It's a good bet that Barbra Streisand probably won't ever be asked to sing at a Super Bowl halftime show – unlike, say, Beyoncé, a current superstar with similarly impressive vocal and audience reach, not to mention movie appeal. We also wouldn’t expect to see Streisand at any future Olympic ceremonies, unlike her contemporaries in age, if not musical style, like The Who and Paul McCartney, who rocked before a world viewership at last summer’s London Games.
But it’s fitting, on multiple levels, that the music and film great is set to sing before perhaps her biggest TV audience ever Sunday at the Oscars. Her first Academy Awards performance since the Carter Administration is a must-see for people who still need Streisand – as well as a chance for younger viewers to learn what the last half-century or so of fuss has been about.
The holder of 50 gold records will lead an all-star ladies-of-song lineup that includes “Goldfinger” singer Shirley Bassey, Jennifer Hudson, Adele and Norah Jones. And with the Oscars set to salute movie musicals in the year of “Les Misérables,” it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate headliner than Streisand, who helped keep the form vibrant, from “Funny Girl” to “Yentl,” in the post-“That’s Entertainment” era.
If that all sounds like a vocal victory lap in the making for the 70-year-old singer, well, it is. But Streisand proved last year that she’s an entertainment marathoner who shows no signs of slowing down. Sure, “The Guilt Trip,” her mother-son comedy with Seth Rogen, went nowhere fast. But “Release Me,” a compilation album of rare cuts, made Billboard’s Top 10. And a brief tour, which included a triumphant stop in her hometown of Brooklyn, packed in plenty of fans.
Sunday’s appearance could become a high note in Streisand’s up-and-down history with the Academy Awards. Streisand tied for Best Actress honors for Katherine Hepburn in 1969 amid a controversy over whether the then-Hollywood newcomer should have been allowed to vote.
Streisand last sang at an Academy Awards ceremony in 1977, when she won an Oscar for co-writing “Evergreen,” from her remake of “A Star is Born.” But perhaps smarting over past directing nomination snubs (“The Prince of Tides,” “Yentl”), she nixed a chance to take the stage in 1997. Celine Dion stepped in to perform Streisand’s Oscar-nominated “I Finally Found Someone” from “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”
It’s unclear exactly what Streisand will sing Sunday, but our best guess is “The Way We Were,” the 1974 Oscar-winner penned by her pal Marvin Hamlisch, who died last year. Whatever song she chooses, the gig offers a prime opportunity to see and hear Streisand the way she is.