Ageless and Evergreen, Babs to Make a Stop in Philadelphia


Philly, can you hear me?

If there is one singer/actress/all-around-icon who pops into your head when you think of the word “legendary,” chances are it’s Barbra Streisand.

The songstress has been making quite a comeback recently — if that’s even the right word for it — by announcing a new album, ENCORE: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, with all of your favorite celebrities from Hugh Jackman to Melissa McCarthy (and then mercilessly teasing us with videos leading up to its Aug. 26 release) as well as embarking on a nine-city tour.

And Philadelphia should count itself lucky that it was chosen among the masses when Streisand makes a stop at the Wells Fargo Center on Aug. 20.

While Marvin Levin isn’t attending this performance — though he enthusiastically invites her to perform at Abramson Center for Jewish Life where he resides — he has plenty of his own memories to look back on. Specifically seeing her play at Veterans Stadium many years ago.

At what he estimates was $15,000 for two tickets, it was a worthwhile experience to see the “one of a kind” performer live.

“I went to what I was told was her last performance,” he recalled. “But it wasn’t; after Philly she went to Brooklyn, her hometown.”

Nonetheless, he loved the performance as much as he loves her.

“I love her. I love her voice, I love her appearance, I can’t say enough about her,” he enthused. “She puts a song together so beautifully, it’s as if you’re on the stage with her.”

His first introduction to her was watching her in Yentl, he remembered.

“It was unbelievable, the part she played and the music,” he said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Her warm personality is what really stands out to him, especially during a live performance.

“She makes you feel that you’re part of her family,” he said. “She’s a family lady and she makes you feel very warm when she sings. No matter what she sings you feel very much that she’s singing to you and your family.”

While surely those lucky enough to have gotten tickets for her performance are certainly excited this week leading up to it, no one can rain on Karen Portner’s parade.

Portner moved from her native Philadelphia to Palm Beach, Fla., in 2006. A teacher, she remembered being on a field trip when Streisand announced her tour, which included the Philadelphia date.

“I called my sister and I said, ‘Get Steve [her sister’s husband] on this,’” she recalled with a laugh. “I said, ‘Get him on this, get the American Express out and get tickets,’ and he did, unbelievably. We’re just thrilled.”

This was back in May.

Since then, she and her sister, Stacey, have been running a countdown on Facebook leading up to the weekend. Now with just a few days until the performance, it’s obvious Portner is quite excited to fly back to Philadelphia and see her favorite entertainer.

“The closer it gets, the more excited we get. We’re literally on the phone every night like, ‘Oh my God, it’s eight more days,’” she laughed.

Growing up, Portner remembers listening to three artists: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Babs.

“With her voice, I mean she was just like no one else back then,” she said, “and I guess not now either, but she was in the forefront then.”

Between her TV specials and movies, Streisand made many an appearance on Portner’s TV screen growing up.

One of her TV specials served as Portner’s first introduction to the Yentl star.

“I remember a friend of mine in elementary school … went and saw her in Funny Girl and I was beside myself. Now I’m old and finally seeing her,” she laughed. “All her specials were on and I guess I remember watching them with my mom, and there’s never been anything like those specials. And now looking back I realize how fabulous they were and there hasn’t been anything like that since. They wouldn’t even be able to afford to do a special like that today.”

With her voice and her dedicated fan base, there are few entertainers who compare to Streisand, Portner maintained.

So at 74, what makes Streisand remain such an icon?

“Everything about her is just so different than any other performer,” Portner said. “What else can you say, it’s her voice and just who she is. She’s just special and unique.”

But it’s really her voice that makes Babs stand out from the rest — but we knew that already.

As she prepares for the concert, Portner has been listening to all of Streisand’s albums, which she had to buy on Amazon because her set of Streisand’s music were tapes (remember those?) that had started to fall apart.

She put together CDs of some of her favorite songs to listen to ahead of the concert, though it was hard to choose, and surprised herself with her reaction.

“I haven’t listened to ‘People’ in the longest time, and I started crying. I surprised myself. I asked my sister, ‘Am I crazy? I’m sitting here crying,’” she said with a laugh. “You can’t compare anyone with her, there’s just no comparison.”

The concert comes just after Portner and her husband’s 45th anniversary, and the concert is one part of their celebration.

“He’s excited but not like me,” Portner said. “I said, ‘Wait until you sit in that audience and she comes out, you’re gonna be just like me.’”

She is excited to finally get the chance to see Streisand sing after years of trying unsuccessfully to get tickets to other performances, and maybe for a guest appearance like Jamie Foxx, who showed up to sing with Streisand for one of her two Brooklyn performances.

(For context, if that sounds random, Foxx is featured on Streisand’s upcoming duets album.)

“I’m just looking forward to her coming out on stage,” Portner said. “I’ve watched a few of those concerts and the excitement beforehand and she comes out from the floor, seemingly, and it’s just electric. I’m excited to see her just pop out and sing of the songs that we’ve heard over and over again, especially ‘People.’”

With a laugh she added, “I have to bring tissues.”

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