A Diva in December, by Hy Abady

I first saw Streisand in Vegas in 1969. “Funny Girl” was behind her; “Yentl” some years later. But she was a star even then, with her nails and her empire-waisted gowns. I remember the audience at that time — husbands dragged from the gaming tables, bored. But wives seemed swept up. (Like her hairdo.)

She sang “People.” And “Happy Days Are Here Again,” made immortal by her duet with Judy Garland, another diva, long gone.

At 21 (me) and 27 (her), I was already a fan. I had listened to the album “My Name Is Barbra” in my bedroom at my parents’ home in Brooklyn constantly, staring at the album cover, one side a black-and-white picture of her as a 5-year-old, the cross-eyed look, the nose, a bow in her hair. And, on the other side, voluptuous, lying on her side, in a slinky green gown.

I was mesmerized by every song on that album: “Where Is the Wonder,” “Jenny Rebecca,” “I Wish I Were a Kid Again.”

Her CBS-TV specials were also part of those 1960s. “The Second Barbra Streisand Album” was out. “Cry Me a River,” “He Touched Me.” The liner notes read, “This young woman, a mere 20, has a stunning future ahead of her. And, remember, I told you so.”

How prescient.

I saw her again in D.C. in the early ’90s. She had a thousand more songs to choose from at that time, including Broadway stuff. 

She’s 74 now. Blond. Botoxed. And bigger, in more ways than one, than ever.

I saw her recently in Fort Lauderdale. When she came to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2012, I missed out on that, but watched “Funny Girl” on DVD. Then, in 2016, she came back to Brooklyn. I missed out on that one because I was summering in Provincetown. No way I was going to miss her this time around, even if it was in Florida and I live in Manhattan.

My husband, David, loves Miami. I love Babs. We booked a trip for a three-day weekend in early December and bought two tickets. The seats were $1,250 a pop! On the floor of a sports and entertainment arena minutes from Miami. As I’m a holder of an Amex Platinum card, they were discounted to a mere $900 each.

And there we were, Babs, opening to wild applause in a black pantsuit — nothing like Hillary would ever wear, this was sheer and dotted with sequins. She started out with “The Way We Were.” She likes to talk, too, and she is pretty political. But she decided, in Florida, anyway, post the election, not to talk about what’s-his-name, newly elected.

But behind her she had plenty of political agendas to impart by way of videos spanning decades of racial divides, gay-pride marches, politicians, women’s rights and heart-health issues, and wars, Vietnam and elsewhere, while she sang “Being at War With Each Other.” She talked about climate change, the absence of bees and butterflies, but she basically gave the crowd, all 18,000 of us, everything we wanted to hear. 

She did a medley of her “hip” period: “Stoney End” and the Donna Summer duet “Enough Is Enough.” A backup singer joined her front and center for that number.

Her voice cracks, but her notes last an inconceivable amount of time. The big thing about Babs is the way she performs a song. She really wanted to be an actress and not necessarily a singer. I for one am glad she found her voice and uses it to not only reach incredible heights of no other singer before (okay, Sinatra) but also to perform. Her mother has been quoted as saying, “She never sings a song the same way twice.” And she doesn’t. Not even after what has to be many thousands of times singing “People.”

Her nods to Sondheim always slay me. She sang one of his songs that I never heard her do before: “Losing My Mind” from “Follies.” I pretty much lost mine as she sang it.

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” really ratcheted up the applause, the cheers, the shouts of “We Love You, Barbra!”

After a brief intermission, she came out in a shimmering gray chiffon gown, long and twirly. She twirled and darted back and forth around the stage as she sang songs from “Funny Lady”: “How Lucky Can You Get,” “Isn’t This Better?” — which she introduced by saying, “My good friend Liza [another great daughter diva] sang this during some tribute or other to me.” 

Her album covers, her directing efforts, her heroes in filmmaking — she goes back to William Wyler, whom she called Willie. She talks about her crush on Marlon Brando. All of this, all of these people, appeared behind her in videos. A duet with Anthony Newley: “Who Can I Turn To?” The videos were huge behind her. But no bigger than she is, way larger than life.


Hy Abady, formerly of Amagansett, has twice collected his “Guestwords” essays in books, the latest being “Back in The Star Again Again!”