Streisand in Transition on an Elaborate, Sometimes Overly Ambitious 1973 Special
As the last of the CBS-TV specials showcased in the five-disc set, "Barbra Streisand: The Television Specials", the extravagant "Barbra Streisand...and Other Musical Instruments" came a full five years after her last special. It's important to note that she was no longer just a chanteuse at this point and had in the interim, catapulted herself into a movie career. Her music also changed as it evolved into a broader terrain of pop beyond her standard repertoire of torch songs and show tunes. For what would be her last special made strictly for the television medium (her subsequent specials have been videotaped concerts), Streisand goes back to the three-act concept structure that worked well for her in her first two specials, 1965's "My Name Is Barbra" and 1966's "Color Me Barbra". However, never one to repeat herself, the performer turned the concepts inside out by loosely revolving the program around the basic idea that music is a universal language.
In Act I, she starts things light with a medley of "Sing" from "Sesame Street" and Mac Davis' "Make Your Own Kind of Music". With a succession of exotic instruments, she then segues into an elaborate world-music medley of "I Got Rhythm" blended with her regular repertoire and highlighted in a whirl of color and costumes. Act II sees her swimming in a hippie-style caftan in a state of confusion over then-current data computers while singing pre-electronica versions of "By Myself" and "Come Back to Me". This leads to a rather incongruous segment with Ray Charles, where he effortlessly sings "Look What They Done to My Song, Ma", duets mighty prettily with Streisand on Buck Owens's "Cryin' Time Again" and then accompanies her and his Raelettes on a churning medley of "Sweet Inspiration" and "Where You Lead". Granted Streisand's choreography is a bit awkward and her bell-bottoms somewhat distracting, but the number works even if it does pale mightily next to the live version she performed at the LA Forum.
The third segment has Streisand in a fussy lace gown doing a comic version of a famous Schubert lied, a poignant performance of Harold Arlen and Truman Capote's "I Never Has Seen Snow" (the best moment of the special), and her signature "On a Clear Day". The climax comes with a weak medley of "The World Is a Concerto" and again "Make Your Own Kind of Music" accompanied by tuxedoed men operating electric household appliances and surrounded by a 100-piece orchestra including a musical saw. The end credits surround an aura-affixed Streisand singing "The Sweetest Sounds". Aired in November 1973, the special represents Streisand at her most youthfully glamorous and teasingly audacious. With very clear visuals and audio, this DVD does not contain her best TV work, but it holds up well over the past 33 years.
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