A fairly objective look at La Streisand’s career.
So how good is Barbra Streisand, anyway? Broadway theater manager Santopietro here evaluates Streisand’s professional, not personal, life, discussing details of the latter only as they may have shaped her work. (Marriage to James Brolin, it seems, brings more relaxed singing.) The author divides the book into separate, chronological critiques of Streisand’s work in recordings, film, television, concerts, theater and politics. The scheme results in repetitions, as what Streisand has done in one realm has often spilled over into another, e.g., starring in Broadway and film versions of Funny Girl, then recording albums based on both. Though his tone reveals he’s clearly an enthusiastic Streisand fan, Santopietro is nevertheless objective, placing the diva’s accomplishments on a scale that ranges from “art” to “a waste of an extraordinary, once in a lifetime talent . . .” He finds her early work shooting fireworks, her later work often firing duds. Artistically and commercially, her first albums were hugely successful. Then, rather than record the Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Rodgers songbooks, as her peers Fitzgerald, Lee and Sinatra did, she turned out albums that recycled early hits with a few new songs thrown in. Early movies—Funny Girl, The Way We Were, What’s Up, Doc?—were brilliant. Later films—The Main Event, For Pete’s Sake—were embarrassing flops. Widely reputed to be a control freak, she often chooses flawed material. Though politically active, she turned away from filming The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s angry chronicle of the AIDS epidemic, to do The Mirror Has Two Faces, yet another film in which her leading man tells her she’s beautiful.
Why the disparities in the diva’s work? Santopietro never really gets to deeper reasons (if anyone can), but his individual critiques are vivid and perceptive.