Does Barbra's follow up recording to THE BROADWAY ALBUM come close to matching the spectacular quality of the original? Well, yes and no. The original BROADWAY ALBUM is Streisand's masterpiece and one of the best recordings of all time, so there's really no way she could ever even begin to approach the level of that release. However, when thought of an independent release, BACK TO BROADWAY is an excellent record in it's own right.
Barbra is in terrific voice and she gives some of her most stunning performances here, particularly on the album's closing track "Move On." Unfortunately, it is in the production and song selection the BACK TO BROADWAY occasionally falters. While THE BROADWAY ALBUM featured many of Peter Matz's creatively daring arrangements that gave many of the compositions a jolt of energy, BACK TO BROADWAY consists mostly of the "easy listening" gloss of David Foster. Foster produced THE BROADWAY ALBUM'S stunning, post-apocalyptic rendition of "Somewhere," however the only tracks that are reminiscent of that kind of creativity here is the delightfully frantic take on Sondheim's "Everbody Says Don't" and the riotous, intentionally campy rendition of Frank Loesser's "Luck Be a Lady" (which delightfully brings back some of the vintage Streisand humor).
Foster basically plays it safe everywhere else, and his ultra-smooth production can either help a song or hurt it. For example, a sultrier number like "Speak Low" actually benefits from the "lite FM" arrangements, but an already-over-played composition like "Some Enchanted Evening" or "Music of the Night" simply sound generic in Foster's hands. Another problem is that, while the album is a pretty consistent listen, BACK TO BROADWAY never really gels into a completely cohesive release. This is due to the fact that two of the sections are duets and three are Andrew Lloyd Webber compositions. All of these tracks are individually very good (especially Webber's "As If We Never Said Goodbye," which is easily one of the composer's best), but they sound out of place next to the other material.
Having said all of that, BACK TO BROADWAY excels when it sticks to Sondheim's material. Stephen Sondheim is the greatest composer of his generation, and Barbra is the perfect interpreter of his material. Barbra gives the definitive performances of the aforementioned tracks "Move On" and "Everybody Says Don't," and her beautifully nuanced rendition of "Children Will Listen" is one of the best performances of her extraordinary career. Johnny Mathis joins Barbra on a medley of "I Have A Love/One Hand, One Heart," and (even if the duet format prevents it from working within the confines of the album) it is a show-stopper
In addition to the Sondheim material, the disc's best moment is perhaps Barbra's spine-tingling performance of "I've Never Been In Love Before." One of the more underrated recordings in Streisand's rich catalogue, this rendition of Frank Loesser's standard is another moment on the album where the song, arrangement, and vocal all perfectly combine to create an absolute masterpiece. Already blessed with a gorgeous melody and beautifully melancholic lyrics, "I've Never Been In Love Before" is further enhanced Jeremy Lubbock's lovely, but restrained arrangement and one of Streisand's most emotive yet understated vocals. When Streisand performs this number, she really becomes GUYS AND DOLLS' heroine Sarah Brown and she will break your heart every time you play this track.
Even if it never really unifies into a cohesive whole, BACK TO BROADWAY contains enough exceptional material to make it a great recording. The album hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 200 and has achieved Double-Platinum status in sales. That is an amazing achievement for a 51-year-old woman who had released her first record 30 years earlier.