LIZ and ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY
When Broadway's Liz (Baby, Miss Saigon, Cats) Callaway and cabaret's Ann Hampton (Swing!) Callaway blend their voices together in perfect harmony, the sound is, simply put, exquisite. Whether they are singing separately or together, their new show, Relative Harmony, is one of the finest evenings you will enjoy in a cabaret here or elsewhere.
After the success of their Sibling Revelry pairing at Rainbow & Stars in the mid-nineties, the talented sisters have reteamed for a brand-new show at Feinstein's at the Regency featuring musical director Alex Rybeck on piano, Ron Tierno on drums and Mark Minkler on bass. It's a virtually flawless evening from start (Gypsy's "Some People" with a few changed lyrics and a cute gag that sets up many of the evening's sometimes-corny-yet charming jokes) to finish (a reprise of their "Huge Medley" that now also boasts tunes from Wicked and Side Show). In fact, I was sorry when the "Huge Medley" ended — I could have listened to them sing all evening.
Ann's dark, husky and jazz-flavored sound is the perfect complement for Liz's clear bell tones, and whether they're dueting on Van Morrison's "Moondance" or the jazz favorite "Cloudburst," the results are glorious. They also scored with a medley that featured Ann's belty "Stormy Weather" and Liz's equally belty "When the Sun Comes Out." And, when they sang the two standards at the same time, it was pure magic.
Although duets were the centerpiece of the evening, Relative Harmony also allowed the sisters to shine individually. Liz delivered a beautiful medley of "Make Someone Happy" and "Something Wonderful" before having fun with a "Sondheim" tune (I won't spoil the surprise), and Ann — reprising a high-school performance as Auntie Mame — offered a full-voiced version of Jerry Herman's "If He Walked Into My Life" dedicated to Liz's young son. Ann — who had once been told the way to find a mate was to write a letter to the person she sought — also dazzled with the self-penned "My Answered Prayer," about finally finding that elusive thing called love. Earlier in the show, the sisters offered the tongue-in-cheek "Here Come the Callaways," also written by Ann that enumerated the many sister-acts that have come before: "There's Zsa Zsa and Eva, the sisters Gabor/And don't forget the Olsen twins — which one do you like more?/There's Liza and Lorna — we could go on for days, but/Here come the Callaways!" I, too, could go on for days about how great are the Callaways, but get thee to Feinstein's and enjoy them for yourselves.
(The Callaways will offer Relative Harmony through April 3. Feinstein's at the Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street; call (212) 339-4095 for reservations.)
**Last week, while in rehearsals for her new show, I had the chance to chat with Liz Callaway. That interview follows:
Question: How are rehearsals going?
Liz Callaway: Good. Every day a new order! [Laughs.] It's a very long process, but it always comes together. The putting together of it is not easy, but it's fun. I think it's going to be a really good show.
Q: Who is your musical director?
LC: Alex Rybeck. He did Sibling Revelry for us, too.
Q: How did that first act, Sibling Revelry, come about?
LC: The actual original [show] we did was for the old Russian Tea Room's cabaret series. Ann and I had been saying, 'Some day we'll do a show together,' and one day Ann just said, 'Hey, I got us a date!' [Laughs.] So we had to put something together. We put together an evening called Together At Last. It had maybe a third of what became Sibling Revelry. This was probably ten or eleven years ago. And then from that, we got an engagement at Rainbow & Stars. With us, we have to have the date. [Laughs.] We have to have a deadline — otherwise we would absolutely never get our acts together. Also, because we're incredible busy, and this is fun because we're getting together every day, and it's nice to see each other. Sometimes we both are traveling a lot, and we don't get to see each other.
Q: Will there be a lot of duets in this show as well?
LC: Yes, a lot of duets. And we're reprising one thing from Sibling Revelry, our 'Huge Medley,' but we're updating it. We kind of thought, 'You know, that's kind of our signature number together, and it's so much fun to do.' And then one day we were all thinking the same thing at the same time, 'What if we do the "Huge Medley" again?' It's a lot of fun to do, and this new show is going to be different, but the name, Relative Harmony, should give you a few hints about what it is like. [Laughs.]
