Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Kind Of Similar




9:30pm on Easter Night, at 54 Below. There's an elephant in the room, and her name is Barbra.

Although Roslyn Kind only made one, brief, passing mention of "my sister" during her entire 90 minute performance (and not by name), the virtual presence of Barbra Streisand still loomed large over the proceedings. Nearly everything about Ms. Kind's physical appearance seemed deliberately calculated to suggest her older sister: the meticulously-straightened honey blonde hair; the flawlessly manicured talons; the expertly extended Cleopatra eye makeup; the black pantsuit which recalled a more conservative, age appropriate version of Streisand's famous see-through Scassi pajamas; and the regal schnozz, often turned in profile. It's all the more unnerving when one realizes that this uncanny doppelganger bears very little resemblance to the Roslyn Kind who had been a fledgling RCA recording artist and nightclub singer in the 1960's and 1970's. When did this complete metamorphosis take place?

Even more disconcerting than the physical similarities were Ms. Kind's vocal mannerisms and performance tics, which also practically screamed, "I'm the greatest star!" It was like watching an extraordinarily talented Streisand impersonator. Kind's early RCA recordings reveal a slight vocal similarity, although Kind was a little more nasal and perhaps not as warmly burnished in tone as her sister. But now, whether by design, or with age, or perhaps both, Kind's deepened register has rendered her voice an almost exact replica of Streisand's. And Kind's phrasing and cadence have become eerily like that of her sibling, both in singing and speech.

There are differences, of course. For one thing, Kind is obviously a much more accessible artist than Streisand, willing to make direct contact with her audience. She's nice, and utterly likable. Down to earth. Homier. She takes her frequent sips of hot tea from a paper delicatessen cup, not Limoges. Frankly, one senses that the chief attraction for Kind's devoted cult of fans (many of whom peppered the performance with "Brava"'s and "Welcome home"'s) is that she is the warm, friendly, approachable flip-side-Streisand that they wish her imposing, forbidding sister could be. Making her entrance through the audience to the deliciously daffy "It's a Beautiful Day" (a tuneful late Sixties period piece from her debut album), Ms. Kind passed out daisies to delighted audience members. Ms. Streisand, had she even considered such a move, would no doubt have assigned the task to the ushers.

And while Streisand is (or at least, was) well-known for her kooky, quirky sense of humor, you can hardly imagine the almost frighteningly regal Streisand of today getting saucy, as Ms. Kind did, on "I Can Cook, Too" (from Comden and Green's On the Town); or camping it up on the special material "If He Was Straight (And I Were Young)," cleverly juxtaposed with "The Boy Next Door" from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

Interestingly, for all of her seemingly-conscious mimicking of her sister's physical and vocal traits, Ms. Kind studiously avoided performing any material which could be connected with Streisand, with the possible exception of that snippet of "The Boy Next Door," which Big Sis Babs had recorded on her 1967 Simply Streisand album; and Sergio Mendes' "So Many Stars," which Streisand included on her recent album of Alan and Marilyn Bergman lyrics, but is not particularly closely associated with her. Of course, Streisand has recorded so extensively, that this narrows the field somewhat for Ms. Kind. On the plus side, necessity being the mother of invention, Ms. Kind has unearthed some hidden treasures which are rarely heard; on the negative side of the ledger, some should have remained buried.

Which is not to say that there were any truly bad choices in Ms. Kind's repertoire, because there weren't; only some hackneyed ones. Her "signature" song, and first encore, for instance, was "Can You Read My Mind," the pretty-but-sappy love theme from Superman (1978), replete with outer space and flying metaphors shoehorned into the lyrics. We're fairly certain that even Maureen McGovern, who had the original hit with the soundtrack version, has dropped it from her act by now.

However, in another, quite welcome parallel to Streisand, Ms. Kind, like her sister, can make even the most awkward or trite lyric sound exponentially weightier by the innate gravitas in her delivery. And, unlike Streisand, whose approach to these lesser lyrics is sometimes akin to swatting a fly with an Oldsmobile, Kind's approach is somewhat more delicate. She performed a remarkably beautiful rendition of the little-known Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune, "I Just Have to Breathe," a lighter-than-air souffle of a song which could have collapsed under a more heavy handed interpretation.

Other highlights of the evening included a gossamer ballad penned by the wonderful Ann Hampton Callaway titled "Perfect"; a soaring "Kiss Her Now" from Jerry Herman's Dear World, combined rather brilliantly with his "It Only Takes a Moment" from Hello, Dolly (another Streisand drive-by, although her character doesn't sing it in the score); and Kind's final number of the night, "Come What May," which was one of Patti LaBelle's signature tunes in the 1970's. That she delivered it so beautifully, eradicating, at least for the moment, any memory of LaBelle's formidable performance, is praiseworthy. Even if it did still remind you of someone else.

7 comments:

  1. What a fantastic review, not only of the performance, but of both women's careers. I did a double-take when I scrolled down this morning and saw that photo.

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  2. Now this is what I call a proper review---perceptive, astute, analytical, but not in the least boring.
    So many valid points are raised, one hardly knows where to begin. Above all else,( apart from the eerie near-resemblance-of-half-sisters thing,) it is as much about the artifice of Barbra Streisand
    whose metamorphosis from spontaneous 1960s "kook" to mannered Diva seems to me
    emblematic of everything that is wrong with popular culture, fame, the misuse of talent. If Ms Kind is able to hang on to a shred of humanity, then more power to her, I say.

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    1. 1960's Streisand is so thrilling, although I wonder just HOW "spontaneous" her "kook" image really was in the beginning, and how much was manufactured as a carefully thought-out business model. I wish Mr. Worthington was in town to see the very, very funny one man play, "Buyer & Cellar," with me -- a delightful farce about Barbra The Icon in all her terrifying, tasteful-to-a-fault glory.

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    2. You make an interesting point about the "kook" image. It could have been manufactured, because based on everything I have ever read about Barbra, she was never a "fun" person. The fact that the kookiness was left by the wayside fairly early does indicate it was a persona. I agree with you about her 1960s performances. By the mid-70s everything was so scripted and planned. All spontaneity was long-gone.

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  3. Terrific review, ..kind , fair and yet unsparingly truthful as such things should be. It's the debt one owes to art . Thank you for posting it.

    Barbra became a star so fast and so young , she retained her liberal convictions. She then by passed the conservative stage altogether and became Royalty

    Frankly, one senses that the chief attraction for Kind's devoted cult of fans.... that she is the warm, friendly, approachable flip-side-Streisand that they wish her imposing, forbidding sister could be.

    Indeed .

    I do give credit to Kind for putting it out there and performing under such a shadow . It's a double edged sword. She gets less and more attention by being the sibling .

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  4. Thanks for a fascinating discussion of this unusual lady and her performance. This pushed me to look up some of the less well-known songs she sang.

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  5. I loved it in the early days when Barbra simply sang a song. It was about the song and the voice..then she tired to make the singing "interesting" with twists and turns as if simply singing a lyric as it's always been sung was too boring ...the good thing about her aging and the slightly diminished voice is , she has to go back to simple

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