As much a tribute to Streisand as a showcase of Regine
- Jonathan Chua () - November 30, 2003 - 12:00am
Barbra Streisand has been getting tributes since the late 1960s when several legendary composers (including Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, and Jule Styne) gathered at the Friar’s Club in New York to honor her, singing their classic songs with lyrics (some parodic) especially written for the occasion.

Songbird Sings Streisand,
which began its run at Onstage in Greenbelt 1 last weekend, is the latest local tribute concert to the 61-year-old singer. Regine Velasquez sings songs popularized by or identified with Streisand, one of Regine’s musical influences, whom she calls "the original songbird."

The concert has many commendable features. For one, instead of simply running down a list of hit songs, it offers a series of thematic medleys. Thus, it is able to include more of Streisand’s sizeable repertoire (60 albums in the last 41 years) than it otherwise would. Audiences are treated to songs that Streisand did not sing at any of her concerts but which many Streisand fans wish she did, songs like Memory, Coming in and out of Your Life, My Heart Belongs to Me, and Songbird.

Then, the medleys are ingeniously arranged, revealing musical affinities that tease and please. In the A Star Is Born medley, for instance, Evergreen (at first hummed just like in Streisand’s original demo) is made to blend with Lost Inside of You and With One More Look at You. And (in another medley) I’ve Finally Found Someone underpins the less popular All of My Life. Some "stand-alone" songs are also given fresh treatment: Woman in Love, the arch Streisand song of the 1980s, is updated, given an almost hip-hop beat. On a Clear Day is rendered (I’m guessing) 2/4, the same accelerated tempo used at Streisand’s millennium concert Timeless while the fireworks erupted.

As a tribute concert, Songbird Sings Streisand includes trivia about Streisand and, as an intermission, presents a five-minute montage of Streisand’s career with Velasquez’s taped voice-over. The images are taken mostly from the Timeless and The Concert videos, spliced with images of her album covers and clips from her movies. Streisand’s career achievements are duly noted as befits a tribute, although at least once in her narration, Velasquez mispronounces Streisand’s name, saying Bar-ba-ra, instead of Barbra.

Finally, and above all, there is Regine Velasquez, who clearly is the Philippines’ answer to Streisand when it comes to sustained belting. Michel Legrand once said, "It’s difficult to sing after Barbra Streisand," but Velasquez proves herself equal to the task – a votary worthy of her idol. Sure, she sometimes gets the words of a song wrong (her As If We Never Said Goodbye last Saturday must be the most truncated version of the song that exists) and has to improve her spiels; but it’s enough for her just to vocalize to outsell the competition.

The technical aspects of Songbird Sings Streisand, however, can still be improved. Two problems especially marred the show last Nov. 15:

• Poor acoustics. Streisand songs call for much belting and stretching of notes. (Those last notes can last as long as 10 to 12 seconds.) Velasquez certainly has the adenoids and the lungs for the job, but with the speakers too loud in a venue too small, the results can be (quite literally) deafening. The joke my companion shared was that we would leave the theater talking in sign language, a view shared by other members of the audience going by post-show remarks in the men’s room. (The comments in the ladies’ room, I was told, were the same).

• Bad cueing in Papa, Can You Hear Me. Videos are now a commonplace in concerts, used ostensibly to heighten the effect of a number. In this case, however, the video produced unwanted giggles. Velasquez set the mood all right by narrating the plot of Yentl, even lighting a candle before beginning the song, just as what we get in the movie. As Velasquez sang, the screen behind her played the clip from the movie where Streisand sings the same song. The problem was that the "play" button was pressed too soon; and as Streisand’s lip movements were out of synch with Velasquez’s vocals, what should have been a dramatic moment became instead a live version of a poorly dubbed episode of Marimar or some other imported telenovela. What might have been done was to show scenes from the movie or to have Velasquez sing along with Streisand, the way Streisand does (and Kuh Ledesma did) in her concerts.

As the show will run for more weekends, it isn’t too late to remedy these problems. One might add, as a final critique, that the show should start on time. The full "two hours’ traffic" of the stage was worth the price of the ticket as any Shakespeare staged by the RSC but maybe neither the lateness of the hour nor the traffic on Ayala afterwards. People were leaving before the show was over, a pity since the best part of the show was the encore.

All told, Songbird Sings Streisand is as much a tribute to Barbra Streisand as it is a showcase of Regine Velasquez. One leaves it with a sense of why Streisand has been an inspiration for many singers American and Filipino and why she is the greatest diva of her generation. It also demonstrates, beyond dispute, why Velasquez bids fair to be the greatest of hers.

A STAR IS BORN ALL OF MY LIFE AMERICAN AND FILIPINO AS IF WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE AS VELASQUEZ BARBRA STREISAND REGINE VELASQUEZ SONGBIRD SINGS STREISAND STREISAND VELASQUEZ
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