Original Broadway Cast, 1964 (Capitol/Angel) (5 / 5) It’s rare that we have concrete recorded proof of the exact moment when a performer became a legend, but that’s the case with the original Broadway cast album of Funny Girl. Yes, this recording of the Fanny Brice biomusical has that wonderful collection of Jule Styne-Bob Merrill songs; vivid performances by Sydney Chaplin as Nick Arnstein, Kay Medford as Fanny’s mother, Danny Meehan as her showbiz pal Eddie Ryan, and Jean Stapleton as a family friend; a killer overture, more than good enough to rival Gypsy’s; Ralph Burns’ opulent orchestrations; and Milton Rosenstock’s excellent musical direction/conducting. But what matters most is Barbra Streisand, who deservedly shot to super-stardom playing Brice. She’s never been fresher or more appealing than she is here in “I’m the Greatest Star,” “Cornet Man,” “Who Are You Now?”, “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” and the definitive rendition of “People.” Streisand uses her sprawling belt, liberally doused with her natural tenacity and eccentricity, to make these songs sound like no one else should even think about singing them for fear of paling in comparison. Even so, her ambitious approach to the songs is always held in check by a complete commitment to character. More than 50 years after this cast album was made, Streisand’s performance still represents the best of what Broadway can be, and propels the recording from “excellent” to “essential.” — Matthew Murray
Film Soundtrack, 1968 (Columbia/Sony) (2 / 5) It took only four years for Barbra Streisand to become BARBRA STREISAND, and Funny Girl suffered for it. Tongue-bathing every note and going all-out brash may have helped net Streisand an Academy Award for her performance as Fanny Brice in the movie version of the musical, but it sapped her portrayal of color and character. There are drastic changes to the tune stack, with some of Styne and Merrill’s best work cut. Replacements include two old songs associated with Brice, “My Man” and “I’d Rather Be Blue”; and some new numbers written by Styne and Merrill, including the lame “Roller Skate Rag” and “The Swan,” plus a superfluous title song that has no heart in it. The film is notable for the almost complete absence of any singing by other characters; we hear only little bits from Kay Medford, back as Fanny’s mom, and Omar Sharif as Nicky Arnstein. But the main problem is that Streisand’s bottomless self-indulgence is given full rein here. Although her fans probably love it, I find the heartfelt emotions she summons on the original Broadway cast recording eminently preferable to the affected, manufactured emoting she does on the film soundtrack. Strictly in terms of vocal quality, Streisand probably sounds better on the soundtrack than on the Broadway album, but the mile-thick shell of artifice is very off-putting. — M.M.