperature outside around 102. But she does it, and all I can tell you is that it is something else, because nobody ever sang it that way. A very groovy lady.
... And yet—because of this supremacy, this nerviness, this perversity in choice of material—there is something shocking and ultimately lovely, about watching her perform in a club. The shock comes in realizing that, with all this prowess and tough experience in films, television and the theater, there is an extraordinary innocence about her in person.
I watched four Streisand performances in Vegas, and the memorable thing about each one, really, was the way her determinedly single minded manner of doing things added up in the end to something more than an act: A revelation of character, of a person with dimension, values, passions.
Jingle bells—all the way.
Joyce Haber caught the re-tooled act, too, and wrote:
If there's a fifth dimension, Miss Streisand, on songs like “What Did I Have?” from her forthcoming movie “Clear Day” is surely the sixth. She feels a lyric as most people feel being hit by a truck.
... I joined Barbra in her dressing room after the triumph (along with the Norman Jewisons, publicist Lee Solters and director Joe Layton). She was relaxed and radiant in her lnog flowing caftan and long flowing hairdo to match. The room featured photos of her young son Jason.
The lady of 27 in whose first three pictures Hollywood has invested $50 million was funny, and she was gracious and she was warm. “Whew,” she sighed, pointing to a big calendar on which she ticked off the days with X's. “Only 39 performances to go.”
Instead of opening the show with “I've Got Plenty of Nothing,” Streisand instead sang the uptempo “Don't Rain on My Parade.”
By closing night, her International Hotel set list looked like this:
- Don't Rain on My Parade
- My Honey's Lovin Arms
- My Funny Valentine
- Ask Yourself Why
- My Buddy/How About Me
- What About Today?
- My Man
- Jingle Bells?
- Punky's Dilemma
- My Melancholy Baby
- Second Hand Rose
- Happy Days Are Here Again
Additionally (and alternately), Barbra performed two medleys during her International Hotel shows...
- Hello, Dolly!
- Before The Parade Passes By
- So Long Dearie
- Hello, Dolly! / Before The Parade Passes By
- When You Gotta Go / In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
Clear Day Medley
- Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here
- He Isn't You
- What Did I Have That I Don't Have
- On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)
- Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair?
Champlin's review of Streisand's closing night reflected the changes he saw:
It was Barbra Streisand's closing night at the International Hotel and a gratuity beyond the dreams of avarice could probably not have squeezed another customer into the huge room.
I had thought and said that the engagement began badly, with Miss Streisand conveying a cool aloofness which was no help to the new-room problems (bad sound) or to a program I found too talky and underweighted with familiar material and change of pace.
But word from the desert persisted that much had changed and the engagement had become the time of triumph it should always have been. I came over to hear, and the reports were true enough.
The room's acoustics had been solved and Peter Matz's arrangements for the 36-piece orchestra came through with a crisp and balanced clarity. The talk between numbers had been sharply trimmed and what Miss Streisand had to say was brief and wryly funny. And even though she was fighting a bad sore throat which gave her trouble on a couple of high notes and in some soft passages, her concert, 17 songs long, was a scintillating display of her gifts.
She led off with an up-tempo romp through "Rain on My Parade," modulating into "People." Her quiet crooning of the verse of "Funny Valentine," accompanied only by the piano, was a lovely change of pace. She also sang "Second Hand Rose," her famous slow-time version of "Happy Days Are Here Again" and such gentle works as "Melancholy Baby" and "My Buddy."
More than that, she seemed to be having a ball, relaxed, amiable and in charge.
For the July 30th show, Ed Sullivan brought his cameras to Las Vegas to tape a special segment for his variety show in which he introduced Barbra and she sang. Sullivan interrupted a European trip in order to fly to Las Vegas and introduce the segment.
Under the supervision of Sullivan's executive producer Bob Precht, Barbra's entire Vegas show was taped for a possible one-hour television special.
Sullivan taped his part in front of the live audience: he introduced Barbra; she sang a medley of songs from Hello, Dolly!; then Sullivan came back on stage and congratulated Streisand. It has been written that Streisand then restaged the show late into the night so that the television cameras could capture her performance—this time without a live audience (possibly so the editors would have more choices of camera angles and an alternate live performance by Streisand).
Precht told the press that he turned over the tapes to Barbra's manager, Marty Erlichman, who would seek a television deal for the footage.
Ed Sullivan's part (the Dolly medley) was shown in September 1969 on the opening show of his 23rd season. A clip of Barbra singing “On A Clear Day” was shown on 1970's Entertainer of the Year Awards, and the audio of Barbra's closing number (“When You Gotta Go / Wee Small Hours of the Morning”) was included on Streisand's box set, Just For the Record.
The potential Streisand television special (Barbra Streisand Live at the International Hotel?) was shelved and never released.
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