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HAMLISCH UNLEASHES STREISAND POWER

CONCERT REVIEW

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Pops Conductor Marvin Hamlisch on "The Barbra Streisand Songbook." With vocalist Julie Budd.

Friday and Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

Marvin Hamlisch opened Friday night's Buffalo Philharmonic Pops Concert with the overture he conducted for Barbra Streisand's 1994 international concert tour. Starting with her signature song, "People," it flowed effortlessly through several decades of songs she is famous for: "Evergreen," "Somewhere," "Second Hand Rose" "Happy Days Are Here Again."

For a fleeting moment, as the overture drew to a dramatic close, you might have thought Streisand actually would step out onto the stage of Kleinhans Music Hall. This was her music, after all, and it also was her night.

But instead, Hamlisch, conducting what he calls "The Barbra Streisand Songbook," gave the packed hall an evening of great orchestral renditions, wonderful piano solos, the lyrical voice ofJulie Budd and a few gimmicks along the way.

As anyone who has ever gone to a Hamlisch pops concert knows, the evening is as much about fun and showmanship as the music. Friday night, Hamlisch, who appears to love his gig in Buffalo as the pops conductor, even showed up to greet the dinner crowd in the restaurant on the lower level of Kleinhans.

But, later on stage, the man who was once the assistant to the vocal arranger for the Broadway musical "Funny Girl," which starred Streisand, used his knowledge and love of her music to lead the Philharmonic in some lush renditions of the Michel Legrand-written music from the movie "Yentl."

He was joined on stage by Budd, who resembles Streisand in style and looks but not vocal range or depth. Yet despite singing the numbers that are 100 percent associated with Streisand, Budd skillfully put her mark on the likes of "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)," "Don't Rain on My Parade" and the Fanny Brice classic, "My Man," which the audience simply loved. Budd, dressed in the first half of the concert in a Barbie pink gown, is better when she sticks to the lower ranges on numbers like "I Believe/You'll Never Walk Alone," a surprising choice and one not often linked to Streisand, although she recorded it on her "Higher Ground" album.

Hamlisch, as always, is the center of attention at these pops concerts, and he entertained the crowd Friday night with anecdotes from his days working with Streisand. But the true highlights of the evening were his piano performances of "Summer Me, Winter Me" and the movie theme he co-wrote with her, "The Way We Were." Showmanship aside, he is a truly gifted performer.

To the surprise of some in the audience, a Streisand impersonator -- Steven Brinberg -- appeared during the second half of the concert. His jokes at her expense were much more entertaining than his singing.

Also delighting the crowd was the performance of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" by two young singers who obviously were re-creating the televised performance of the song by Streisand and Neil Diamond.

Despite microphone problems, Vanessa Campagna, 12, and Rocky Paterra, 11, sang the pop number with experience and skill beyond their years. In true Buffalo style, the audience gave them a standing ovation.

The concert, which was repeated Saturday night, closed with the orchestra, Hamlisch and the four singers joining in on Streisand's classic version of "Happy Days Are Here Again," a fitting ending for what was a truly happy evening.

e-mail: slotempio@buffnews.com

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