Liz Callaway – Their Story Goes On…York Theatre Company Spring Gala

Fifty-five years young, the eminent York Theatre Company this year presents longtime friend Liz Callaway in a superbly curated and performed show one hopes will have future exposure. From 700 productions with 8,000 songs, the artist and longtime MD Alex Rybeck, chose “songs from my experiences here, songs by composers and lyricists who are part of the York family, and songs from York productions I’ve always wanted to sing.” The result is a valentine.

“You Don’t Own Me” with Rybeck as vocal backup, unleashes the vocalist’s powerfully controlled vibrato and pristine clarity of sound. Clearly she would’ve given Lesley Gore (the song’s originator) a run for her money. (The York’s A Sign of the Times – Lindsey Hope Pearlman, now playing Off Broadway.) Callaway has been associated with The York since its 1980s production of the revue “Marry Me a Little” -consisting of numbers cut from musicals and from musicals never produced.

The song “Marry Me a Little” (Stephen Sondheim, Company) bobs in like a paper boat on eddies of music. Lyrics emerge as if occurring to the performer in real time. Anxiety and ambivalence are palpable. Also from Sondheim is “What More Do I Need?” from the unproduced Saturday Night which saw light at The York the theater. I recall the icon smiling at the back of the venue more than once. The York has produced more Sondheim than any other theater in New York. “I was so in awe of him,” Producing Artistic Director Jim Morgan recalls.  

New to the city, a singing waitress, Callaway answered a request for “Old Friend” (Gretchen Cryer/Nancy Ford – I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road). The song’s tender pauses appear to reflect personal history. (She received a $50 tip.) Her first Broadway job was Sondheim’s ill-fated Merrily We Roll Along, triumphant in current revival. Deadpan, she performs her three line role – which can be heard – if you listen carefully- on the original cast recording. Relationships were cemented.

Merrily We Roll Along – Hal Prince and Liz (Photo courtesy of Liz Callaway)

Callaway was scheduled to perform “Somewhere That’s Green” (Howard Ashman/Alan Menken – Little Shop of Horrors) at the Oscar Hammerstein Awards in 2014, but fell ill. Tonight we hear the song in all its wide-eyed hope and desperation. Her last appearance at The York was 2020’s pre-pandemic Sheldon Harnick and Friends with Karen Ziemba, Jeff Saver, Sheldon Harnick, Margie Harnick and Rebecca Luker. The lyricist himself telephoned to ask if she’d “come be my friend” requesting “Will He Like Me?” (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick – She Loves Me) Eyebrows coming to a point, heart in her voice, we believe every sentiment.

Two selections by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are next, the charming “Dog Song” (Lucky Stiff, presented by Musicals in Mufti—and recorded?! Shortly to be revived by J2 Spotlight Musical Theater Company) and Academy Award nominated “Journey to the Past” (Disney’s animated Anastasia for which Callaway voiced the heroine). It’s gorgeous. Emotion exuberantly swells as if speeding down a snowy hill on a toboggan. The audience catches its breath with empathetic pleasure.

Alex Rybeck and Liz Callaway

A favorite show by Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt, she says, is 110 in the Shade.“I somehow feel this song was written just for me,” introduces “Simple Little Things”: “My dreams like my name are very plain/But nevertheless, they’re real…” Callaway sings as Lizzie. Here’s the wife, mother, sister friend with whom we’d all like to have dinner. Talent is the cherry on top. She’s sincere.

“Night Song” (Lee Adams/Charles Strouse – Golden Boy) elicits reminder of 30 years of York Theatre’s Mufti series – book-in-hand concert versions of noteworthy past musicals. “It’s an opportunity for authors to revisit deserving shows, often rewriting.” (Jim Morgan) Rybeck’s piano conjures the quiet whoosh of breezes. The song sighs.

“One of the Beautiful People” is from Douglas Cohen’s 1987 show No Way to Treat a Lady, presented in 1997 and recorded—at The York. It’s not just a story-song, but a clever, detailed scene in one. Quick, short phrases are perfectly enunciated, another Callaway signature. Cohen grins from the audience. Shaina Taub’s touching “Room” acquaints audience with The York’s NEO informal concert presentations. (New, Emerging, Outstanding= the work of artists who haven’t been previously produced or are on their way up). This week Taub’s musical Suffs opens on Broadway.

Richard Maltby Jr./David Shire songs include “Starting Here, Starting Now” (the revue), “Stop Time” (Big, the Musical staged by the York) and “There’s Nothing Like It” (Closer Than Ever), all three staged by The York.The latter further evinces skill with slip/sliding octaves and spotlights comic ability. Remember, this is an actress. Maltby Jr. approves from among us.

A gracefully presented visual Memorial for many talents associated with The York is accompanied by Callaway’s “With So Little to Be Sure Of” (Stephen Sondheim – Anyone Can Whistle) and “The Story Goes On” (Maltby/Shire- Baby). I think my first exposure to Callaway was Baby. Her soaring voice and appealing vulnerability remains memorable. As traditional at York galas, we close with an occasion parody to the tune of Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here” (Follies): “Three things in life to be sure of: death, taxes and Jim’s curtain speech.” (Stuart Ross)

In grateful appreciation, Jim Morgan makes Liz Callaway an Honorary Board Member of the theater.

Gerry McIntyre (Associate Artistic Director), Liz Callaway, Jim Morgan, Joseph Hayward (Associate Producing Director and Director of the evening)

James Morgan, who 50 years after convincing the York’s founder Janet Walker to make THe York a musical theater, still approaches every new production as an adventure, relates to artists, and is tickled by audience reaction. His unwavering enthusiasm, commitment and innovation make Jim synonymous with the theater.

Liz Callaway has staying power, not because she’s been in the business a long time, but because the level of quality, vibrancy, intelligence, and heart she brings to music and lyrics.
Alex Rybeck continues to arrange with great skill, play with great finesse, and fit talent like a fine tailor.

A  marvelous evening celebrating this unique and valuable theater.

Performance Photos by Russ Rowland

The York Theatre Company Spring Gala
Liz Callaway- Their Story Goes On…
Directed by Joseph Hayward- Associate Producing Director
MD/Piano Alex Rybeck

The York Theatre
Theatre at St. Jean’s
150 East 76th Street

About Alix Cohen (1751 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten 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, TheaterLife, 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.