While playing Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2006 on Saturday (Aug. 3), Barbra Streisand took aim at one of her favorite targets with a revamped version of a Stephen Sondheim classic.
The song was “Send In the Clowns,” and if you can’t guess whom she was eviscerating, well, you really don’t know Barbra.
With lyrics calling out his hidden tax returns and questionable deal-making skills, she read President Trump for filth, wrapping with a final verse that labeled him a “fraudulent twit” and stopped just short of saying he’s full of shit (she let the audience shout out the final word — “I can’t say it,” she insisted).
“Some people say I talk too much about politics,” she acknowledged. “Well, I’m a New Yorker and we have big mouths.” Prior to the parody, she asked how many Democrats and Republicans were in the crowd — and from the sound of the cheers, both of the major parties were well represented at MSG. “I respect Republicans, thank you for coming,” she said before the song, but added, “cover your ears for a couple minutes.” Apparently not everyone excels at following instructions, because following the spoof — which had most of the crowd laughing and cheering — a few vociferous voices could be heard expressing displeasure as she introduced the title track of her new album, the pointedly named Walls. Streisand even paused to try to make out what one seemingly angry voice was saying, but unable to make out the garbled outrage from the back of the arena, she opted to push forward with the song.
The politics weren’t just onstage, though. Prior to a delightfully campy detour with “Second Hand Rose” (made popular in the ‘20s by her idol Fanny Brice), Streisand shouted out President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both in attendance. “Over the last 50 years, one president has balanced the budget and left us with a surplus,” she noted of the former. Of the latter, she said, “Needless to say, three years ago I was greatly hoping to sing at your inauguration.”
The show itself was a mixture of wistful recollections, wry asides and, naturally, iconic material from one of the greatest vocalists of all time. “My Man” from Funny Girl was spine tingling and powerful in its restraint; “Evergreen” and “With One More Look at You” from the 1976 version of A Star Is Born were gentle and affecting; and her voice displayed its robust tones and stylistic breadth during “The Man That Got Away” from Judy Garland’s 1954 version of A Star Is Born. That Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin composition (which was nominated for best original song at the Academy Awards, an honor Streisand nabbed 22 years later) was preceded by reminiscences on Garland, who had Streisand as a guest on her variety series, The Judy Garland Show, in 1963.
“The thing I remember about her the most was how fragile she seemed and how tightly she held my hand,” Streisand recalled of their duet. “I didn’t understand then, but I understand now.”
Poignant memories aside, most of the stage banter skewed toward the hilarious, whether Barbra was toasting her dogs, roasting some of the outfits she’s worn in the past, thanking MSG mainstay “Billy Joel for taking the night off” or skewering her own footwear after taking off her heels and switching to flats during the show. “They look like crappy shoes but they’re actually Chanel — 800-dollar flip-flops,” she said, sounding Brooklyn-bred through and through.
During her first encore, Streisand sang a politically-minded but less divisive offering in “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” originally made famous by Jackie DeShannon in 1965 and covered on Walls. Lauding the crowd for singing along in tune, she also marveled at the beauty of MSG lighting up with waving lights from hundreds of cell phones in the air.
It’s been 13 years since the New York native played MSG, and based on Saturday night’s performance, we can only hope Billy Joel is willing to take another day off and let her pinch hit at the Garden again soon.