BWW Reviews: Remarkable Singer Ann Hampton Callaway Premieres Streisand Songbook on West Coast
What a glorious night of singing at the Disney Concert Hall on Grammy Award Sunday February 10! Singular singing sensation Ann Hampton Callaway presented the Streisand Songbook in honor of her mentor. On stage with Callaway was Alan Bergman, one half of the Alan and Marilyn Bergman composing team who have written 64 songs for Barbra over the years.
Diva Callaway never disappoints her fans and so the evening was a pretty thorough look at the early Barbra starting in 1961 when she performed at the Bonsoir in NYC all the way up to her last recording in 2011 in honor of the Bergmans. There was some delightful patter about how it only took ten years for Barbra to record Callaway's "At the Same Time" as well as the wonderful story about how Ann imagined Babs first hearing Rolf Lovland's beautiful music over a romantic dinner with James Brolin and instantaneously deciding to have lyrics set to it for her wedding. Callaway spent sleepless days and nights - "I did what all Irish girls do, I drank!" - trying to come up with just the right lyrics for "I've Dreamed of You", which Barbra did indeed sing to Brolin during their wedding ceremony.
A wonderful segment of the evening was Alan Bergman's appearance; Callaway called him a true living legend. When she left to make a costume change, Bergman sat on a stool, read the lyrics of his "Windmills of Your Mind", music by Michel Legrand, proving that when lyrics are spoken by a vibrant creator, they're poetry, pure magic. He followed this with "Nice and Easy" which he had written in the early 60s for Frank Sinatra. When Callaway returned, they dueted with "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" She called the Bergmans the creators of an entire encyclopedia for the stages of love and life, which began with "Where Do You Start?". She then asked him how he had managed to keep a successful marriage for over 50 years. Nodding to his wife Marilyn seated a few rows back, Bergman replied, "One washes. One dries." This segment was a lovely treat.
Other highlights included from Barbra's great repertoire: from the early days, "Starting Here, Starting Now", "Cry Me a River", and the unforgettable "Down with Love"; from her mid-70s album of the same name a delectable "Lazy Afternoon", one of my all time favorites; "Evergreen", Barbra's own Oscar and Grammy winning composition from A Star Is Born; and from Funny Girl "Don't Rain On My Parade" and the classic "People" beautifully combined with Sondheim's "Being Alive" from Company. How magically Callaway made the lyrics blend as she segued from "being alive, being alive, being alive" to "with one person". There was also an electric "A Piece of Sky" from Yentl, bright wishes to her audience with "On a Clear Day" mixed with "Happy Days Are Here Again", then "Lover, Where Can You Be?" and as encore, in duet with Bergman, the colorful memories of "The Way We Were".
As is a signature part of any Callaway show, she sat at the piano and composed - with the help of the audience - a Streisandesque love song that was at once funny and terribly clever. "Wish I could include that organ!" she joked as she noted the pipe organ high above the backstage wall. Terribly humorous, down-to-earth and immensely talented is the amazing Ann Hampton Callaway! Christian Jacob was at the piano, Trey Henry on bass and MB Gordy on drums throughout the one hour and 50 minute... long, but remarkably enjoyable and upbeat evening. One comment that Callaway made about the amazing Streisand is that neither sound or style have been her greatest attributes, but that she, like Ella, another ambassador of song, could always sing a song as if "it were happening for the first time". That is unparalleled artistry. Callaway is a darn close match.