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07 July 2013

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, “Back to Broadway”

TWENTY YEARS ago, Barbra Streisand released her twenty-sixth album, Back to Broadway, a collection of songs from Broadway musicals that served as a follow-up to the universally-acclaimed The Broadway Album in 1985. On this new tome, Ms. Streisand interprets the most legendary composers: Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Kurt Weill, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It quickly rose to the top of the US Billboard Top 200 Album Chart, her seventh album to become #1.

Back to Broadway is impressive for its full-throated vocal performances and majestic orchestrations by such heavyweights as Andrew Pryce Jackman, William Ross, and David Foster. However, it has suffered badly from the inevitable—and requisite—comparison to its predecessor, which brought Ms. Streisand back to dramatic theatrical singing after ruling pop music airwaves in the seventies and eighties. The production values of Mr. Foster rely on heavy electronic overlays, and there are too much of these that Ms. Streisand's voice becomes eerily detached. Sound engineers Humberto Gatica and Dave Reitzas have always given Ms. Streisand an impressive mix, but their recording fumbled here: the album has amongst the most overworked, piercing, and plastic sounds of any Streisand album.

For all its failures, Back to Broadway carries valuable gems in the Streisand catalog, including captivating performances of three Stephen Sondheim songs and the underrated "The Man I Love". To celebrate the album's 20th anniversary, I have created digital photomontages of each song, showing photos of Barbra Streisand in backdrops that reference the Broadway play that the song came from. In cases where it's impossible to get references to the play, I use images from the film version. I will post each of these photomontages in separate posts on this blog.


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