The fashion for artists to get together for duets is probably as old as recording itself. Once it was done for singles but now whole albums couple one big name with another to look at classic songs, from Judy Garland to Linda Ronstadt, from Michael Bolton to Barry Manilow, from Tony Bennett to Frank Sinatra...
Barbra Streisand has already released a duets album with such as Barry Manilow, Ray Charles, Neil Diamond, Barry Gibb, Celine Dion, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis. For Encore she has chosen movie stars to accompany her in Broadway numbers.
As she was once a woman of the theatre (I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Funny Girl) Streisand has retained her fondness for the songs of the Great White Way and has already recorded two Broadway releases.
She continues her search for well-known and obscure numbers from musicals. Indeed, the genesis of Encore stems from hearing the song ‘Any moment now’ by Marvin Hamlisch from a show called Smile, based on Michael Ritchie’s film about the Miss America beauty pageant. Hamlisch was working on it with lyricist Carolyn Leigh but the writer died and the show’s book and lyrics were later completed by Howard Ashman.
Smile was staged in 1986 but to no great success, although it is popular with amateur groups. ‘Any moment now’ has a stretch of dialogue that indicates how a couple’s relationship is disintegrating, but it just seems superfluous to the song’s lyrics. Despite that Hugh Jackman is in good, powerful voice. However, many of the tracks on Encore include dialogue that adds little to the overall effect and with variable results and becomes a distraction.
The opening track is the audition scene from A Chorus Line in duets with Anne Hathaway and Daisy Ridley plus Bradley Cooper as the director. The song is ‘At the ballet’ in which the three girls auditioning recall their sad lives with their parents when all they wanted to do was dance, because “everything was beautiful at the ballet.”
Road Show is the 2008 Stephen Sondheim musical that went through various versions before it found a modest success. ‘The best thing that ever has happened’ appeared in two versions of this take on the Gold Rush, the other being Bounce. Not known for his singing, Alec Baldwin reveals a strong and very attractive voice. Another ‘problem’ show by Sondheim was Evening Primrose written for television in 1966 and concerning a community of people living in a department store but who only come out at night when the shop is closed. Antonio Banderas duets well with Streisand on the very moving ‘Take me to the world’, one of Sondheim’s most appealing numbers.
There’s more from Sondheim in Passion, his 1994 musical based on Ettore Scola’s film Passione d’Amore, about a less than attractive woman’s obsession with a young soldier. She sings ‘Loving you’ to declare her love for him. Patrick Wilson’s contribution is requisitely and emotionally touching.
However, this is not how you could describe the next track, Streisand in duet with Anthony Newley. They were both on Broadway in 1965, she in Funny Girl and he in The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd. They became friends in the 1970s but he died in 1999 – hence the virtual aspect, taking his contribution from an earlier recording and combining it with Streisand for ‘Who can I turn to?’ Unfortunately the sound on the two versions differs so much that it jars on the ear (as does the CD’s loudness throughout) with Newley’s contribution being more of a disembodied voice emanating from the ether.
One of the best tracks is ‘Anything you can do’ from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun, with Streisand and Melissa McCarthy comically battling it out in ‘customised’ lyrics written by David Zippel and Gerard Alessandrini. It also allows Streisand to calm down and not give her emotional all, which is her tendency. ‘Pure Imagination’ was written for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the first film version of Roald Dahl’s story, although it was retained for the recent movie and the current stage production, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Seth MacFarlane and Streisand imbue more than enough passion for one of Newley and Bricusse’s most moving numbers.
Chris Pine sings a medley with Streisand of ‘I’ll be seeing you’ (famously Liberace’s signature tune) and ‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’ from My Fair Lady. The first number they sing fairly straight but then move into a bluesy version of the Lerner & Loewe, and then revert back, in an arrangement that makes little sense.
For the grand finale it’s ‘Climb ev’ry mountain’, originally sung by the Abbess in The Sound of Music. Here the perpetrators, Streisand and Jamie Foxx, try a kind of soul version which really doesn’t work. The accompanying dialogue apparently encapsulates Streisand’s philosophy – take chances. On the whole, though, the result is a mixed blessing. Please, Barbra, take no more chances.