Fifty-six years after the arrival of her classic debut album, Barbra Streisand is still stunning audiences around the world. In late 2018, she released Walls, a thoughtful set of songs that speak to our times and universal human concerns; earlier this month, she performed for a sold-out crowd of 65,000 at Hyde Park in London, bringing out her A Star Is Born (1976) co-star Kris Kristofferson for their first-ever live duet.
On Aug. 3, Streisand returns to her hometown to dazzle the crowd at New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden. It’s her first set at the venue since 2006, and the significance of the moment isn’t lost on her: “When I perform there, the audience just gets me,” Streisand tells Billboard of her NYC homecoming.
Ahead of her MSG show and her Aug. 6 concert at Chicago’s United Center, the legendary singer/actor/director/philanthropist answered a few questions from Billboard over email about her upcoming shows, that reunion with Kristofferson and what the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots means to her.
Aug. 3 will see you play Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2006. How does playing in your hometown differ from performing in other cities?
Like the old saying goes, “You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the girl.” No matter where I live or travel, I’ll always be a New Yorker at heart. People from New York share a common sensibility. When I perform there, the audience just gets me…they get my sense of humor and point of view. You can be in California, Paris or Timbuktu, and if you bump into a fellow New Yorker you know it right away. Also, many of my favorite songs come from Broadway, and the New York audiences have a great appreciation for musical theatre.
On July 7, you performed for a sold-out crowd at BST Hyde Park in London. What is your advice for other artists who might be nervous about playing to such massive crowds?
Have fun and bring sunglasses! The sun doesn’t set ‘til 9 p.m. The Hyde Park audience was incredibly welcoming. I was really taken with how they sang along to so many of my songs. They knew all the lyrics…and they really sang in tune. It was almost like having my own back-up choir. I hadn’t performed in a park since 1967 when I did my A Happening in Central Park concert. I was a bit concerned when I was told that “festival seating” meant the audience would be standing on their feet from 2 p.m. to when I came on after 8 p.m. I thought they might be exhausted, but they were completely energized. It’s funny, the thoughts that come to mind when you walk on stage. I looked out at this enormous crowd and I spontaneously asked, “How will I know if you’re giving me a standing ovation when you’re already standing?” A lot of the other headliners had very up-tempo repertoires, and a good deal of my songs are ballads, so I was especially struck by how quiet 70,000 people could be. By the way, I hadn’t seen what 70,000 people looked like since I performed at Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium, for the concert sequence in A Star Is Born.
How did it feel reuniting with Kris Kristofferson at Hyde Park and performing the Oscar-winning duet you wrote for the 1976 movie A Star Is Born?
In A Star Is Born, the only time Kris and I sing together is in a recording studio. As closely connected as we may be in the public’s mind, we’ve never actually performed live in-concert, so it was wonderful to finally have the chance to do that. Before Kris came on stage, I showed the audience an outtake from the movie — it was a scene we’d shot that, in hindsight, I wish I’d left in the movie, but at the time I felt it slowed the pace down. Kris and I had a kind of undefinable chemistry then, and I still feel that connection with him today. When he stepped out of the wings, the audience went wild!
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. What has support from the LGBTQ community meant to you over the course of your career?
There’s a song on my latest album Walls that speaks to this very topic. It’s called “Love’s Never Wrong” and the lyrics espouse a simple but true philosophy. It’s my fervent belief that everyone is entitled to love whomever they choose to love. It’s not an emotion that can be legislated or debated. The first time I ever performed before a paying audience was at a gay club in Greenwich Village called The Lion. I was 18 years old and had never set foot in a nightclub before. So right from the start, I felt support from the gay community that continues to this day.
Three decades ago, I tried very hard to make the Larry Kramer play about the AIDS epidemic, The Normal Heart into a movie. I was supposedly a bankable filmmaker who had an incredibly compelling story to share, but not a single studio would touch the subject. Thankfully, things have changed for the better, but there are still a lot of close-minded people with antiquated ideas. It almost sounds cliché, but the fact is, we’re all unique in our own way, and completely entitled to love and be loved without judgment about our sexual orientation. They say when you stand at the gates of heaven, God doesn’t ask how well you were loved, but “How well did you love?”