My Mother and Me and Barbra: Bonding Over Streisand's Return to Brooklyn
By Blake Ross
Misty watercolored memories are stirred up for a mother and daughter taking in Barbra Streisand's Back to Brooklyn concert. Playbill editor Blake Ross reflects on a night to remember.
One hour before I was to meet my mother for a quick bite before the Oct. 11 Barbra Streisand Back to Brooklyn concert I get a text message: "I'm at the restaurant. Drinking wine."
I called her from my office. "Ma, we're not supposed to meet for another hour. What's up?"
"I couldn't wait!" she said, a bit too loud.
And so "The Night I Took My Mother to See Barbra Streisand in Concert" began.
In truth, I've seen Barbra perform many times before. (I worked for her as a press rep from 2004-2009 and traveled with her on tour in the U.S. and Canada in 2006 and again abroad in 2007). I've heard her sing maybe 20 times. But this was something different. I was working each of those times, stopping only momentarily when my favorite line was uttered or to scan the crowd to check on reporters or to converse with a producer. This would be the first time I would actually sit and listen to an entire three-hour block of Barbra Streisand music. And I would be sharing this experience with (who else?) my mother.
At dinner, my mom and I talked about her "indoctrination" of me into the Streisand fan club. (Trust me, you don't know "cool kid" until you're a ten-year-old telling your friends they must watch "Yentl" at a sleepover). My mom recalled several moments when I was home sick from school and she'd climb into my bed to watch "Funny Girl" with me. Or the time I sang "I'm the Greatest Star" at my seventh grade chorus recital (a very popular selection with the kids). We spent a lot of the Thursday dinner talking and laughing about these many Barbra moments that my mother and I shared. I suspect there were many such memories swapped between the groups of mothers and daughters, friends old and new, family members and others who made up the 19,000 people who attended the first of her two concerts at Brooklyn's new arena, Barclays Center.
The night was about a sentimental journey home for Barbra, whose last gig in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, consisted of singing, as she put it, "on somebody's stoop on Pulaski Street…. I was eight years old." She gave shout-outs to her family in the audience including her brother Sheldon and her niece Erica. Her longtime manager of over 50 years, Marty Erlichman, is also a native Brooklynite. ("He discovered me in the neonatal unit," Barbra joked.)
One of the most touching of these family moments came in the second act when Barbra shared a home video that her son Jason made for her birthday. Underneath the dozens of snapshots of mother and son through the years — Barbra and Elliot Gould in the hospital with a newborn Jason, Barbra as Dolly Levi twirling a young toddler in the air, Jason walking his mother down the aisle during her wedding to James Brolin, etc. — was a jazzy, drum-heavy version of "Nature Boy." It sounded a bit like George Michael singing. But no, as Barbra later revealed, "I'd like to introduce you to the filmmaker and singer, my pride and joy, Jason Emanuel Gould!"
The pair then sang a poignant version of "How Deep Is the Ocean," Barbra stealing a few moments to mouth to Jason "I love you." (At this point my mother was practically apoplectic — "Look how proud of him she is! I'm so proud of you too!" As if a moment of motherly pride couldn't pass without acknowledging that you too are proud of your progeny!)
Moments like this kept creeping into my Streisand concert experience. As I glanced over to watch my mother mouth the words to many of the songs — "Nice 'n' Easy," "Smile," "Sam You Made the Pants Too Long," "Evergreen," "People," "Being Good," "Don't Rain on My Parade," "Make Our Garden Grow," "Happy Days Are Here Again" — I realized how many of my own theatregoing "ticks" I got from my mother. The drumming of our fingertips in time with the beat, the cocked head and swaying motion during the ballads, the clenched fists that pulsate with the strings during the up-tempos. This apple clearly didn't fall far from the Jewish, loud, blonde-girl tree.
When I got off the subway on my way home, I retrieved a message from my mom: "I just want to tell you that I had the best time in the whole world being with you and I love you so much and you are the best child on the entire planet and I'm so proud of you and Barbra Streisand!"
So you see, I inherited my mother's love of music…and for run-on sentences.
(Back to Brooklyn plays a second performance on Oct. 13. Blake Ross is editor of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillBlake.)
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