CABARET LIFE NYC: Rave Ann Hampton Callaway Reviews--Let's Get an 'Ann App' for That
Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
So I'm about a week late with this review of Ann Hampton Callaway's latest show at 54 Below, but I've got a good excuse. I was busy getting the nominees for the 2013 BroadwayWorld.com New York Cabaret Awards together and determining whether Ms. Callaway might receive more nominations than there are categories. As it happened, she was attached to seven nominations out of the 18 categories, four for her Sarah Vaughan tribute show at Dizzy's Jazz Club at Lincoln Center (one was for Best Band) and three for the duo show, Sibling Revelry, she staged with sister Liz at 54 Below (one was for Best Director Dan Foster and one for Best Musical Director Alex Rybeck). As the days went by until I was able to write this review, I started wishing the review could just write itself.
But, of course, it couldn't, so as someone who has always fancied himself something of an entrepreneurial type, I've decided I need to invent a new smart phone app. It will be called the "Ann App." There is definitely a market need for this particular app . . . at least I really need it. I'm getting increasing bored spending a lot of time writing rave reviews after every one of Ms. Callaway's shows so I'd rather not have to do so much work. With this app, I could just input the show set list and a bunch of glowing adjectives and the app will churn out an instant 750-word rave. Hey, this technology is supposed to be a time and work saver.
Or I could go the retro route. Remember doing "Mad Libs" when you were a kid? It was oodles of fun. In this case, it would be called "Ann Libs," and could be an online game. The rave review is already written except for the blank spaces where the song titles and adjectives go. I'd just pop those in and--voila! Then I'd just drop the finished review into my BroadwayWorld.com content manager and post. Then I could go back to the TV and watch one of my sports teams play.
Callaway's latest show in late November at 54 Below--her new home away from home--was another one of those slam dunk performances she's produced in the past couple of years that clearly have put her near the top, if not at the very top, of the female cabaret performer depth chart. Listen, not counting the Broadway stars like Patti LuPone (who are now doing cabaret, mainly at 54 Below), or the top-notch jazz singers like Jane Monheit, you be hard-pressed to think of any major veteran cabaret singer in the country--and that includes Barbara Cook, Marilyn Maye, Andrea Marcovicci, and Amanda McBroom--who are plying their trade better these days than Ann Hampton Callaway.
One year after her quickie two-show run at 54 Below, which featured her own delicious compositions, Callaway was back at the nightclub for a 5-day, 7-show Thanksgiving week run of "Songs I'd Wish I'd Written," an eclectic mix that allowed her to strut her ability to handle any kind of pop song and show tune, layered with her jazz-infused vocal style. Looking hip, stylish, and playful in a shimmering black thigh-high dress under a black jacket and wearing black boots, Callaway kicked off the show with an up-tempo take on George and Ira Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here To Stay," complete with her signature sax and trombone scat sounds, and followed it up with a finger-snapping "The Best Is Yet To Come," featuring her smoky, jazzy delivery which she can transition from her upper register head voice to her sensual alto on a dime. But the best was yet to come, all right.
The first and requisite "farklempt" moment of the show came next on "A Quiet Thing," John Kander and Fred Ebb's song for Liza Minnelli in Flora, The Red Menace. The way the 54 Below stage lights were hitting those lovely hazel eyes, I could swear that even through the mist in my own peepers I saw the glistening of Ann's tear ducts. Callaway then called Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "All the Things You Are," the "greatest song ever written," a tune with the "balance of a nautilus shell." She then proceeded to drop a lyric (which doesn't happen nearly as much as she drops names), but saved it by ad-libbing a line to the melody and incorporating a mid-song scat. After the song, she flashed the cute, almost zen-like Callaway sense of humor when she offered that, "a Callaway show is like Indian fabric . . . it's the flaws that make it interesting."
There wasn't a flaw in the rest of the set. Callaway made the case for the greatest of the "New" Great American Songbook when she tackled two early '70s hits, Paul Simon's classic "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You." The former is one of the most beautiful and challenging-to-sing pop ballads ever written and Callaway brought a jazzy, soulful sound to a wonderful arrangement, really getting down on "I will lay me down." She then gave pianist Ted Rosenthal a break and showed off her keyboard skills, playing for herself on the intense Mitchell ballad and making the audience drunk with her evocative interpretation of the lyric. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)