I’ve seen a great many Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway presentations over the years. A first look at the song list was disappointing, everything familiar from previous shows. Mea culpa. This is one terrific evening! Musical and vocal arrangements (sometimes wordless) are new and fresh, mingling Anne’s jazz and Liz’s theater sensibilities. Every turn towards each other or the audience, high jinks prance across the stage, and deadpan comic expression works to enhance. Ersatz one-upmanship has never been more wry. Transitions between songs are Rybeck-signature seamless. And, wow! Are the ladies in fine voice!
Pairing “Together Wherever We Go” (Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim) with “As Long As We’re Together” (Chuck Mangione) with ooo doo doo ooo’s and great harmony opens tonight with palpable warmth. “Here Come the Callaways” (Ann Hampton Callaway), a list song featuring families who perform together, is lyrically clever and musically buoyant.
Liz Callaway, Ann Hampton Callaway
“Joni Mitchell wrote this at 21 and now I think it’s one of the most powerful songs ever written,” introduces Ann’s interpretation of “Both Sides Now” (at the piano). Bowed bass (Ritt Henn) is like a cushion of moss beneath lyrics. Percussion (Ron Tierno) slips in as the song swells. Sure enough, the once gauzy song no longer sounds like first heartbreak, but rather perspective from experience.
As applause fades, we find Liz in the audience hawking her latest CDs. Ann proffers her 15 MAC Awards, “smaller” than Liz remembers and not as big as her Emmy…Ann then counters with 53 CDs. “Did I mention my Tony?” Liz retorts. “Nomination.” Ann shoots back. “Deedle deedle dee dig dig dig… Friendship” (Cole Porter) they sing. “Ba doodlee cha cha cha.” Facial expressions are priceless. The number is droll and cool. “That was better than six years of therapy,” Ann grins. “I wouldn’t know,” Liz quips. With all this, the siblings’ push-pull is never less than cozy.
Sondheim’s “Our Time” (from Merrily We Roll Along, in which Liz starred), was, the younger Callaway thought at first rehearsal, a song about her and Ann. Texture, emphasis, harmony, phrasing, and echoes distinguish this iteration from its predecessors. MD Alex Rybeck and Ann have done a helluva job making arrangements distinctive. Liz’s “I Remember” and “Take Me to the World” (Stephen Sondheim from Evening Primrose) showcase acting chops and pristine vocal control. A natural succession, the songs emit eddies of poignancy welling to passionate yearning.
Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway
One of several highlights, a tandem “Stormy Weather” by Ann and “When the Sun Comes Out” by Liz enters accompanied only by evocative bass and brushes. Rybeck comes in with real weather. The artists deliver trenchant, knock-out renditions evoking – no kidding – chills with muscular vocals, lucidity, and precision. (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)
A Stevie Wonder medley – one of the few performers on whom they agreed growing up – is spritzed with scat, harmony, and affection. Audience heads bob, some mouth lyrics or clap in time. “Count Your Blessings” (Irving Berlin from White Christmas) and “Grateful” (John Bucchino), another organic pairing, brim with love, respect, and mutual admiration. Tonight’s encore “Brotherhood of Man” (Frank Loesser from How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying), an apt reminder, closes the show with more spontaneous audience participation.
Talented artists and genuine people, Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway deliver in spades. A thoroughly enjoyable evening on all fronts.
Photos by Jeff Harnar and Alix Cohen
Here Come the Callaways – Ann and Liz at 54Below
Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway
MD/piano- Alex Rybeck
Bass- Ritt Henn; Percussion-Ron Tierno
54Below 254 West 54th Street
November 22- 26, 2002