A Happening in Central Park (1968)
A Happening in Central Park was performed and taped by video cameras on Saturday, June 17, 1967. The concert, sponsored by Rheingold Beer, and free to the public, was held in the Sheep Meadow section of New York City's Central Park. Barbra's television sponsor, Monsanto, captured the event on videotape for airing on CBS at a later date.
Barbra took a weekend off from the filming of Funny Girl to perform the concert. On Friday night, June 16th, Barbra and crew rehearsed until very late. Many photos of Barbra in which she wears a headband were taken the evening of the dress rehearsal. (The cover of Barbra's A Christmas Album is actually a photo from the Friday night dress rehearsal in Central Park.) On that evening she tried on different gowns and worked with hairdresser Fred Glaser on alternate hairstyles.
Director Robert Scheerer also worked out some of his camera blocking at the Friday night rehearsal. He utilized seven color video cameras to capture the concert.
Sound engineer Phil Ramone (a Grammy Award-winning music producer for some of the biggest talents in the music industry) told The Barbra Archives about his work on the Central Park concert. “I mean, it absolutely poured rain that day,” Phil Ramone remembered. “So we never had a sound check with her or her band. The orchestra said, 'We can’t come out there with our violins and beautiful oboes. It’s too damp.' Around 5:30 or 6:00 they finally agreed. It had just started to dry up.”
Ramone then told me about how his sound cables got cut the day before:
We had to share the microphones between the record company’s truck and our independent truck. A spotlight was brought in, and when they lowered the back elevator off the truck that was carrying it, it cut right through the cables. You’ve never seen so many engineers with soldering guns … Not just the P.A. system was in jeopardy, but the recording system was jeopardized. About 5 o’clock that afternoon, the day of the concert, we finally got most of the cables back."
The stage, designed by Tom John, was very contemporary yet simple. The Plexiglass stairs made it look as if Barbra was walking on air. A 200-foot track was built in front of the stage that extended into the audience. You can see the camera on a crane during wide shots of the concert. The track was to be utilized only for the final number, “Happy Days.”
Below: Streisand, center, is walked to the Central Park stage, accompanied by an unidentified man and her sister, Roslyn Kind.
Because of the rain, and then the lingering light in the night skies, the concert began late, around 9:45 p.m. Conductor Mort Lindsey, wearing a set of earphones, received his prompt to begin. Baton in hand, he cued the orchestra to begin the overture.
Barbra walked down the Plexiglass stage and spread her arms wide to accept the applause of 135,000 fans. Her first song: “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home.”
An area for Barbra's friends and family was located to the right of the stage. Seated there were husband Elliott Gould, sister Rosyln Kind, Bella Abzug, Mayor Lindsay, Calvin Klein, and Andy Warhol.
“I turned off all the tally lights on the cameras [the red lights that illuminated when the camera was on, recording the show],” Robert Scheerer told the Directors Guild of America, “so she wouldn't know where I was. And at one point—it happened to be an edited portion—she pointed and she said, ‘Why aren't I seeing ... The director said no lights’, and then went on. I didn't want her to know where I was shooting. I wanted to be able to cut where I wanted to cut, and not have her feeling that she had to look a certain way. It was too restrictive.”
The actual, live concert of A Happening in Central Park lasted 2-1/2 hours. Barbra sang some 28 songs—many were edited from the final, hour-long television special.
Barbra's Complete Set List for June 17, 1967
|Act One||Act Two|
|Overture||Where Am I Going?|
|Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home||He Touched Me|
|The Nearness of You||Schloon Song|
|My Honey's Lovin' Arms||Stout-Hearted Men|
|I'll Tell the Man in the Street||I'm All Smiles|
|Cry Me A River||Marty the Martian|
|Folk Monologue / Value||Love Is A Bore|
|I Can See It||I'm Always Chasing Rainbows|
|More Than You Know||Natural Sounds|
|All the Things You Are||Second Hand Rose|
|Down With Love||People|
|Love Is Like A Newborn Child||Silent Night|
|I Wish You Love||Happy Days Are Here Again|
|What Now My Love|
|When the Sun Comes Out|
After editing the television special, Robert Scheerer recalled, “I screened it for Barbra, and she asked for one change, one shot ... It was one shot of a Spanish lady that I didn't use, only because it was a soft focus. She loved that shot for some reason, so I said ‘Of course.’ That's the one change that I made for Barbra.”
Barbra Streisand gave one of her finest performances before a record crowd at Central Park's Sheep Meadow on June 17. In a program lasting almost two hours, the Columbia recording artist ran her usual gamut from slow ballads to driving, exciting material. Park Department officials estimated the turnout for the opening concert of the Rheingold Music Festival at 135,000, some of whom had begun congregating at 5 a.m., 16 hours before the scheduled starting time. Admission was free. The program was taped by CBS-TV for a fall showing.
Miss Streisand's hold on the audience, which was seated on the ground, was most evident in her soft numbers, some of which began at almost a whisper, such as her opening “The Nearness of You." She invariably included stanzas which heightened the impact of the more familiar choruses. Dramatic, passionate singing made “Cry Me a River” of the many high spots. Another was “Let Me Love.”
The unique way of singing usually spirited numbers in soft, tender style, a Streisand trademark, gave a new dimension to “Stout Hearted Men." Other top gentle songs included "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows,” “More Than You Know,” “He Touched Me,” and “Where Am I Going?” In “What Now My Love,” Streisand went from French to English and from soft to emphatic for an effective treatment. The driving style produced glowing versions of “I Wish You Love,” “My Honey’s Loving Arms” and “Love Is a Ball.” [note: “Love is a Bore”] The relentless “Down With Love" was another gem.
While some of her comic banter didn't come off, Streisand's comic side came across in her well-known “Second Hand Rose." But, it was in her encore that she showed her skill as an artist and her mastery of the huge throng. Twice she quieted the wildly cheering, appreciative crowd with the most delicate selections in her repertoire as she sang “Silent Night” and her famed version of “Happy Days.” She was backed by Mort Lindsay and his orchestra.
The Central Park concert was also partly responsible for exacerbating Barbra's well-known stage fright. In 1994, Barbra told Gene Siskel that her stage fright “started in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli War when I was doing my big concert in Central Park. There were 135,000 people there. My movie [Funny Girl] was going to be banned in Egypt. The government had said that [because Omar Sharif] was an Arab and I was a Jew, they weren't going to play any of my movies. So I was afraid that somebody might take a shot at me during the concert. So I started walking around the stage fast. And I forgot my words, which is an actor's nightmare. And that frightened me—that absolute lack of control.”
Barbra forgot the words to the song “When the Sun Comes Out.” As she told Barbara Walters in an interview, “I wasn't charming or cute about it. I was terrifed.”
“Happening” on Home Video
A Happening in Central Park officially debuted on home video (VHS) in 1987. A bootleg videotape released by All Star Video circulated in the 1980s. In 1981 Streisand and All Star made the news when she filed a lawsuit asking for more than $11 million dollars for “an illegal conspiracy to sell unauthorized video recordings of her performances.” The CBS/Fox official version was first released in 1987 in tandem with the home video debut of One Voice. Barbra filmed an introduction to the VHS of A Happening in Central Park. The same introduction was utilized when Central Park finally debuted on DVD in 2005.