Broadway Baby Liz Callaway lit up 43rd Street Monday night celebrating three of the most talented song writers in the business: Stephen Flaherty (with lyricist Lynn Ahrens), Stephen Schwartz, and Stephen Sondheim. Over the course of two beautifully programmed hours, Callaway reminded us what we’ve been missing as she plays theater, cabaret and concerts outside the city. The versatile, seasoned performer is a master class epitomizing the less-is-more school of dramatizing lyrics. She’s charming, has vocal range and makes it all appear effortless. Come back Liz!
Beginning with Stephen Flaherty with whom Callaway unknowingly attended the University of Cincinnati, the vocalist offers “Waiting for Life” from the delightful Once on This Island. “I only stayed two months. He got a degree, I got fat.” Its ebullience can only have elicited smiles from the gods to whom she appeals in the verse. Other selections include a moving, effectively phrased rendition of the mother character’s “Back to Before” from Ragtime and two numbers from the animated feature Anastasia accompanied by a haunting, music box-like waltz arrangement. “I was very fortunate its producers thought the Russian princess should have a Midwestern accent,” she quips. As were they.”
Stephen Schwartz’s portion of the show starts with “Magic to Do” from Pippin. The first eight bars of the musical’s opening tune conjure high spirits, fog, and Bob Fosse. “Lion Tamer” from the rarely tapped The Magic Show is captivating. Every now and then Calloway goes up an octave when least expected causing something of a frisson. “I think it’s time to do something from the little show about witches,” (Wicked) introduces “For Good,” a duet with her sister, Ann Hampton Calloway. If you’ve never heard them together, do so at the earliest opportunity. The two play off one another’s range and cadence. “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife, for my money one of Schwartz’s most beautiful songs, ends this portion of the evening by resonantly taking flight.
“Another Hundred Lyrics” a clever complaint of the complexity of Sondheim songs (Lauren Mayer with Sondheim) requires every bit of precise enunciation and adroit memory at Callaway’s disposal. She’s word perfect while managing to act her way through parodied song snippet after song snippet as if perturbed or surprised. The number is a hoot. Sondheim contributions include the very early “What More Do I Need” from Saturday Night, a jauntily rendered love poem to the city Callaway in fact introduced many years ago, “There Won’t Be Trumpets” from Anyone Can Whistle during which one wants to gather flags and march, and “With So Little to be Sure Of” from Anyone Can Whistle, which ends the evening hypnotically.
Three male vocalists, her criteria being “gorgeous, nice people, and really good singers,” join Callaway. Joshua Henry (The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess) duets with Callaway on the earnest “Love Song” from Pippin (Schwartz). His voice is sweet and dusky, appropriate to the song. Harmony is deft. I wish he’d focus more on his partner, however, and less on the audience. A version of the pop oriented “Beautiful City” from Godspell (Schwartz) is more appealing and Sondheim’s “I Remember Sky” from Evening Primrose emerges delicately poignant.
Jason Danieley (Curtains) has traditional leading man presence. His “Streets of Dublin” from A Man of No Importance (Flaherty) is robust. The performer seems to see what he sings. “Out There” (Schwartz with lyricist Alan Menken) from the animated Hunchback of Notre Dame is a cri de coeur (a cry from the heart.) “I think of this as one of Stephen Sondheim’s most inspirational songs,” Callaway says introducing a duet of the fervent “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George (Sondheim). Danieley plays George Seurat to her Dot with just the right mix of agitation and self absorption. Their voices meld well.
Norm Lewis (Tony nominee for The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess) sings with his whole heart. There’s a gentleness to his vocals even expressing the most fraught emotions. Both “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime (Flaherty) and “Being Alive” from Company (Sondheim) are deep and affecting without ever rising in volume. Robert’s (the character) number from the Sondheim is rendered as the wrenching plea it was written to be while also exposing the character’s surprise. Focus and content are all. “Forever Yours” from Once on This Island (Flaherty) performed in duet with Callaway shimmers with sincerity and warmth.
Patter is anecdotal and thoroughly entertaining. This is a well directed piece filled with grand material. Alex Rybeck’s Musical Direction enhances both songs and voices. The band is wonderful.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Duets 1: Liiz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway, Joshua Henry & Liz Callaway
Duets 2: Liz Callaway & Norm Lewis, Jason Danieley & Liz Callaway
Liz Callaway & Friends Sing Flaherty, Schwartz, and Sondheim
Liz Callaway with Guests: Jason Danieley, Joshua Henry, Norm Lewis
Directed by Dan Foster
Alex Rybeck-Piano/Musical Director
Jared Egan-Bass, Scott Kuney-Guitar, Ron Tierno-Drums
Town Hall’s Sixth Annual Summer Broadway Festival
123 West 43rd Street
For Future Concerts go the the Town Hall website : http://the-townhall-nyc.org/tickets