Streisand’s songs through new lens Barbra Streisand is an icon among divas, yet in spite of her enduring influence, many people these days don’t know who she is.
“I worked on a cruise, and my drummer didn’t even know who she was,” said singer-songwriter and actress Ann Hampton Callaway, who performs “The Streisand Songbook” on Saturday in Tacoma and Sunday in Olympia. “Finally he said, ‘Oh, the woman from “Meet the Fockers”?’ That very thing has been said to me by several 20-year-olds.
“I find this just inexcusable,” Callaway said. “She’s one of the greatest singers in our country’s history. She has sung the Great American Songbook and helped make songs that were not as known into hit songs. It’s important to let people know who she is.”
Callaway is proud to proclaim herself a diva, too, but she’s not trying to impersonate Streisand, just as she didn’t attempt to become Sarah Vaughan when she did a show paying tribute to that singer. Rather, she takes each song and makes it her own.
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“That’s the task of any singer, to breathe new life into songs and make people feel like they are hearing them for the first time,” she said. “I did all the arrangements. I came up with what I wanted to do with each song, then I approached many top orchestrators to help me orchestrate those arrangements.”
She’ll be accompanied by the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra in Tacoma and by the Olympia Symphony Orchestra in Olympia. She will have just one rehearsal with each orchestra, the day of each performance.
“I’ve sung this show with 30 orchestras around the country,” she said. “It’s a real hit show. People love the memories these songs bring for them, and they like having some new ways of hearing the songs.”
The fact that Callaway and Streisand don’t sound similar doesn’t take away from the concert’s success, Stephen Holden wrote in a New York Times review in 2012. “The two share a fundamental, unshakable romanticism,” he wrote. “Both favor overarching, dramatic love songs, and both have the vocal equipment to infuse them with fairy tale magic.”
While a tribute show to a living artist is unusual, it makes sense in the case of the reclusive Streisand, who rarely performs. “She’s only done about 92 concerts in her life,” Callaway said. “I did 92 concerts last year.”
When she was asked to do a concert of Streisand’s music, Callaway hesitated.
“Barbra is a living legend,” she said. “She is so phenomenal I don’t want to be compared to her.”
But Callaway does have an understanding of Streisand, for whom she has written songs, including “At the Same Time” and “I’ve Dreamed of You” (with music by Norwegian composer Rolf Lovland). Streisand sung the latter at her 1998 wedding to James Brolin.
“She asked me to write the lyrics,” Callaway said. “She didn’t ask me to write a wedding song, but I realized she was getting married that year and I wrote a wedding song. I sent her my final lyrics three days before she was getting married.”
Streisand loved the lyrics so much that she asked Callaway to send a demo. It arrived the day of the wedding, and Streisand sang to the recording of Callaway playing the tune on piano.
“Marvin Hamlisch said that everybody wept,” Callaway said. “It was just such a beautiful moment.”
It was that kind of knowledge of Streisand that ultimately helped persuade Callaway to do a tribute show in her honor.
“I have a unique understanding of her as an artist,” she said. “Having worked for her, I could share my vision of who she is in a very interesting celebration of her 50 years of great music.”