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Barbra Streisand in concert

Barbra Streisand in concert — We describe the experience

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As dusk settles on the USAir Arena outside Washington, D.C., Barbra Streisand is almost certainly nervous. She’s probably in her dressing room-resting her throat, maybe, or tending to her nails. The countdown has begun for the first performance of her five-city American tour, which begins tonight, May 10, and ends in New York on June 30. In a few minutes, she will have to prove herself deserving of the monstrous media hype and the outrageous top ticket price of $350. At this moment, 14,000 fans are storing their Rolexes in plastic bags and passing through metal detectors. Explains one bulky security guard: ”She’s paranoid.”

Inside, the arena fills to near capacity (a few top-price tickets remain unsold) as the overture begins. Conductor Marvin Hamlisch and his 64-piece orchestra whisk through a medley including ”Evergreen,” ”People,” and ”Second Hand Rose.” But the tea service center stage and the sprawling set-its neat neoclassic lines and formal white furniture inspired by Jefferson’s Monticello-sit silent. The star is half an hour late. ”She’s inspecting the food for the opening-night party later,” speculates a ticket holder in the $125 section. ”She’s personally picking the prosciutto off the hors d’oeuvres.”

Then, suddenly, a spotlight at the top of the stairs. Barbra. Frenzied applause. People leaping to their feet. She sings ”Everything’s as if We Never Said Goodbye,” moving down the steps, closer to the crowd. The audience has waited nearly three decades for her to return to the stage. They can rest easy. At 52, this Dorian Gray of a voice has grown less human, more divine.

Every step, every flick of the hair, every sip from the teacup is choreographed to the inch and timed to the second. According to her specifications, the arena has been carpeted (as will all of her tour’s venues). She speaks. She defends Hollywood’s involvement in politics. She says she’s learned to love herself. Great, Barbra-now keep singing. She soars with ”He Touched Me.” She makes ”You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” sung solo, sound fresh. She inspires one man to holler from the back of the house, ”We’re not worthy!”

She is controlled, controlling, and yet disarmingly sweet, confessing her teenage crush on Marlon Brando; dedicating an exquisite ”Not While I’m Around” to her son, 27-year-old Jason Gould; laughing about her years in therapy; and joking with the man up front with binoculars (”What are you looking at?”). Her finest moment: Yentl plays on the giant screen above her, and she sings the movie’s big finish, ”Watch Me Fly,” with herself. Fly she does.

She concludes with an exuberant ”Happy Days (Are Here Again)” as pictures of a pro-choice rally, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Nelson Mandela march across the screen. She rewards the audience with one encore, ”Somewhere,” and they reward her by visiting the peddlers in the lobby on the way out. The fans’ plastic bags bulge with loot: official Barbra mugs ($15), Barbra jackets ($400), Barbra blankets ($50), Barbra Italian silk neckties ($60), and more. The audience leaves poorer and richer, and Barbra Streisand can finally relax. A-