A new solo recording from Ellen Greene — who created and later preserved the role of the lovably ditzy Audrey in the stage and screen versions of Little Shop of Horrors — reunites the gifted artist with her longtime musical partner, pianist Christian Klikovits, who previously joined forces for their remarkable debut CD "In His Eyes."
Ten years later, the duo, newly joined by cellist Stephen Erdody, present a dozen or so songs that mix holiday favorites with other wintry fare on a CD aptly titled "Songs for a Winter's Night." Like the actress herself, Greene's holiday recital is anything but typical. In fact, it is the unexpected surprises in both her song choice and delivery that make the recording such an exciting and necessary addition to the numerous holiday recordings available.
The multitalented star opens her recording with one of the most-recorded holiday classics; however, just when you think you might be listening to any simple, but shining version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Greene puts so much emotion into the phrase "faithful friends who are dear to us" she nearly stops the heart.
She follows with a swinging "Santa Baby," and in "Christmas Time Is Here," immortalized in the annual Charlie Brown Christmas specials, Greene somehow mixes a childlike sense of wonder with a more adult world-weariness. One of the high points of the new disc is the classic "Silent Night," which Greene first performs in German ("Stille Nacht") before being joined by a choir — the effect is, modifying a lyric from the song, heavenly peaceful. The disc's standout track, however, is "Wintersong," which showcases Greene the actress as superbly as it does Greene the singer. Just listen to the emotion she pours into the Sarah McLachlan lyric, building the song to a breathtaking climax.
Other highlights include "Universal Child," which bursts with raw emotion; the heartbreaking "Angel"; and a touching delivery of "Song for a Winter's Night," Gordon Lightfoot's rumination on a lost love.
The new recording also allows Greene the chance to preserve her glorious version of Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken," which she first performed on the acclaimed series "Pushing Daisies."
Greene concludes her "Songs for a Winter's Night" with a wonderful pairing of "Let It Be Me" that simply melts into "The Christmas Song." Segueing from the lyric "without your sweet love, what would life be" into "so I'm offering this simple song…," makes one feel the entire disc has been a gift, perhaps to a great love, but also to the listener. A simply stunning finale.
Greene's voice, it should be noted, is full of such warmth and kindness, it would heat up any "Winter's Night," making this gem of a recording a must have for any diva lover on your holiday gift list.
(Also available are two tracks from an album Greene recorded in 1973-74 that was never released. Entitled "All the Lives of Me" [penned by Peter Allen], the recording was originally produced by Joel Dorn and arranged by Arthur Jenkins Jr. The bonus tracks are "The Lives of Me" [featuring Greene and Randy Booth] and "Kol Nidre/Marry Me A Little" [featuring Greene and Randy Booth].)
[Click here to purchase on iTunes. For autographed/personalized copies of the CD, click here or call Fuller/Roberts at (310) 652-1522. Actual copies of the CD are now available on CDbaby.com.]
I first heard Liz Callaway sing on the 1984 Tony Awards broadcast when she, Beth Fowler and Catherine Cox delivered the show-stopping "I Want It All" from the Richard Maltby and David Shire musical Baby. In the three decades that have followed, I've had the pleasure of enjoying Callaway's performances in Miss Saigon and The Look of Love as well as in numerous concert settings with and without her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway. What's so remarkable about Liz Callaway is how unaffected by time her voice remains. In fact, her ever-youthful alto is as lovely as ever, and those crystal-clear tones are perfectly captured on a five-song holiday disc, aptly titled "Merry and Bright."
The Tony-nominated actress begins her new CD with an upbeat "Joy to the World" that captures the excitement of the holiday season. "Grown-Up Christmas List," which was penned by David Foster and Linda Thompson Jenner, follows and exemplifies Callaway's gifts as an honest interpreter of lyrics. In other hands, the lyric might seem a bit hokey, but Callaway's deeply felt delivery, combined with her golden tones, tugs at the heartstrings.
Liz is joined by sister Ann Hampton Callaway for a terrific pairing of the holiday classic "Silent Night" and the more recent "Mary Did You Know," a song I first heard performed by "American Idol" runner-up David Archuleta. As I've written before, there is something magical that happens when the two Callaway sisters lend their voices — perfect harmony, I suppose.
Keeping it all in the family, Liz is joined by son Nicholas Callaway Foster for an a cappella, Manhattan Transfer-esque version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and she concludes her holiday set with a beautiful reading of Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.