Diagnosis: Pandemic. Prescription: Liz Callaway

Comin’ Around Again, Liz Callaway’s high spirited return to Feinstein’s/54Below, is decidedly a cure for what ails you. The upbeat show exudes both personal warmth and infectious pleasure in performance. How the veteran artist manages this without a touch of Pollyanna saccharine is a wonder. Professional pedigree hasn’t dimmed genuineness. Songs arrive as if candid. Callaway is one of us. Yes, she’s an actress, but we trust her.

A tandem “I Know a Place” (Tony Hatch) and “Celebration” (Ronald Nathan Bell) rouse the room from anticipation to surety. This is going to be fun. Alex Rybeck’s cool arrangement begins with snapped fingers and plinking piano. As it swells, colored lights flash; audience spontaneously claps in rhythm, many dancing in their chairs. “I’m soooo happy not to be singing to my phone, laptop or cat,” Callaway effuses.

“Make Someone Happy” (Jule Styne/Betty Comden & Adolph Green from Do,Re, Mi) emerges quietly accompanied by piano and whispering cymbal, then bass and brushes. Callaway rhapsodizes. Rupert Holmes’ wonderful story-song “The People You Never Get to Love” is bittersweet. Rybeck conjures cloudy weather. Callaway is wistful.

During her time off, the vocalist has sorted through boxes of memorabilia. The premise frames this part of the show. An excerpt from her first cabaret review filled with qualifiers is shared with wry inflection. “I’ve missed singing this next song the most” introduces Stephen Schwartz’ “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife. Callaway holds our hands through the tale. Her vocal sails then soars. “Come along” she sings rising from a stool, radiating excitement.

The meadowlark said no, but Denise, the baker’s wife makes a different choice. “I’ve got to go,” she shakes her fist, then splays fingers, “If I stay, I’ll grow to curse the dark/So it’s off where the days won’t bind me./I know I leave wounds behind me,/But I won’t let tomorrow find me/Back this way…” Often overdone, the emotional arc is credible and moving. And oh, that open-throated voice!

The first Broadway show Callaway saw at nine or ten was Stephen Sondheim’s Company. At 18, she moved to New York and was cast in the author’s Merrily We Roll Along – at the same theater! The musical lasted two weeks.  We hear the story, then deftly connected selections from the show.

Let us now praise Alex Rybeck, an MD/pianist who metamorphizes with each singer, contributing imagination and taste but always tailored to the vocalist’s voice and intention. Tonight, with only three instruments, this is particularly apparent. Nuanced changes in expected arrangements serve the show and buoy Callaway. There’s a lightness to the musician’s take carefully altering the meaning of a few of these songs. Transitions feel organic. This evening’s “Sing Medley” by various artists is a prime example, fluently taking us from one genre and era to the next with vivacity and fitting back-up. And he’s with her as she breathes.

In fact, the vocalist never appears to be taking in much breath, yet long phrases and extended notes look effortless. There’s an ease about her singing, afterwards influenced by character. This is evident even during “Another Hundred Lyrics,” a brilliant parody of Sondheim songs by Lauren Mayer. Its acrobatic lyric is not for the faint of heart performer. Callaway is perfection. Verse is crisp, enunciated without exaggeration, sympathetic, and droll. Not a stitch is dropped.

One of the artist’s happy memories is singing Anastasia in Disney’s animated film. (Curiously, Meg Ryan was the spoken voice.) “This Russian princess had a strong Midwestern accent,” she quips. The musical went on to Broadway with Christy Altomare as its star. Altomore is tonight’s guest, taking the stage to duet “Journey to The Past” (Stephen Flaherty/Lynn Ahrens). The ladies harmonize beautifully. A stirring song imbued with even more heft.

Tonight’s encore, “The Story Goes On” (David Shire/Richard Maltby Jr.) is from the musical Baby in which Callaway had her first major role. She explains its context in the musical, then observes the song has a new meaning now. We listen. “Yes, all that was is part of me/As I am part of what’s to be/And thus it is, our story goes on/And on/ And on/And on /And on.” In fact, with maturity and events, the song’s tantilizing hope and welling of faith does present differently.

I hope Liz Callaway repeats this show for the rest of you. The world looks less lethal afterwards. Our audience left feeling complicitous. And smiling.

Comin’ Around Again
Vocals-Liz Callaway
Guest Vocalist- Christy Altomare
MD/Piano- Alex Rybeck
Bass- Ritt Henn, Drums-Ron Tierno

Feinstein’s/54Below

About Alix Cohen (1189 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.