Barely looking, and certainly not sounding, much older than she was over thirty years ago, when her clarion vocals and chipper charm earned her a Tony nomination for playing an unexpectedly pregnant college student in Baby, you might be surprised to know that the weekend before her Monday night concert at Town Hall, Liz Callaway was in Pittsburgh playing the final four performances of a stint as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
But as displayed in Even Stephen: Liz Callaway and Friends Sing Flaherty, Schwartz and Sondheim, Callaway is a deceptively versatile actress and, despite a career that has landed her on Broadway far too infrequently, a tremendously skilled musical theatre lyric interpreter.
The final entry of Scott Siegel’s 6th Annual Broadway Summer Festival, produced by Town Hall, Even Stephen had the bubbly star, accompanied by music director Alex Rybeck’s combo, giving her observations on the songs of Stephen Flaherty (with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens), Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim through personal experiences and amusing stories told with her gentle, self-effacing Midwestern humor.
Her program included selections from musical theatre roles she will never play (Once On This Island’s “Waiting For Life”) and tempting morsels from roles you’d like to see her tackle (a “Losing My Mind” performed with quiet pathos-inspiring naïve simplicity). With “Lion Tamer” she’s a timid girl wishing she could do something impressive to make a man notice her and with “Back To Before” she’s a mature woman valiantly letting go of her innocence. Her thrilling high belt is clear and direct for “There Won’t Be Trumpets” and her warm “Corner of The Sky” is filled with the excitement of anticipated discovery.
Some novelty moments included listening to her taped vocals from an early-career television commercial for an airline that went bankrupt two weeks after the spot first aired and a quick survey of all her isolated solo lines as an ensemble member of Merrily We Roll Along. She quips about being involved with a production of Once On This Island so inappropriately cast that it was nicknamed Once On Long Island and tells the very familiar story – at least for her fans – of how she started singing “Meadowlark” at a singing waitress job, but could only sing it on Tuesdays because that was the only night they had a pianist who could play it. She’s not the only well-known musical theatre actress to claim “Meadowlark” as a signature tune, but her delicately wistful interpretation is just as worthy of the claim as anyone’s else’s.
The “Friends” of the evening’s title referred to two of musical theatre’s outstanding singing actors and one up-and-comer who has been making solid impressions. Jason Danieley’s powerfully gritty “Streets of Dublin” brought out the magnificent blue-collar artistry described in the lyric. Norm Lewis’ soaring “Wheels Of A Dream” was later followed by an introspective “Bring Alive” of quiet yearnings. Joshua Henry contributed a sweet and wide-eyed “Beautiful City” and a simple and touching “I Remember.”
When you spot Ann Hampton Callaway in the audience there can be little surprise that eventually she’ll be called up by her sister to sing. The two artists, one of the musical theatre stage and the other of jazz clubs, combined for a duet of Wicked’s “For Good” that shined lovingly with their mutual admiration and adoration.
Photo by Genevieve Rafter Keddy.
Posted on August 06, 2012 - by
About the Author: After 20-odd years singing, dancing and acting in dinner theatres, summer stocks and the ever-popular audience participation murder mysteries (try improvising with audiences after they?ve had two hours of open bar), Michael Dale segued his theatrical ambitions into playwriting. The buildings which once housed the 5 Off-Off Broadway plays he penned have all been destroyed or turned into a Starbucks, but his name remains the answer to the trivia question, "Who wrote the official play of Babe Ruth's 100th Birthday?" He served as Artistic Director for The Play's The Thing Theatre Company, helping to bring free live theatre to underserved communities, and dabbled a bit in stage managing and in directing cabaret shows before answering the call (it was an email, actually) to become BroadwayWorld.com's first Chief Theatre Critic. While not attending shows Michael can be seen at Citi Field pleading for the Mets to stop imploding. Likes: Strong book musicals and ambitious new works. Dislikes: Unprepared celebrities making their stage acting debuts by starring on Broadway and weak bullpens.