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updated: 10/27/2012 8:31 AM

Streisand's voice proves ageless and evergreen

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  • Barbra Streisand performed Friday night at the United Center in Chicago. The concert included a tribute to late composer Marvin Hamlisch and a duet with her son, Jason Gould.

    Barbra Streisand performed Friday night at the United Center in Chicago. The concert included a tribute to late composer Marvin Hamlisch and a duet with her son, Jason Gould.
    Associated Press file photo


Barbra Streisand needs no extraneous effects -- no outrageous visuals, no elaborate staging, no gyrating dancers.

And no pyrotechnics, save for her still-lush vocals that highlighted her concert Friday night at Chicago's United Center.

She relied on her voice -- that ever-resonant instrument over which she exerts masterful control and with which she seamlessly navigated octave leaps and held impossibly long notes with nary a waver.

Eschewing the vocal gymnastics favored by lesser singers, pop tarts who rely on fluttery melismas and fluttery, excessive ornamentation to compensate an inferior instrument, Streisand relied on the power of her instrument.

That was more than enough.

No gimmicks for Streisand. She won over the mostly mature crowd with the qualities that have sustained her over the last five decades.

There's her savvy phrasing, keen sense of dynamics and rhythm (evidenced by the breezy sense of swing that underscored the Alan and Marilyn Bergman medley "Nice and Easy"/"That Face"), not to mention a flair for storytelling apparent during the poignant "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" that suggested even women of a certain age can be "wild again, beguiled again" by the right man.

Accompanied by a dynamic, spot-on orchestra conducted by music director Bill Ross, Streisand, 70, performed mostly standards and hits from her 50-year career which, as she remarked, brought her to Chicago's Mr. Kelly's during the early 1960s.

"This evening will be a celebration of music that I love and people that I love," she said introducing a lovely tribute to the late composer Marvin Hamlisch whose "The Way We Were" (paired with "Through The Eyes of Love" with lyrics revised to honor their longtime friendship), proved a fitting showcase for her supple tone and still-resonant trademark hum.

The concert's first act concluded with a propulsive, powerhouse triple shot of Jule Styne's "Rose's Turn" and "Some People" from "Gypsy," as well as a signature Streisand tune "Don't Rain on My Parade" from her breakout show, "Funny Girl," whose film version earned her an Academy Award.

The fantastic note that ended the number confirmed that, as a vocalist, Streisand still has few peers.

Streisand peppered the concert with duets with Il Volo, an Italian trio comprising teenage tenors Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto, Gianluca Ginoble with trumpeter Chris Botti, who duetted with the star on a warmly intimate version of "My Funny Valentine" that recalled an after-midnight set at an Uptown jazz joint.

Also on hand was Streisand's son Jason Gould, whose duet with his mother I heard rather than saw due to deadline.

But his vocals on the song "Nature Boy," confirmed that he is his mother's son.

That was followed by another Styne song and an iconic Streisand number, "People," which she delivered in a spare, utterly affecting way that reclaimed the song from every overly indulgent warbler and Streisand pretender who made it less than what it is.

A majestic "Make Our Garden Grow" from Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" -- augmented by a choir -- concluded the evening that also found the political activist tipping her hat to the late Senator George McGovern and President Barack Obama.

The perfectionist left nothing to chance. Even the between-song banter and, I suspect, the audience questions during the "Ask Barbra" segment were scripted. No matter.

If spontaneity is the price of perfection, this enthusiastic crowd was happy to pay.

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