Picks and Pans Review: Back to Broadway

updated 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Barbra Streisand

There can be no arguing about the supple splendor of Streisand's voice, now at age 51 or ever. There can, however, be plenty to dispute about how, in recent years, she has served her talent. On her 50th album, Back to Broadway—a kind of belated sequel to 1985's The Broadway Album—she has chosen to serve it up big and broad and maddeningly bravura. Of most interest is the unusual selection of songs. Each, Streisand explains in the liner notes, has some long-standing personal significance for her. But histrionic phrasing bordering on self-parody mars the opener, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening," and to a lesser extent Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash's "Speak Low." Two songs that need no gilding are Andrew Lloyd Webber's lush "Music of the Night," from The Phantom of the Opera, and Leonard Bernstein's "I Have a Love" and "One Hand, One Heart," from West Side Story. But Streisand, crossing cadenzas with Broadway's first Phantom, Michael Crawford, and entwining with Johnny Mathis on the Bernstein, goes for grandeur instead of intimacy and winds up with grandiosity.

Paradoxically, Streisand's passion finds its most satisfying expression in the work of the cerebral Stephen Sondheim. In Streisand's hands "Everybody Says Don't" from Anyone Can Whistle becomes a highly moving personal anthem of contrarian independence, and "Children Will Listen," from Into the Woods, becomes a genuinely heart-tugging plea for parental wisdom and restraint. (Columbia)

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