Joking that she wanted to revisit highlights of her career before her "memories become misty and water-colored," Barbra Streisand took the crowd at the Verizon Center Thursday night on a journey through her nearly six decades of song and cinema.
It was not the most coherently organized exercise in nostalgia, and some of the side trips didn't add much to the experience. But none of that mattered. Considering how superbly Streisand sounded, she could have owned the place singing the alphabet.
At 74, the voice remains ageless. Few pop vocalists achieve that consistency, let alone back up the vocal steadiness with so much interpretive power.
Throughout Thursday's performance of "Barbra: The Music…The Mem'ries…The Magic" program -- each half lasted about an hour -- Streisand's timbre was as golden and vibrant as ever, her pitch dead-center, her breath control still impressive (if not as endless as back in the day). The little crackle in the voice that started to appear a decade or so ago, primarily on heated high notes, popped up occasionally here, but didn't detract at all.
And when Streisand dived into a great melody and grabbed hold of a potent lyric, nowhere more compellingly than in "Losing My Mind" from Stephen Sondheim's "Follies," it was as if we were all back in the 1960s again.
That Sondheim song, new to Streisand's repertoire, will be included among the bonus tracks on a "deluxe edition" of her forthcoming "Encores" album. The regular version features duets with a starry roster of actors who sing ("and some who don't," as Streisand quipped on Thursday).
For her current concert tour -- Washington was No. 8 on a 10-city itinerary -- that album gets its share of plugs. A couple of the artists who teamed with Streisand on the recording have turned up to do live versions of their tracks on some tour stops. No such luck at the Verizon Center.
Instead, we got Streisand partnering with a film performance of Anthony Newley singing one of the Broadway standards he wrote with Leslie Bricusse, "Who Can I Turn To" (a version of this duet is on the new disc). The match of voices and styles didn't feel quite seamless, but the intensity of the words and music could be vividly felt.
Speaking of Newley (sad to say, I heard people around me asking who he was), the program also gave him a nod via a song he and Bricusse wrote, "Pure Imagination," for the movie "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."
Some of Streisand's most enjoyable bits of banter during the evening concerned such things as skirmishes with record companies over album covers; her Broadway debut as Miss Marmelstein in "I Can Get It For You Wholesale"; and her relationship with "Funny Girl" director William Wyler. (The star also deftly handled the inevitable boorish types who yelled things out or took photos.)
From "Funny Girl," in addition to the obligatory "People," there was a robust account of "Don't Rain on My Parade." Even more rewarding was a reminiscence of "Funny Lady" that included an exquisite performance of one of that movie's best numbers, "Isn't It Better."
There were mementos from the years when, as Streisand put it, she was "trying to be hip." She took a leisurely stroll through "Woman in Love" and kicked it up for "Stoney End" and "Enough Is Enough," aided by a trio of backup singers. (Those singers and a 10-piece band provided supple support for Streisand all night.)
Other pop hits turned up, including "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and, accompanied by graphic images of national and international crises, Carole King's ever-relevant "Being at War with Each Other."
Streisand returned to "Papa, Can Your Hear Me" from "Yentl" and gave it an affecting edge. She also she brought back "Being Alive," the Sondheim anthem from her "Broadway Album," delivering it with fresh, visceral emotion.
Of course, "Evergreen" was included, and another song from "A Star Is Born" served as the final encore -- "With One More Look At You," a curious, rather anticlimactic choice.
More curious was the presence of Lior Suchard, an animated mentalist/magician who provided some pre-Act 2 warm-up. I never thought a Streisand concert could be cheesy, but this act gave the evening an ill-fitting cruise ship feeling.