As we wind our way into the ACC, memory makes me rub my right side under my ribs. That's where my mother kept jabbing me with her left elbow as we sat in the Winter Garden Theater in New York, watching Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.
I was 13, part of that generation of Jewish kids whose parents went to Broadway to see all the classic musicals. Then they'd buy the albums and we'd play them and memorize every word and go to camp and perform in the unit shows. (I was Laurie in Oklahoma, just for the record.)
This time, they'd schlepped us with them.
"You see that," my mother hissed in my ear, bruising me one more time while the Jewish girl who refused to fix her nose danced, joked and flaunted those powerful pipes. "That's star quality. You won't see that again."
But yes I will. Here I am, about to set eyes on Streisand once more. This time it's my sister Ellen sitting on my right. And as the 54-piece orchestra starts up, I'm 13 again, banging my fists on my knees and stomping my feet to the tune of Don't Rain On My Parade.
Ellen slips into the role of older sister, trying to hold me down. I can see her rolling her eyes and smiling apologetically at the rapt and way less rowdy fans sitting near us, almost all of them much older than us. "Oh, it's Baycrest time," remarked a colleague I ran into before the show. All the fabulous gay-guy fans must have attended the first performance. We don't see many here.
I'm in a kind of altered state, at a show designed, it seems, especially for me and all those others who, on the cusp of adulthood, fell in love with this brazen, not conventionally pretty woman with the mammoth personality and vocal cords to match.
I had two record collections as a teenager: the one with the rock and roll (by the time I saw Streisand on Broadway, the British invasion was full on) and the one, stashed away from my too-cool-for-school friends, with all of Streisand's early recordings.
Tonight she honours them all. This is where I come from, she seems to say, as she sings from the first and second albums and extensively from the musical that made her famous.
And I realize that this is where I come from, too.
It's old-school Barbra, and stunningly restrained. There's none of the old self-indulgence, no iffy fashion choices (Donna Karan dresses her now) and none of the comic mugging that, sure, some people love but often seems gratuitous, too easy. Just a big, blazing field of energy standing in front of a microphone and singing her lungs out.
The critic in me does notice that the voice isn't the same. The breath control isn't what it was, and a few notes are actually missed. But the no longer limitless voice works for her in these moments. She can't perform the vocal gymnastics that used to stomp all over a melody; now there's only a mature clarity and deep reservoir of emotion.
Throughout the second act, I'm reaching my arms out to her, my sister again playing the human straitjacket. After every number, I'm out of my seat, screaming, "You are the greatest star." By the time Streisand gets to Bernstein's Somewhere, I find myself sobbing with my head in my hands.
It could be the purity of her god-given talent that makes me weep. But I'm probably crying with gratitude for the gift of theatre my parents gave me, and for my mother and father, who, after going to the theatre at least once a week all their adult lives, can barely manage an excursion a month out of their retirement home.
Ellen dutifully hands me the kleenex. I always forget kleenex; she always has some.
I must have been a real wreck, because as we're leaving the theatre, more than one person comes up to me to ask if I'm all right.
On the street, as a woman exclaims, "Wasn't that amazing?" I brag to her that we saw Streisand on Broadway in Funny Girl when we were teenagers.
"Really? You've been together that long?"
Ellen and I laugh and wink at each other.
"No, actually. Longer."