Barbra Streisand, "Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway" (Columbia)
On her new album of duets, Barbra Streisand is asked by one of her guest singers one of those ridiculous, starry-eyed questions that only someone who lives in an oceanfront estate in Malibu would consider.
"Does the world ever frighten you?" asks Seth MacFarlane, with presumably a straight face. To which Streisand replies: "Sometimes." Then Babs explains that she copes by closing her eyes, making a wish and creating "the world the way I want it to be."
Judging by the 10-song, vanity project that is "Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway," Streisand's musical world is a highly calculated and mannered one, characterized by oodles of false sentimentality. But such is her gravitational pull that some of today's biggest stars like Melissa McCarthy and Chris Pine have submitted, with mixed results.
Streisand has already put out a pair of Broadway CDs with songs from "West Side Story," ''Show Boat" and "Sweeney Todd." She also already paired with random singers like Billy Joel, Lionel Richie and Blake Shelton on her 2014 album "Partners."
So putting those two ideas together for a new duets album of songs from Broadway shows like "A Chorus Line" and "Road Show" makes sort of sense. After all, this is her 35th studio album. What's left? Streisand sings with Olympic gymnasts? Barbra covers Smash Mouth?
Part of what makes this album tedious to all but Streisand fanatics is that the duets never sound organic. Although the title implies her guest singers are former movie partners, most have clearly met her for the first time in the recording studio, which happens to be in her own massive estate.
That gives the CD a forced, blind-date quality — or a shotgun wedding vibe — in which the guests arrive trying to impress the steely Streisand, who was typically hands-on with every aspect of the recording. Many must also recite little skits or dialogue from the shows, adding to the cheese factor.
Some succeed: Patrick Wilson is nicely understated on "Loving You" and Hugh Jackman proves his massive skills on "Any Moment Now." MacFarlane turns in a credible, old-school leading man performance of "Pure Imagination," while Anne Hathaway and Daisy Ridley help produce a lovely "At the Ballet." Jamie Foxx delivers an earthy "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" that's easily the best thing on the CD.
But some of Bab's guests fail badly, including a cartoonish Alec Baldwin butchering "The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened" and a miscast McCarthy in a borscht belt version of "Anything You Can Do." Pine doesn't so much borrow from Frank Sinatra during his medley as pretend to be Sinatra, with disastrous results.
Every tune on the cold new CD seems less about the song and the fact that it is Streisand singing it, pulling it through her own Streisand windpipes and giving a calculated, Streisand sound. It's all pure notes and nothing risked. Sure, it's pretty and put together, but it's got no beating heart. It's the world that she wants it to be.
Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits