BWW Review: Blake McIver Makes BARBRA: THE CONCERT His Own at the Laurie Beechman
Before he even took the stage during his August 19 performance at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, the PEOPLE'S COUCH alum reminded us of the way we were in 1994. That's when BARBRA: THE CONCERT, Streisand's legendary comeback concert after 27 years away, first aired.
Nothing could've set the scene better than concertgoers' actual confessional interviews from the taped version of THE CONCERT, which seem gloriously kitschy nearly two decades later. Walking up to the stage from the back of the room singing "As If We Never Said Goodbye" (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black & Christopher Hampton), his rendition was a perfect match for Streisand's: sweet but never sappy.
With a tremendous voice and poise for days, as the show continued, it was clear McIver has lost none of the pluck from his child star days. Magnificently belting a medley that included "Everybody Says Don't" (Stephen Sondheim) and "Don't Rain on My Parade" (Bob Merrill/Jule Styne), he ingeniously reworked the lyrics to "I'm Still Here" (Sondheim), self-awarely singing, "One day they call you child star / Next day they don't know who you are" and going on to reference his stints as both a go-go dancer and a "reality... star?"
His knowledge of the iconic singer runs deep. Studying the music and the icon's life is one thing, but memorizing her patter? That's what makes McIver a true Barbra StreiStan, and it's also what made the show feel so well-rounded.
Gently poking fun at Streisand for a bit from her concert having a faux therapy session with a disembodied therapist, McIver conducted a fake sesh of his own to deal with his "Acute Obsessive Streisand Disorder." It was cute enough, cleverly serving as a launchpad into "She Touched Me" (Milton Schafer) to show his devotion to Streisand, but the gag probably didn't need a redux after the number was over.
Although the legend was very much the focal point of McIver's performance, he also effectively used THE CONCERT as the prism through which he reflected his own experiences from that time. Because when he wasn't nailing number after number (with musical director Brandon James Gwinn on piano), McIver was exceptional at spinning gold out of his admittedly one-of-a-kind 1994. At nine years old, he had a whirlwind year that involved an earthquake doing some serious damage to his home, continuing his recurring role on FULL HOUSE and starting production on LITTLE RASCALS.
The show was nostalgic, but not in an "only '90s kids will remember this" sort of way. It was a singular nostalgia for McIver's own childhood. He slayed the crowd with a story of an awkward lunch with his LITTLE RASCALS patriarch, played by none other than Donald Trump.
At one point, McIver reveals baby Tiffany was so fussy, his father had to take her away to try and soothe her, cracking that even before she could walk, she was "already getting disinvited to functions."
He knew just when to deploy one of his child star tales to lighten things up, and it was nice that the show pushed well beyond the boundaries of diva worship (not that there's anything wrong with diva worship). But McIver also never forgot to give the people who need people what they want: more Barbra.
In a glorious YENTL medley including "Where Is It Written"/"Papa, Can You Hear Me"/"Will Someone Ever Look at Me That Way"/"A Piece of Sky" (Michel Legrand, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman), his vocals soared higher than ever to match the intensity of the most meta of moments.
Alongside BARBRA: THE CONCERT footage of Barbra belting it out in front of Yentl doing the same on-screen behind her, McIver flawlessly mimicked both Barbras' blocking while matching them note for note. It was so awe-inspiring, my only note is that it would have made for one hell of a final number.
At the tail end of a set heavy on ballads, McIver's rendition of the Disney medley-a seemingly odd choice for Barbra, but one inspired by her goddaughter-was an unexpected joy, adding a bit of levity beyond his quips with a mix of "Once Upon a Dream" (Sammy Fain), "When You Wish Upon a Star" (Leigh Harline), and "Someday My Prince Will Come" (Frank Churchill).
Leaving 1994 behind, he delivered a slightly bittersweet take on "Happy Days Are Here Again" (Milton Ager), addressing the current political climate in turn. Emphasizing the the importance of singing the song until its lyrics come true, he tied it back to Streisand's own idea of a perfect world, in which "all of us are equal but definitely not the same."
It's a testament to McIver that one of the most uptempo numbers in the set was also one of the most emotional. Intimacy in cabaret can be taken for granted, given the format. But without elaborate staging or a cast of co-stars, world-building is far more elusive.
From his personal tales from that time to his knowledge of Streisand and, of course, the songs themselves, McIver built an entire universe in that room, not entirely unlike the utopia the icon herself envisioned during THE CONCERT.
And I can think of no better tribute to "the myth, the legend, the owner of half of Malibu" than that.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.