BWW Review: Liz Callaway Honors Female Role Models at Feinstein's/54 Below
In her new show A HYMN TO HER at Feinstein's/54 Below, directed by Dan Foster, veteran Liz Callaway paid tribute to numerous women who have served as her role models, including Mary Tyler Moore, Angela Lansbury, Barbara Cook, Nora Ephron, Billie Jean King, Marilyn Maye, Carol Burnett, Eydie Gormé, her mother, and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway. She had fascinating stories to tell about some of these women--- those she's met and those she has never met--- as she also gave us some of her own history.
Callaway grew up in Chicago and was painfully shy--- too shy to sing in public. Obviously, she overcame that shyness and moved to New York, soon to make her Broadway debut in Stephen Sondheim's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG. One of the funnier stories of the evening involved a rivalry between Hal Prince and Richard Maltby, Jr., as they tried to get her to accept a role in their shows that were running simultaneously.
In a cabaret act honoring women, it seemed appropriate to open with "Love is All Around," the theme song from THE Mary Tyler Moore SHOW. Callaway mashed it up with "Who Am I?", a vintage Petula Clark tune. I'm always especially interested to see what songs are mashed up in these shows. The most moving combination was "Being At War With Each Other" by Carole King and "At the Same Time" by Ann Hampton Callaway. The latter song's lyrics are about how we're all fundamentally the same.
Since it was the opening night of her new show, it's understandable that the first half was a little shaky, especially on a couple of high notes. But Callaway really hit her stride in the second half, especially with her cover of "What About Us?," a song by Pink that she sang in tribute to Billie Jean King. (I won't spoil the story of how that came about.) Even though she admitted she didn't know the song until it was suggested to her, she really belted it out. It isn't a song you expect to hear from a Broadway star in a cabaret venue, but it was one of the highlights of the night.
Although Lauren Mayer's "Another Hundred Lyrics," a parody of "Another Hundred People" from COMPANY, isn't new, Callaway brought her own firsthand knowledge of working with Sondheim to the lyrics. It's essentially a singer's complaint about the composer's challenging writing from tongue-twisters to difficult melodies and meters.
I particularly appreciated the other silly moment when she sang Leonard Bernstein's "Plum Pudding" from LA BONNE CUISINE, for which he wrote songs using recipes as lyrics. While short, it was a welcome departure from the usual set list.
Callaway received big cheers from the audience after a medley of just about every song ever written with the word "sing" in it from "Make Your Own Kind of Music" and "Sing a Song" to "Meadowlark" and even Benny Goodman's "Sing Sing Sing." It was a unique and entertaining multi-mash-up arrangement that also allowed her musicians to shine--- Jared Egan on bass, Alex Rybeck on piano (and as musical director), and especially Ron Tierno on those iconic drums that start "Sing Sing Sing."
Of course, no Liz Callaway concert would be complete without her signature song, "The Story Goes On" from BABY. Her voice was just as clear and strong as it was 35 years ago when she first sang it. This time, she mashed it up with Irving Berlin's tender "How Deep is the Ocean?", dedicating the latter piece to her mother.
Obviously, Callaway is well aware of how much the women she honored have paved the way for her and others in the entertainment field and beyond--- just as Callaway herself has done for the working and aspiring singers of today. This new show gave us the opportunity to hear one of Broadway's most distinctive singers perform an eclectic set of songs.
Melanie Votaw is a full-time freelance writer who has written 28 books. She covers travel, as well as theater, dance, and cabaret for Broadway World. Follow her on Twitter @melanievotaw.