Barbra Streisand sells out pricey tours -- As fans purchase tickets, questions arise about how concerts are sold

By Dana Kennedy
Updated April 15, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

People, people who needed Barbra Streisand tickets, were the luckiest people in the world two weeks ago-some people, anyway. On March 27, all 250,000 sky- high-priced tickets (between $50 and $350 apiece) to her 22-show world tour were snapped up in one frenzied hour-some to fans who had camped out overnight, some to those who were among the 5 million who jammed phone lines to Ticketmaster outlets. Just listen to 26-year-old Danielle Austin’s answering machine in Orange, Calif. ”Yay! Guess what? Danielle Austin’s going to see Barbra Streisand in concert! I’m so happy! Leave a message! Woooooooo! Only 1,300 seats left, and I got some.”

”It’s going to be fun,” says Gregory Halstead, 38, a Streisand impersonator who performs as his idol in a live stage show at the West Hollywood Playhouse and on a Los Angeles public-access cable show. ”This is like the old Barbra-the pageboy is back. As soon as the sailor dresses come back, I’m really going to be happy.”

Other people, like lifelong Streisand fan Mindy Morgenstern, 29, of North Hollywood, felt as if someone had rained on their parade. ”I got up early to call,” she says. ”We had friends over. They thought I was crazy. I was standing at the phone for an hour and a half just pressing redial, getting a tone, pressing redial. I could not get through. I felt awful.”

Disappointed fans, the faithful who thought happy days were here again after Streisand’s 28-year absence from the road, were the first casualties of Barbra’s blitzkrieg, which opens April 20 in London, with the U.S. leg kicking off May 10 in Washington, D.C. ”It’s definitely a show for the haves,” says Rick Tyson of Tyson Choice Ticket Service of L.A. ”The have-nots won’t go.” As much as it’s made her loyal fans happy, the tour has raised many troubling questions-about the costly tickets, the difficulty in getting them, the rampant scalping, the money’s destination, + the impact on future concert prices, and Streisand’s own motives. To put it bluntly, if the singer-actress-director’s comeback were to be staged as, say, a Broadway musical, the title might be I Can Get It for You, but Not Exactly Wholesale.

Is there any reason for Streisand to feel a little, well, guilty? Certainly not, say those in her camp, pointing out her enduring popularity-not to mention the stage fright she has had to overcome to perform-and noting that she has earmarked 9,700 tickets for 22 charities. Others-disgruntled fans, rival promoters, and industry insiders-are not so generous in their comments. What follow are questions and answers from both sides regarding what one Barbra devotee calls, for better or worse, a ”once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Why are the tickets so expensive, and who set the prices? Don’t blame concert promoters, says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, the trade magazine of the concert business. ”It’s not the promoters who set the prices, it’s the artists themselves,” he says. In fact, Streisand’s longtime manager, Marty Erlichman, says he polled hundreds of arena concert promoters about a sellable ticket price. ”Everyone told me we could charge as high as Vegas (where, for her return to live performance last December, tickets cost $50 to $1,000) and it would be a sellout,” he says. ”But Barbra and I opted not to go as high.” Even so, Bob Grossweiner of Performance magazine suggests Streisand is a little avaricious. ”Her tour is designed to gross $2 million per show, which is greed,” he says. ”No one else (in pop music) has asked for this kind of thing.”

If you ask Streisand tour publicist Ken Sunshine, who learned how to deflect bad press in his stint as chief of staff for former New York mayor David Dinkins, the tickets are a bargain. ”Everyone I’ve talked to thinks she’s underpriced the show,” he says. ”She could have charged $1,000 for a good percentage of the house, and they would have sold out.”