10/15/2012 10:06 am ET Updated Dec 15, 2012

Welcome Home, Barbra, in Every Way

"QUIET PLEASE, There's a lady on the stage."

That song was written as a poignant, posthumous tribute to Judy Garland, by her one-time son-in-law, Peter Allen. It was a rather mournful examination of life upon the wicked stage.

And yet the title, at least, belongs to Miss Garland's heir as a pop goddess/cultural icon. Respect and attention must be paid when Barbra Streisand sweeps on stage in her various Donna Karan outfits (the black sequins, meh. The sweeping red gown, deliciously glam and nostalgic.)

Barbra played two shows in Brooklyn last week on Thursday and Saturday; her "return to Brooklyn" at the big new Barclays Center. By now you may have read most of her glowing reviews.

Streisand said she was suffering a slight cold when we saw her. She sipped chicken soup from her eternal onstage teacup. Whatever. We should all sound as good as Barbra, even if she had pneumonia and a high fever!

From the opening song, "As If We Never Said Goodbye" to her final encore, a blessedly minimal political version of "Happy Days Are Here Again" -- the greatest star by far enraptured and perhaps even somewhat mystified the packed stadium. Sure, she did her share of hits -- "People"... "Evergreen"... and even a one-woman version of her old Donna Summer disco hit, "Enough Is Enough." There was a melding of "Rose's Turn" and "Some People" (from the musical Gypsy, which she still says she will bring to the screen again), ending with "Don't Rain on My Parade."

But Barbra also included a lot of material that meant something to her. And she felt comfortable enough to assume her audience had grown with her to accept "What'll I Do"... "My Funny Valentine"... Marvin Hamlisch's beautiful but little know theme from "Ice Castles." She did a number from Jule Styne's "Hallelujah Baby" -- "Being Good Isn't Good Enough," which might be her own mantra, and a ravishing version of "Here's to Life." In the latter, she seems to be singing to herself, accepting how life rushes by, and reminding her audience not to waste a moment. Lord knows, she never has.

She looks remarkably fresh, and in her second act gown (the red number) she was a dead ringer for her famous Central Park appearance, back in 1967. (Minus the daunting beehive.) She's convincingly funny and relaxed, but as I often say, Barbra is not a funny girl. This takes effort, the onstage charm.

The voice? Huskier, yes, but not by one note less effective. In fact, in her maturity she has learned even more about storytelling of a song, as demonstrated on "The Way He Makes Me Feel" and "Didn't We." Always a technical genius, she now knows how to husband her instrument to chilling, touching, effect. At her best, she is still swoon-inducing. (At her "worst" she's still at her best.)

Barbra receives excellent support from sexy trumpet master Chris Botti, sexy Italian trio Il Volo and (surprise!) her sexy and talented son, Jason Gould. Yes. He sings. And very well indeed. You must be made of stone not to be moved by their duet on "How Deep is the Ocean." Even if the giant screens had gone black, and it was just Barbra onstage alone with the mike, she would command. No smoke and mirrors for her. Just the voice. She turned the massive Barclays stadium into old, intimate Bon Soir.

Barbra Streisand is the most confounding of all stars. The least giving of her inner self, the most generous with her gift, which she has respectfully taken care of. Is she, as she famously asked, "The Greatest Star by Far?" Perhaps. I'd have to class her with Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn. Different women with different goals and different passions and talents. Taylor lived for love. Hepburn said it all in her autobiography, titled Me. Streisand is, remarkably, still a work in progress.

Barbra's new shows reveal her quieter, softer, more introspective. She doesn't have to tear the roof down anymore. She knows who she is. And finally she understands that we know who she is. And in that understanding her art stands -- burnished. She's been one for the ages since 1964. In 2012, it might finally have sunk in.

Welcome home, Barbra, in every way.

  • THE MAYOR of New York appeared in person the other day at the New York Public Library to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the popular local TV show NY1.

    He did a comical take off of Pat Kiernan's "In the Papers," which deals with what the city's few remaining newspapers are reporting every day. These are not always flattering to my pal, Mike Bloomberg, but he is a good sport when it comes to NYC journalism.

    I asked correspondent and host Budd Mishkin, my big NY1 contact, how many people he estimated were attending the party? "Oh, about 50,000 people," said Budd. He pointed out the thirteen souls who've been with the show from the beginning back in 1992. "No kidding," said Budd. I think there are a couple of hundred of us here. We are really proud of the niche we have in this great city." In the crowd, such as Dr. Ruth, Norma Kamali, Dan Vanes, Susan L. Parks, Diane Paulus and Nikia Redhead.

    News people are not always popular but I think NY1 is the exception. Everybody seems to love and need this show.