To Barbra, With Love

MSO-To-Barbra-With-Love-photo-by-Nico-KeenanBarbra Streisand is considered one of the best-selling female music artists of all time, achieveing success in multiple fields of entertainment, that only many can dream of.

Her record-breaking 52 gold and 31 platinum albums feature some of the world’s most loved songs by legendary composers including Alan and Marilyn Bergman, Jerry Herman, Jule Styne, the Gibb Brothers and the late great Stephen Sondheim. She among the few performers to be awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony (EGOT).

Timed to celebrate her 80th Birthday (24 April 2022), the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra honoured the extraordinary performer’s illustrious career with a cavalcade of iconic hit tunes, spanning more than six decades.

One of Australia’s most versatile and sought-after creatives, Cameron Mitchell directs with a no-nonsense sensibility, allowing the music and the performers to be fully front and centre in a carefully curated program. With predominant hues of reds, purples and blues, Peter Rubie’s lighting design created a visual spectacular with all the hallmarks of a premium event.

Under the baton of Vanessa Scammell, the ranks of the impeccably lush-sounding Melbourne Symphony Orchestra were enhanced by a number of guest musicians, notably, Dean Cooper on drums, Troy Downward on guitar, James Kempster on bass guitar and the extraordinary musical director Michael Tyack on piano, bringing Nicholas Buc’s arrangements to life with a rich orchestral show sound.

Following a brief overture (Barbrature), the concert fittingly opened with the late Stephen Sondheim’s Putting it Together (Sunday in the Park with George, 1983) introducing the full cast of Caroline O’Connor, Katie Noonan, Elise McCann and Ryan Gonzalez, setting the tone of what was to become.

Caroline O’Connor clearly shows why she is a Broadway and West End star. Nearly 23 years ago, she performed the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, (the role that launched the career of Streisand) on this very stage for The Production Company’s 1999 debut season – returning to the role again at the State Theatre in Gale Edwards’ 2016 production. Ironically, Funny Girl will officially begin its first-ever Broadway revival at the August Wilson Theatre on Streisand’s Birthday.

Magnificently soaring in the Styne classics People and Don’t Rain on my Parade, O’Connor returns in Act Two with a heart-felt portrayal of Sondheim’s enchanting Send In The Clowns (A Little Night Music, 1973).

With her impeccable diction and her perfectly honed stagecraft, Elise McCann embodied Dolly Levi in a brassy rendition of Before the Parade Passes By (Hello, Dolly!), before entrancing the audience with Papa, Can You Hear Me? / Piece of the Sky, (Yentl, 1983).

A star-quality performance from beginning to end, Katie Noonan showed why she is a performer in demand. With crystal clear diction, the audience were treated to exquisite renderings of Evergreen (A Star is Born, 1976) and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Somewhere (West Side Story, 1961).

Rounding out the cast, Ryan Gonzalez, who can be currently seen as Santiago in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, brings a bit of groove to proceedings with Kander & Ebb’s How Lucky Can You Get (Funny Lady, 1975) and the nostalgic Happy Days Are Here Again (Chasing Rainbows, 1930s).

Equally at home in the duet department, Gonzalez was joined by McCann in Act One to perform Neil Diamond’s easy listening hit, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, backing it up smoothly with Noonan in Act Two with the 1980s hit Guilty by the Gibb Brothers.

With the audience wanting more, the evening concluded with two encores, O’Connor delivering an emotionally charged The Way We Were, to be joined by the full cast with an energetic rendition of No More Tears (Enough is Enough). And yes, there was dancing!

To Barbra, With Love 
Hamer Hall – Arts Centre Melbourne, St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 21 April 2022 – 7.30pm
Performances continues to 23 April 2022

Image: Ryan Gonzalez, Caroline O’Connor, Katie Noonan and Elise McCann star in To Barbra, With Love – photo by Nico Keenan

Review: Rohan Shearn