“I’m hectic as usual,” says Barbra Streisand on the phone from her Los Angeles home. With a career spanning more than half a century, the legendary singer is hardly slowing down, but chances are she will not be scheduling another multicity concert tour. “No, I would never do another show,” she admits.
But the chance to see Streisand perform up close is coming in the form of “Barbra: The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic!” debuting on Netflix this Wednesday. From behind-the-scenes prep — spoiler: Streisand still does her own makeup and has since her “Funny Girl” days — to a two-act emotionally charged sampling of her musical oeuvre, the concert special was shot in one take during a Miami stop last December.
“I’m basically an actress who sings, I’m not a singer who acts,” she says in her familiar Brooklyn accent. “I was very scared because now we were putting [the concert] on film, which is forever.”
Streisand, who had the last word in the special’s final edit, compares her passion for precision as a performer to the exactitude needed when creating a custom wardrobe. “In making something, you can’t just measure one aspect,” she opines. “It’s not just a matter of inches, it’s where the inches fall. Everything is like that to me.”
For the concert tour, which showcases her powerful vocals interspersed with stories, Streisand enlisted the help of Donna Karan and Marchesa in crafting two simple on-stage looks. The first, by Karan, is a black lace top and bell-bottom trousers with matching lace panels.
“The way I work with Donna is I draw what I see,” she explains. “The top, I thought, should have the lace in the shoulders that matches the bottom insert of the pants.”
“With Marchesa, for the second act, I redesigned a dress I saw on the runway,” she continues of her billowing gray chiffon custom creation. “I know my own body and that’s why I know what to show and what to disguise.”
Noting the “impressive work ethic” of Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig’s team, Streisand expressed shock at how quickly her vision became a reality. “You pin it, you talk about it, you see it, you try it, it’s one fitting and then it’s done. It was so delicious, so delightful, so wonderful.”
Directorial input is usually a requirement for Streisand, whose savvy extends beyond just her theatrical talent. Not wild about performing to large crowds, Streisand prefers to work from the comfort of her ocean-facing Malibu, Calif. home. “I love that idea of being able to be part of nature,” she says. It’s from this space that Streisand has been writing a forthcoming autobiography. This labor of love has now been three years in the making, she explains with a laugh. “I was only writing a book because I couldn’t get the films I wanted to make, made. That relies on other people, but when you write a book or I make a record, it’s all within my control.”
For the project, Streisand has reluctantly revisited her extensive body of work and called upon long-forgotten documents stored away in an archival vault. “I normally never listen to my records once I make them and never watch myself,” she says. “But because I’m writing I’ve had to remember the circumstances with every shot.”
She then recalls performing “Evergreen” alongside Kris Kristofferson in 1976’s “A Star Is Born.” Streisand, who calls herself “a terrible lip-syncer,” insisted the scene be “in the moment and spontaneous.”
“I even forgot the lyric at one point, but that’s the reality I want to capture: the truth of the moment,” she adds.
It’s this truth that guides the multihyphenate entertainer through each performance. “What can I bring the audience this time,” and “how can I make it special,” are questions she asks of herself before taking the stage in the nearly two-hour streaming special.
Backed by a 10-piece orchestra, the singer performs hits including “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” “No More Tears,” and “Losing My Mind.” Between songs Streisand offers her thoughts on environmental protection and the divisive political landscape in America today. “We are all so alike all of us,” she offers to the crowd.
When asked about Hollywood in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault and harassment allegations, Streisand takes on a firm tone. “What do I think about that,” she repeats before dubbing President Donald Trump as “a groper-in-chief.”
“It’s disgraceful what is happening and everything is an insult to our intelligence,” she continues. “[Trump] is making me eat. Every time I hear him speak I stuff another piece of food in my mouth and crave sweets. It’s so sour out there.”
Politics aside, Streisand often has the ability to unify an audience through song. The 75-year-old admits she is still “shocked” when her performance elicits tears from fans. “I’m doing my work as an actress and relating to the material,” she says. “I’m always surprised. Isn’t that funny? After all these years.”