The Broadway Album

Barbra Streisand

Columbia, 1985

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/06/2021

In 1985, Barbra Streisand’s recording career was at a bit of a stall. Her last album, 1984’s Emotion, was a relative disappointment. It tried to bring the diva into the MTV generation but missed the mark. Perhaps stung by her inability to convince audiences that she can sing Sheena Easton-style pop, Streisand went back to her roots. Though her relationship with Broadway was brief, it was electrifying: she became an instant star of the stage with her performances in I Can Get It For You Wholesale and her legendary turn in Funny Girl, a role Streisand returned to on film, winning an Oscar. But her legendary stage fright and her Hollywood ambitions made her abandon the Great White Way.

So even though she isn’t a prolific stage performer like Bernadette Peters, Elaine Page, or Liza Minnelli, she has a natural affinity for show tunes. Her large, powerful, expressive voice is made for Broadway tunes. And because she’s a natural actress and comedienne, she can fully inhabit the characters of the songs. On The Broadway Album, she has an opportunity to show off her range with the collection of songs she recorded.

One thing people will notice is that Streisand has a favourite composer: Stephen Sondheim represents seven of the 12 tracks here. That makes sense because Sondheim’s smart, literate compositions are perfect for Streisand’s prodigious talent for song interpretation. She opens the album with a reworked “Putting It Together” from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Sunday In The Park with George. The new lyrics have Streisand express frustrations with trying to convince her label to allow for a record of Broadway showtunes (Sydney Pollack and David Geffen play music executives who dump on her ideas). Though The Broadway Album isn’t the risky project the song implies, it’s a great way to introduce the album and to remind audiences that she’s a masterful song stylist.

Though the album is a collection of showtunes, The Broadway Album is a pop album and sports mainstream, radio-friendly pop production, though some of it is dated. “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story and “Being Alive” from Company feature glossy instrumentation and angular arrangements. Her take on Sondheim’s “Somewhere” has a spirited, brilliantly passionate performance, but is couched in a strange, space-age production (David Foster is really heavy-handed with the synths)

The ballads that have more organic, lush production work far better and are some of the best vocal performances Streisand has ever captured on vinyl. “Not While I’m Around” from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd is intense and loving – a mother’s anthem of affection for her child (she’s since dedicated the tune to her son when she performs it in her tours). Her rendition of “Send In The Clowns” from A Little Night Music is appropriately fervent. And her take on “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” from Show Boat is languid and sensual.

Because Streisand has found her greatest stage success in comedies, her funny performance of “Adelaide’s Lament” from Guys And Dolls is a highlight. She leans into her Brooklyn drawl and is adorable as she sings the comedy tune with an affected stuffed up nose. And though “The Ladies Who Lunch” is normally a biting, satiric song, Streisand smooths over its rough edges by pairing it with “Pretty Women” and the song becomes a sweeping, lilting song.

When released, The Broadway Album went to number one on the Billboard album charts, winning Streisand her eight Grammy, and selling over five million copies. She followed the record with two sequels, 1993’s Back To Broadway and 2016’s Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, both of which went number one as well. It is an important entry in her discography, arguably the last great LP that she released, as the bulk of her recordings have been plagued by overly sentimental and overblown production and anaemic song selection. It was a welcome return home for the diva who found the 1970s to be a musical wilderness, what with disco, singer-songwriter, and AOR confusing her musical output.

Rating: A

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