La de da de dah, la de da de dah and Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy… mightn’t sound like lyrics to millennials, but for some, they evoke sweet, head bobbing memories. (“The Beat Goes On”- Sony Bono & “The 59th Street Bridge Song” – Paul Simon) Liz Callaway is one of “us.” Harking back to her 2001 album, the vivacious artist shares favorite songs from the late 1960s/early 1970s.
A gutsy “You Don’t Own Me” (John Madara/David White), challenges those up front to protest. “I’ve always believed the second song of any show should be warm and welcoming,” she quips. Callaway has a long note that never loses power. Like a prima ballerina, she makes soaring look easy.
Jimmy Webb’s “Up, Up and Away” follows, exuberant, naïve, and surprisingly, not trite. The same holds true for “Promises, Promises” (Burt Bacharach/Hal David), usually a mere sugar rush. With a musically flexible, lyrically crowded “Frank Mills,” Callaway inhabits the awkward, adoring Crissy (Galt McDermott/James Rado/ Jerome Ragni- Hair). Her elastic voice surges, retreats and pivots pollinating the room with good feelings.
Lots of vocalists sing these numbers as written. Callaway, with Musical Director Alex Rybeck, plums their collective theater roots creating story songs. Without damaging either integrity or infectious feeling, the pair subtly elevate material. “Monday, Monday” (John Phillips) arrives with gravitas. Both hands hold the microphone, fingers splay: Oh Monday, Monday – pause, then poignantly a capella… how could you leave and not take me? John Denver’s “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” actually has a sentimental arc.
The completely original version of “Eleanor Rigby” (John Lennon/ Paul McCartney) is a highlight. Emerging among gothic shadows, Rybeck’s arrangement wields chiaroscuro like a fine painter. Callaway’s melancholy, fatalistic voice gets under one’s skin. Muffled drum beat and underscoring bears witness. McCartney’s “When I’m 64,” on the other hand, is every bit as oom-pah as anticipated. Instead of just delivering it, however, the performer looks as if she’s addressing someone in particular.
A swaying version of “Didn’t We?” sounds fully like torch, while its successor, “McArthur Park”, is presented a burgeoning anthem. (Both Jimmy Webb) Song pairings seem organic. During the iconic “Downtown” (Tony Hatch), it’s all most of us can do not to join the chorus. I see mouths moving throughout the room. Again, Rybeck and Egan’s terrific back-up makes catnip of the number. Both grin through much of the show.
Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” shimmers. Rybeck’s piano skates like a figure atop a mirrored music box. The slightest percussive cymbal resonates. At the start of this evening, Callaway comments that looking back at the material elicits new perspective. When she offers Henry Mancini’s “Two For the Road” she adds, “with some songs, it’s better to wait till you’ve had a little more life experience.” The Mitchell rendition reflects this in spades.
We close with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” (Brian Wilson/Tony Asher/Mike Love), an epitome of HAPPY. Our packed, carry-her-on-their-shoulders audience erupts.
In my opinion, only the inclusion of “Maybe This Time” (John Kander/Fred Ebb from Cabaret) mars a perfect show. Not that Callaway doesn’t do it justice. She has both the prowess and the pipes. It just doesn’t fit.
Dan Foster’s Direction is appealingly expressive and inclusive. Musicianship is superb.
The evening is peppered with brief lead-ins and anecdotes all of which serve rather than fill. As always, the artist is gracious and warm. An anomaly, this Broadway Baby understands the intimacy of cabaret. The show is about as much fun as one can have legally. Ok, that’s flip, but you get it. Go.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Liz Callaway: The Beat Goes On
Directed by Dan Foster
Musical Director/piano/backup vocals- Alex Rybeck
Jared Egan-Bass, backup vocals; Ron Tierno-Drums
254 West 54th Street
Additional Show: September 10, 2017