BWW Reviews: Stellar LIZ CALLAWAY Shares and Soars with Ease at Metropolitan Room
Liz Callaway's For the Record show last night at The Metropolitan Room was literally the live recording of songs in preparation for her upcoming autumn CD release, The Essential Liz Callaway, "and another recording I have up my sleeve later." Except for a pause between numbers, choices with seemingly little cohesive rhyme or reason were so fluently bridged by amiable, explanatory patter one might've thought this was a thematic show. The eminently likeable performer made us feel we were in her living room, while never letting down professional standards.
Callaway, for those of you living under a rock, is not just a terrific cabaret and concert artist, but earned her chops on Broadway, Off Broadway, and at regional stages as a musical theater actress. That she has been so long away from that area is a gaping oversight on the part of producers. Twenty feet away she barely looks any different than she did when she tread the boards and can still morph into ingénue-like expression. The tensile strength and skilled nuance of her voice is warm and unflagging.
Having starred in a number of musicals and concerts as an adroit performer of composer/ lyricist Stephen Sondheim's complex material, Callaway has a special relationship with the icon. Here, he was represented by a variety of songs including a fresh, youthful "What More Do I Need?" (from the author's first, Saturday Night) and a bruising "Not A Day Goes By" (from Merrily We Roll Along).
The artist's first foray on Broadway was in the chorus (as well as understudying the lead) of that 1981 musical. Callaway wryly sang her three vocal lines. She then offered Lauren Mayer's fabulous parody "Another Hundred Lyrics Just Flew Out of My Brain": Another hundred lyrics just flew out of my brain/As I stand here on stage/With another hundred lyrics that I'll never recall/And on every damn page/There's another hundred lyrics that'll drive me insane . . . to the tune of Company's "Another Hundred People." (Lyrics from "Sunday in the Park with George" and "Not Getting Married Today" were seamlessly added.) Tongue twisting enunciation was perfect. Enormously deep breaths were invisible. Bemused and enmeshed, Callaway created the evening's high point. The cheering room rose to its feet.
There were also pop selections. A lovely rendition of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" was so serene, it bordered on spiritual. Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again" began low key, gently bobbing to Jered Eagan's bass guitar, then dynamically soared, filling every corner of the club. Similar trajectory emerged with "People" (Bob Merrill/Jule Stein from Funny Girl), which was preceded by a wonderful story of standing in (not standing by) for Barbra Streisand on her concert tour. Callaway can let loose without audible strain, never wavering, never growing raw. She often evokes frisson, a little shiver, part way through a vocal flight. Phrasing is impeccable.
A jaunty, well-crafted sashay between "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" (Burt Bachrach/Hal David), and "Singin' in the Rain" (Nacio Herb Brown/Arthur Freed) segued to Albert Hammond/Hal David's "99 Miles From L.A." (Callaway was asked to sing at David's 90th birthday celebration.) Sitting completely still, hands on her knees, eyes shining, the vocalist took us on that drive. One could feel moments when she put pressure on the gas pedal.
Musical Director/arranger/ pianist Alex Rybeck (photo above) conjured musical water during the first woven offering, notes almost falling to soft splats, opened "99 Miles" with a few bars of the Bachrach/David "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me," and propelled the journey with undulating keyboard, percussive light cymbal (Ron Tierno) and rhythmic bass. Rybeck can find an intriguing new take on anything. His opening arrangement of "Something's Coming" (Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim from West Side Story) is as original yet true to intention as any I've ever heard.
An infectious "I Happen To Like New York" (Cole Porter) closes the show. Callaway makes it all look pleasurable and effortless. To say 'a good time was had by all' minimizes the experience. Thanks for sharing, Liz.
Photos by Fred Cohen