Leading Article: Funny girl who laughs all the way to the bank

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The Independent Online
LACK of nerve is not an accusation that can be levelled at the promoters of the four Barbra Streisand concerts that open at Wembley Arena tonight. Ms Streisand's fee was so high that the promoters knew they would only get their money back if they could sell tens of thousands of concert tickets at prices never before seen in this country. The promoters gambled and won. Their success raises the wider question of why so many are willing to pay so much to hear Ms Streisand sing.

One answer, which her publicists are swift to supply, is that Ms Streisand is a master of her genre. Her sentimental style is not to everybody's taste; but to those who like it, she is as consummate a performer as Sir John Gielgud is to lovers of the theatre and Luciano Pavarotti to devotees of opera.

Equally important is Ms Streisand's very ordinariness. With her string of unsuccessful liaisons, culminating in a relationship with a tennis player young enough to be her son, Ms Streisand makes an odd kind of star. Not for her the impossible beauty and implausible happiness of a life in the style of Hello] magazine. She is a professional Girl Next Door - and the market judges that, combined with her real skills, more appealing than the exotic attractions of Madonna or the Rolling Stones.

Another factor has probably helped. Like the late classical pianist Glenn Gould, Ms Streisand has avoided the stage for years. Having bodged her lines badly at a concert 20 years ago, she suffers from stage fright. As a result, her appearances on the current tour have a high scarcity value. They may also be the last time her fans get to see her in the flesh.

Whatever one thinks of the rapacious merchandising associated with the shows - pounds 13 for a programme, pounds 40 for a shirt, pounds 75 for a watch, and so on - there is a paradox here. Most of America's richest entertainers have amassed their fortunes pennies at a time, by promoting albums and films to millions of people. Ms Streisand's uniqueness is her ability to combine the appeal of the mass market with seat prices of which Glyndebourne would be proud.