Saturday, February 11, 2023



To Barbra With Love. An 80th Birthday Celebration.

 Directed by Cameron Mitchell and accompanied by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra under conductor Vanessa Scammell with Michael Tyack at piano. Performed by Caroline O’Connor, Katie Noonan, Elsie McCann and Ainsley Melham. Presented by Live Nation. The Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. February 10-11. 2023Bookings: 62752700

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


To Barbra With Love - An 80th Birthday Celebration

On February 25th this year it will be exactly six decades since Barbra Streisand’s first of three iconic Barbra albums was released. As part of an Australian tour, Canberra audiences were tonight treated to To Barbra With Love, in celebration of the diva’s eightieth birthday and performed by the amazing Caroline O’Connor, Elise McCann, Katie Noonan and Ainsley Melham with the backing of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra under the baton of conductor Vanessa Scammell. From the exuberant opening Barbrature of familiar melodies it was obvious that this would be a celebration to excite and delight lovers of Streisand’s remarkable career as singer, actress, producer, writer and director. It is a rare achievement for an overture to cause the goosebumps to rise, but it would not be the only time for the hairs to stand on end during a concert, sparkling with musical gems, polished by the phenomenal voices of the four singers.

Caroline O'Connor, Katie Noonan, Elise McCann, Ryan Gonzalez
 Streisand’s talent is unique and director Cameron Mitchell has wisely recognized that a celebration of her art can only truly be interpreted through the unique vocals and extraordinary talents of the four singers. To Barbra With Love not only offers audiences a thrilling repertoire of Streisand’s immediately familiar songs but also some less familiar numbers. The two hour concert also allows Connor, Noonan, McCann and Melham to make each song their own while embodying every number with Streisand’s energy, passion, vitality and emotional force. The greatest accolade that To Barbra with Love can pay is not imitation but spirited devotion. McCann’s sublime rendition of A Piece of Sky from Yentl is inspired by Streisand’s visionary film and her activist role as writer, producer, director and actor. Melham who watched Streisand on the TV in his living room as a child captures beautifully the tone of loss and regret in his duet with McCann of You Don’t Send Me Flowers. Noonan’s hypnotic rendition of Evergreen, Streisand’s own composition of the love song from A Star is Born, is as much a celebration of Streisand’s songwriting talent and vocal magic as it is  a recognition of Noonan’s phenomenal range and affirmation of love’s haunting power. O Connor is the fire in Streisand’s soul. Her gutsy, fiery rendition of Before the Parade Passes By and Don’t Rain on My Parade is beautifully contrasted with her soulful, almost melancholic Send In The Clowns. The announcement of Burt Bacharach’s death today lent a special significance to the inclusion of his composition One Less Bell To Answer .

Ainsley Melham took over from Ryan Gonzalez
 Every song in the repertoire is a glittering  jewel in the show’s crowning achievement – an uplifting and heart-warming celebration of a star whose achievements in music, theatre and film are without parallel. Too many to mention, the selected songs in the evening's entertainment  pay tribute to the many great composers with whom Streisand worked. The list is a roll call of legendary giants of music and musical theatre . Jerry Herman. Jule Styne, Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Neil Diamond, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Bacharach and Michel Jean Legend. Arthur Hamilton’s  Cry Me A River is given an enticing R&B  rendition by Noonan,who also demonstrates her astounding versatility with   Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Somewhere from West Side Story and  surprisingly the Bee Gees Guilty

Every number is greeted with rapturous applause, as much for Connor, Noonan, McCann and Melham as for Streisand and the many composers with whom she has worked over the past sixty years. But the piece d’ resistance was the full company’s final performance of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill’s  Music that Makes Me Dance with McCann urging the audience to their feet. For the many Streisand fans in the audience there was little need for encouragement and the performance came to a rousing close with people dancing in the aisle as orchestra and singers fired up the Canberra Theatre with the audience foot stomping and arm waving their appreciation. It was a fitting end to a performance that was both flamboyant and adulatory, inspired and joyful.    With four of the best in Australian musical talent and an orchestra that lifted the spirits under Scallem’s effervescent baton, To Barbra With Love appeared as an ageless and evergreen tribute to its greatest star.