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At Staples Center, Barbra Streisand is a down-to-earth diva with Donald Trump on her mind

At Staples Center, Barbra Streisand is a down-to-earth diva with Donald Trump on her mind
Barbra Streisand performs Tuesday night at Staples Center. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Barbra Streisand was working toward a moment — the end of the first act of the first show of her first concert tour in years — when she decided something wasn't quite right.

She'd just brought the house down at Staples Center with a thrilling, deeply felt rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive," and now, in a demonstration of her range, Streisand's large band was easing into the hushed "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" from "Yentl," her movie about gender and Judaism in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.

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Yet an adjustment was in order. Turning her attention to a small table near the edge of the stage, the singer picked up what looked like an unlit candle, turned the thing over and flipped a tiny switch. The decoration flickered to life.

"They didn't have these in 1904," she said. "Too bad."

Gravity and levity intertwined: It was a signature Streisand moment, one of many in Tuesday's 2½-hour performance, which kicked off a rare tour by the 74-year-old legend.

Billed with characteristic pizzazz as "Barbra: The Music…the Mem'ries…the Magic!," the road show comes shortly before the Aug. 26 release of a new duets album, "Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway." It also dovetails, as did her previous outing in 2012, with a presidential election.

"This one is a doozy, isn't it?" asked the famously vocal Democrat at one point.

But if Streisand’s latest production was conceived to promote a fresh record — and to provide an opportunity to take a few whacks at Donald Trump — Tuesday’s opener mostly reemphasized the familiar aspects of the artistry she’s been carefully honing for half a century: the voice, the sense of humor, the salt-of-the-earth banter (which she read from a clearly visible prompter suspended from the arena’s ceiling).

"I love you!" one fan cried out as Streisand began the show with "The Way We Were."

"Still?" she replied between lines, her timing as sharp as ever.

Like every singer her age (with the possible exception of Smokey Robinson), Streisand has lost some of the high notes she once had control over. And these days the lungs put up a fight: “That was more difficult than childbirth,” she wheezed after sprinting — well, jogging — through “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” her disco-era duet with the late Donna Summer.

But songs like "Being Alive" and "Children Will Listen" showed how powerful her singing remains, how capable she is of getting inside a tune and feeling its emotional extremes. For "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," Streisand was joined by a surprisingly big-voiced Jamie Foxx, who appears on "Encore," and the competition seemed to drive her even further. (Streisand took it somewhat easier during another surprise cameo, by Seth MacFarlane, who helped her breeze through "Pure Imagination" while accompanied on a video screen by footage of dolphins at play.)

This wasn't just an expression of power, though, as Tuesday's concert was also about agility. For the first half, Streisand rummaged around in the expansive catalog that's made her the only recording artist to have No. 1 albums in six different decades.

She was strong but sensual in "Everything," which she said embodies the "feminist spirit" she brought to her work in "A Star Is Born." She adopted a pleading tone for "Being at War with Each Other" as images of American protest — including very recent scenes from Orlando, Fla., and Baton Rouge, La. — rippled across the screen. And she softened for a delicate folk-soul take on "Evergreen" featuring the R&B star Babyface, who remade the mid-'70s hit with Streisand on her 2014 album, "Partners."

Before that one, Babyface said he'd been pleased when Streisand told him she wanted to work with him because that indicated she was interested in black music.

"Of course," Streisand said — precisely the type of earnest yet self-aggrandizing comment for which the singer, who said she's writing a memoir, is known.

Indeed, Tuesday's show featured plenty of that kind of talk, much of it as entertaining as Streisand's singing. At one point she showed the album cover of "The Way We Were," pointing out that a designer had altered the appearance of her nose.

"They took out the bump!" she exclaimed, practically inviting the audience to cheer her unconventional looks (which the audience happily did). Later, she apologized for repeatedly hitching up her sparkly black pants, explaining that she'd recently lost a bit of weight.

And then there was her Trump-baiting, which seemed to please the crowd even more than her stately version of "People." Early in the show, Streisand brought a man calling himself a mentalist to the stage for a brief magic routine. (This was after that aerobic "No More Tears," so surely she'd earned a break.)

As the magician left the stage, Streisand nodded approvingly, saying the performer "can read anyone's mind — except Donald Trump's, because he doesn't have one." She also urged her fans to vote for someone "who doesn't believe climate change is a hoax."

Streisand closed the show with “Happy Days Are Here Again,” which she introduced by saying she’d performed it for President Bill Clinton and that she was doing it here in hopes that we’d soon have another President Clinton.

Then, after singing a few lines about getting rid of bad times, she felt the need to clarify. "By the way," she said, "I love Obama."

It was was one more fix from pop's adjuster in chief.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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