It’s fair to say that Barbra Streisand, the ultimate pop diva of the last three generations, has nothing to prove.
The 74-year old icon could easily while away her time in genteel luxury counting her millions, but Babs has never stayed away from the recording studio too long. Her latest album, a duets collection of theatrical material, is “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway.” It will never be considered one of her great works, but Streisand die-hards will enjoy it.
It should be made clear from the outset that there are several things one much enjoy at least to some extent to have any reason to purchase this album. The first bar is the easiest to cross: Streisand herself. She’s never been less than magical. Just hearing her voice again is a privilege that we should not take lightly. Instead of retreating into a life of detached luxury, she continues providing her fans with what they love. One must also love theater to have any prayer of enjoying this album, and that’s a slightly higher line to cross. It’s a form of music that speaks its own language and has its own rules. Some will find it enthralling, some maddening in its sing-song preciousness. Streisand layers on humorous touches, a career trademark that sometimes has worked, sometimes has not.
Thirdly, to enjoy this album one much appreciate strange duet partners. Some of these odd couplings work better than others. I mean, you’re Barbra Streisand, right? “Legend” doesn’t cut it. A word has yet to be invented to describe what you are. You could sing with anyone at any time. And who do you partner with on “Encore”? Alec Baldwin, Melissa McCarthy, Seth MacFarlane, and Chris Pine. Why not just wander into any fairly decent karaoke bar and take your pick? Sure, they ham it up and do well enough for this pointless novelty album, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing something fun. But you’ll never be getting the saccharine out your ears after listening to the album’s relentlessly chipper and altogether overdone Broadway exuberance.
“At the Ballet” from “A Chorus Line” opens the album with forced charm and awkwardness, guests Anne Hathaway and Daisy Ridely adding nothing but name cachet. The gargantuan Stephen Sondheim ballad “Loving You,” featuring Broadway powerhouse Patrick Wilson is as tackily overwrought as you’d expect. The tragi-comic (although I suspect it’s only supposed to be comic) “The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened” finds Streisand once again forcing the wit alongside a voice that will never cease being Jack Donaghy
Just when you think there are moments of real heart hiding amongst the glitzy artifice, as in Streisand’s gorgeous introduction to “Any Moment Now,” it devolves into a mess of puerile dialogue and a ludicrously overdone arrangement. “Pure Imagination” begs the question: Did the world really need a duet between Barbra Streisand and Seth MacFarlane? The answer is self-evident in the graceless embarrassment they inflict upon poor unsuspecting listeners. Streisand’s allegedly comical turn with Melissa McCarthy on “Anything You Can Do” is a trite, third-rate take on an Irving Berlin’s classic that does not do justice to either of these talented ladies.
“Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway” is far from Streisand’s most compelling work. In fact, it sounds like little more than rushed together product to get something on the shelves. But hell, it’s Barbra Streisand. Like she cares the hell what I think. She’s long ago earned the right to do exactly what she wants, when she wants to do it, and more likely than not her die-hard fans (and there are many) will adore it. And more power to ‘em.