Thursday, January 14, 2016

Watch a Transcendant, Live Performance of Barbra Streisand Singing Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, and Christopher Hampton’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” from Sunset Boulevard (1993 Video)


Barbra Streisand The Concert, dress rehearsal, December 20, 1993

By Nicholas Stix

Very few performers can transcend their material. “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is a very good song, but Streisand, through talent, sensibility, and sheer force of will, makes it great. For a rare and extremely expensive New Year’s Eve 1993 performance in Las Vegas, she assembled a marvelous orchestra, conducted by Marvin Hamlisch; a grand arrangement, and perfect lyrical alterations to fit her. I'll bet that not only the audience, but the orchestra had goose bumps, when she exulted, “I’ve come home, at last!”

In my essay, “On Not Hating Barbra Streisand,” I wrote:

But now, Streisand’s pipes are rusted; the old flexibility is gone. Several years ago on the radio, I heard a new recording played by DJ Jonathan Schwartz that sounded like it was by Lena Horne, who was then still alive. Now, Miss Horne, may she rest in peace, was an excellent singer, but Barbra Streisand didn’t become the world’s greatest girl singer by sounding like Lena Horne, or anyone else. A husky, distinctively mezzo-soprano voice with an almost operatic range that later developed, I believe, into a contralto, an unequaled emotional and dramatic power, and perfectionism made the young Barbara Joan Streisand the successor to Ella Fitzgerald, a position she held for approximately 30 years, and one which for the past 10-15 years has lain vacant.

But on New Year’s Eve, 1993, in a concert at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Hotel, in which she sang Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black, and Christopher Hampton’s song, “As if We Never Said Goodbye,” from their Broadway musical Sunset Boulevard, she still had “it.”

The song, set in 1949, is the declaration of love to her fans of a pitiable, delusional, psychopathic, silent film star. For over 20 years, Norma Desmond has lived in seclusion in her Sunset Boulevard mansion, re-watching her old movies with family retainers, including her valet/ex-husband Max (who, the joke goes, looks like Erich von Stroheim, because he is Erich von Stroheim). She thinks she’s making a comeback at 50, playing the 16-year-old Salome, and hires a hack writer to fix the unfixable script she’s written for her triumphant return to the silver screen… and be her gigolo.

(I’ve seen the picture, but not the show.)

Having repeatedly gotten calls from Paramount Studios, where she once reigned as queen, Desmond assumes that her old producer-director, Cecil B. de Mille, wants to film her return, using her script. And so she triumphantly returns to the lot, where no one under 50 knows who she is anymore. As Max comes to realize, but withholds from her, the reason for the calls was an executive’s desire to rent her classic limousine to use in a picture. But for a moment, at Sound Stage 18, during a break in de Mille’s production of Samson & Delilah, an ancient stage hand who knew her way back when, flashes the spotlight on Miss Desmond, and extras and crewmen look on as she sings her comeback theme.

The movie on which the eponymous Broadway show was based, was Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece of masterpieces, based on his own original screenplay (co-written with Charles Brackett and D.M. Marshman Jr.), and which starred a real silent film star, Gloria Swanson, with a mere 31-year-old but already anciently cynical William Holden as Wilder’s gigolo-hack alter ego, von Stroheim, and Nancy Olsen as Holden’s would-be prince in shining armor. (All the aforementioned performers would be nominated for Oscars; none would win.)

The song’s power is in the counterpoint between reality and Norma Desmond’s delusions.

But that’s not the dynamic of the song, as Streisand sings it. The music is the same, the words altered to fit a singer but with the same character, yet this is no delusional dame addressing invisible devotees who have all died off, forgotten her, or moved on to new objects of adoration.

Streisand is addressing a theater full of her devoted fans—in the original meaning of fanatics—who paid a fortune to watch her, some of whom could barely contain themselves to let her sing. The middle-aged fans and the diva had, indeed, been “young together.”

After starting out as a teenaged cabaret singer in Greenwich Village, graduating to eight-show-a-week Broadway stardom in Funny Girl, and then a movie star who cut a few albums a year and gave live TV concerts every few years, Streisand increasingly deserted the faithful fans who hungered to see her live. (She had claimed to suffer from stage fright.) Now, in a triumphant comeback, with the late Marvin Hamlisch conducting, and direction that goes from pan shots to intensely framing her, to both give the immediacy that so many filmed stage performances lack and indulge in her ugly duckling narcissism, Streisand takes ironic lyrics and makes them powerfully, emotionally literal.

As if We Never Said Goodbye

I don’t know why I’m frightened,

I know my way around here….

The band, the lights,

Familiar sights,

The sound here,

Yes, a world to rediscover,

But to stop my heart from pounding,

And I need a moment…

The atmosphere, as thrilling here, as always…

You just can’t replace the feeling…

Of the magic in the music,

Why, everything’s as if we never said goodbye.

I’ve spent so many evenings,

Just trying to resist you,

I’m trembling now,

You don’t know how,

I missed you…

We were young together….

Now, I’m standing center stage,

“I’ve come home, at last!”

With that line, there could not have been many dry eyes in the house.

No other singer on the face of the earth could make that song so moving. And that’s why music lovers must compartmentalize their souls, so that they can love the musical magic of the otherwise very unlovable Miss Barbara Joan/Barbra Streisand.

As If We Never Said Goodbye (Original Lyrics)
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton

I don't know why I'm frightened,
I know my way around here,
The cardboard trees,
The painted seas, the sound here.

Yes, a world to rediscover,
But I 'm not in any hurry,
And I need a moment.

The whispered conversations,
In overcrowded hallways,
The atmosphere,
As thrilling here, as always.

Feel the early morning madness,
Feel the magic in the making,
Why everything's as if
We never said goodbye.

I've spent so many mornings,
Just trying to resist you,
I'm trembling now,
You can't know how, I've missed you.
Missed the fairy tale adventure,
In this ever spinning playground,
We were young together.

I'm coming out of make-up,
The lights already burning,
Not long until,
The cameras will start turning.

And the early morning madness,
And the magic in the making,
Yes, everything's as if
We never said goodbye.

I don't want to be alone,
That's all in the past,
This world's waited long enough,
I've come home at last!

And this time will be bigger,
And brighter than we knew it,
So watch me fly,
We all know I can do it.

Could I stop my hands from shaking?
Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live for?

The whispered conversations,
In overcrowded hallways,
So much to say,
Not just today, but always.

We'll have early morning madness,
We'll have magic in the making,
Yes, everything's as if
We never said goodbye.

Everything's as if
We never said goodbye
We taught the world new ways to dream.

[I’ve never heard anyone sing that last line, which is ham-handed editorializing which detracts from the song.]

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