BWW Review: Liz Callaway & Ann Hampton Callaway Score a Win with BROADWAY THE CALLA-WAY at 54 Below
We have a winner! Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway are the best sister act of all time, officially. Anyone who doesn't agree needs to get themselves over to Feinstein's/54 Below, where capacity houses are screaming themselves hoarse for the sisters Callaway, not just at the curtain call but throughout the entire evening of indisputable, irrefutable, magical, musical, melodious, harmonious perfection. The evening before Thanksgiving the audience was positively rowdy with excitement and overjoyed with delirium as the Callway sisters gave them the gift of 80 minutes of BROADWAY THE CALLA-WAY.
Considered by many (including this writer) to be two of the best singers in music for the last few decades, the Callaway sisters could not be more different. Their voices, their looks, their careers are all wildly different, with Liz being the quintessential female voice of 80's Broadway and Ann being the possessor of the smoothest, sultriest voice in jazz since, maybe, ever (and when it comes to the 'looks' part of the equation, even brunette Ann jokes about being 5'10" in high school, while standing next to her petite blonde sibling). One might think that, while siblings who obviously adore one another, the disparity in their vocal styles might mix poorly, but nothing could be more contrary to the truth. Sweeter and more complex harmonies never existed, though, while watching the effortlessness of their duet-ing, one suspects that both women think, breathe and dream in harmony and that no arranger need ever be present to assist. Theirs is one of the musical pairings most likely to bring a smile to a person's face, indeed, looking around the full house at 54 Below at any given moment, the only sight visible was that of people smiling from the ardent jubilation of seeing the sisters in action.
As a show, Broadway The Calla-way is not high-concept. Each woman has a background in musical theater, each has appeared on Broadway, and each has been a Tony Award nominee. Their act is a look back at their musical theater careers, with occasional detours into Broadway music they love but never sang in context - it's a theme embraced by many performers of musical theater, usually to some degree of success; what makes the evening special is the relationship the audience sees between the two musical prodigies. Not everyone gets a sibling relationship like this, and it is a pleasure to observe, particularly when the experience includes Styne, Herman, Miranda, and healthy doses of Schwartz and Sondheim - it's a horn of plenty of Broadway bounty.
Much of Broadway The Calla-way is performed with the ladies sharing the vocal responsibilities of the evening, but on a regular basis one Callaway yields the stage to the other for a solo - but they don't go far. If one dares to take their eyes off of the crooner in the spotlight and squint into the dimness of the dining room, their sibling can be spied, off in the corner, watching diligently and devotedly as the diva in question delivers unto a charged audience a song they once sung ("If He Walked into My Life" for Ann) or a song they always dreamed of singing ("The Music and The Mirror" for Liz) or a career moment from their Tony award-nominated roles. AHC brings down the house with "Blues in the Night" from SWING, while Liz brings a generation of musical theater buffs to tears with "The Story Goes On" -- these two moments alone are worth the price of admission, for it is a time machine, giving fans an opportunity to visit the past and see Broadway history in the remaking. It's a glorious reason for this show and an invaluable validation for the existence of cabaret.
Broadway The Calla-way is an evening filled with thrills, and not just from the music because the Callaway sisters speak, naturally and comfortably, about life events with immense humor and pathos, with Ann feeling enough freedom to cry in front of a room full of strangers who love her, and Liz unable to disguise the unbridled devotion she has for her sister. The humanity of the sisters Callaway is, in fact, one of the biggest thrills of the show; and last night the humanity of the Callaways wasn't the only thrill because all throughout the room could be found evidence that Ann and Liz were bringing out the best in their audience. From the seat where this writer sat could be seen two women, sitting ringside, behind the piano, both mouthing the words to "The Music and The Mirror" and swaying, eyes sometimes closed, one of them sometimes conducting along with the great Alex Rybeck at the piano; and at the table next to ours could be heard an elderly (and rather tipsy) male couple singing along with most of the numbers, especially "Broadway Baby" - something that would usually raise the ire of a cabaret editor, but which made this one laugh and smile, for their humanity, their enjoyment, and their love of Liz and Ann.
Speaking of Alex Rybeck -- no write-up of a cabaret show is complete without saying the names of the musicians (if one is lucky enough to know the names) creating the music for the singers, and it certainly goes without saying that the name Alex Rybeck should never be left out of a story, because he is unquestionably one of the best arrangers and musical directors in the business, and this show is an example supreme of his skills, particularly in an epic medley at the end of the show, not one song title of which will be announced here today, in order to preserve the element of surprise for future audiences. Mr. Rybeck is joined in his task by bassist Mary Ann McSweeney and percussionist Ray Marchica, and their presence is a foregone conclusion because The Callaways deserve the best, and that's who they got. Hats off to the band.
Early in their show, Liz announces that AHC recently relocated to Tucson and her sister remarks on how happy she is to be back in New York, back at 54 Below, and back on stage with her sister. One hopes that Ann is happy in her new home down south but one cannot help but pray that more performances of Broadway The Calla-way are made available for audiences, be they supplied by the city of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, London or anywhere else that lovers of great music and talent populate the nightclubs, because the best sister act in town has the best show in town and everyone deserves to see it. Fortunately (and since it is Thanksgiving weekend, thankfully) New Yorkers have that chance because The Callaways have three more nights at 54 Below.
So don't think about it, just get your ticket and go. You'll thank yourself afterward.
BROADWAY THE CALLA-WAY plays through November 30th. For information and tickets please visit the 54 Below Website
Photos by Stephen Mosher