To Barbra, with Love review

A rose-tinted rollick down memory lane, To Barbra, with Love showcases hit after cherished hit as Melbourne Symphony Orchestra complements a terrific quartet of vivacious vocalists. 

Mining Streisand’s capacious catalogue, arranger Nicholas Buc brings new life to the beloved tunes, bringing that bigger-than-a-big-band sound roaring to sassy, brassy, classy life. 

Maestro Vanessa Scammell leads the musicians with understated flair, drawing grand sound with only the most delicate of gestures. Scammell exhibits extraordinary range, swiftly segueing from style to style with barely a beat to catch her thoughts. Whether the singers are downstage behind her back or far upstage, Scammell maintains tight, yet warmly supportive, control of all on stage. 

The ranks of the mighty musicians of the MSO are expanded by a number of guest musicians, featuring, in particular, Michael Tyack on piano, Dean Copper on drum kit, Troy Downward on guitar and James Kempster on bass guitar. 

Eschewing corny connective dialogue, director Cameron Mitchell keeps the spotlight firmly on the music, ramping up the entertainment value with a virtually non-stop cavalcade of songs that simply speak for themselves. A couple of moments of dialogue are all that is needed to bring very broad context to an evening that very eloquently speaks for itself. 

With a focus on musical theatre selections, Mitchell fills the program with much-loved songs that bring out the storytelling gifts in the talented cast. The evening is bookended by a contrasting pair of full company numbers, opening (after a brief “Barbrature”) with “Putting it Together” from The Broadway Album (1985) and sending the audience out on a high with the funky beat of “No More Tears (Enough is Enough).”

Long reigning musical theatre queen Caroline O’Connor returns to the very stage where she played Fanny Brice (Funny Girl) in the inaugural season of The Production Company. Having played the role again for TPC in 2016, O’Connor is exceptionally well placed to soar through heartfelt ballad “People” and triumphantly close act one with top flight power ballad “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” 

O’Connor thrills the Sondheim fans with “Send in the Clowns,” and leaves everyone (more than) a little misty eyed with beloved ballad “The Way We Were.”

Elise McCann proves an inspired choice for the concert stage, bringing exquisite expression to her honeyed vocal stylings. McCann makes a memorable impact as she skilfully crafts complete three-act performances from “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello, Dolly!) and “Papa Can You Hear Me / Piece of the Sky” (Yentl). 

Also proving to be a generous, responsive duet partner, McCann teams with O’Connor for Burt Bacharach mashup “One Less Bell to Answer / House is Not a Home” (Promises, Promises). Finally, McCann unleashes the full power of her innate musicality for the gorgeous “Music That Makes Me Dance,” from the stage version of Funny Girl.

In excellent voice, songstress Katie Noonan sounds delightful in all selections, particularly her Streisand-style rendition of “Somewhere” (The Broadway Album). Noonan lets herself down by using sheet music for almost all of her numbers, finally coming out from behind the music stand for pop duet “Guilty” and the show’s finale.

Rounding out the very talented quartet of singers, prolific musical theatre performer Ryan Gonzales is a lively counterpoint in duets “Guilty” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” coming into their own with the jaunty “How Lucky Can You Get” and the dreamily nostalgic “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

To Barbra, with Love has the lighting design and general pizazz of a Major Event. Vocalists look superb in luxurious styling from Linda Britten, with O’Connor moving to a shimmering Lucy Laurita gown in the second half.

To Barbra, with Love plays again at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne 7.30pm Friday 22 April and 2pm, 7.30pm Saturday 23 April 2022. For tickets, click here.

The To Barbra, with Love program can be read online.

Man in Chair was thrilled to see a quote from the 2016 review of Funny Girl in the program for To Barbra, with Love. To read the full review, click here

Photos: #1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9 Nico Keenan; #4 Laura Pemberton

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