Q: Were you surprised by how well-received the first show was?
LC: Totally. It was so scary, and we worked really hard to put it together. I was doing Cats at the same time, rehearsing in between shows, and it was just so exhausting. And I also hadn't really done any cabaret, that kind of performing. So, for me, it was also — on top of just putting together the show — it was a new experience. Seeing people's faces in front of me — at first I didn't quite care for that. [Laughs.] I like the security of being onstage with a spotlight on you; you don't see anyone out there. And, also, suddenly it's yourself instead of being a character. But since we've done Sibling Revelry — we've done it quite a bit; we've traveled with it, and we've done it actually a few times this year — I'm so much more comfortable in that arena. So, even though it's a lot of work putting together the new show, at least I don't have that [fear].
Q: Did you and Ann perform together a lot as kids?
LC: No, we really didn't. We sang a little bit together as a family. I actually couldn't stand singing — like as a family at Christmas parties. I was incredibly shy about singing when I was growing up. . . Ann and I got very close when we left home. Ann left for college, and then we moved to New York together in '79. Ann started off working in piano bars — it was her first job. I'd come and watch her, and then at the end of the night after having a couple of cocktails, when there wasn't really anyone there, I would get up and do a number with her. We would just improvise. And, when we actually put together a real show, that was the first real singing we did [together]. The rest was just improvising with a mild haze of margaritas. The good old days! [Laughs.]
Q: What's it like now performing together as adults?
LC: It's really great. Even though we're so different: In this show Ann's doing a little more theatre maybe, and she's inspired me to sing a little more jazz. We're both stretching a little bit, which is fun. What's great about singing with Ann is — say someone forgets a lyric, or something, the other person just goes with it. One time someone forgot a lyric, and the other person just sang a different lyric because we knew what was happening — it was very bizarre. So there is that incredible trust and intuitive thing going on, which is very rewarding.
Q: Does it seem hard to believe that Paper Mill Playhouse is going to be presenting the 20th anniversary production of Baby next month?
LC: Hello! I have a lot of friends in it, and I have to go see it. And, I'm thrilled the show's being done, but, my God, I still feel like I did when I did it. To me, I still sound the same to me, so I'm kind of in a time warp. To me, I kind of go, 'Carolee [Carmello] is doing Arlene. How can that be? She's too young!' To my mind, [Arlene] was a whole generation older. It's the same thing when I saw the Roundabout do a revival of Company years ago, and [the original production] was the first Broadway show I saw, and I loved it so much. And I had all these friends in [the revival], and I'm like, 'They're too young.' Because I saw it as a kid, and I thought of everyone as so much older and adult, so you do get something in your mind. [Baby is] such a great show, so I'm happy they're doing it. But I'm sure when I see it, it will be a major out-of-body experience.
Q: I remember I saw Baby on its final day on Broadway. It has such a great score.
LC: It's a beautiful score. I am hoping — there's some talk about doing a benefit concert reunion of the original cast, which would be so much fun to do. I actually did a semi-reunion. My husband has a theatre company in Westchester called Hudson Stage Company, and as a benefit we did a concert version of it. It was gonna be just me, and we were going to get other people, and then we said, 'Let's call Todd [Graff] for the heck of it.' And Todd and Catherine [Cox] and Marty [Vidnovic] all did it. Beth [Fowler] and Jim [Congdon] couldn't do it. And then we had other local actors, like Cass Morgan, do the other parts. Cass ended up doing Arlene. But it was so amazing to do it again. I really hope we can do a real [reunion concert].
Q: One of my regrets last year was missing the Merrily We Roll Along reunion concert. What was that experience like?
LC: It was a gift for all of us to get to be reunited. . . [The original production] was such an emotional, tumultuous experience. It was a fantastic first Broadway show experience. I'm so grateful that I had that. It was not always easy, but I think that's ideal for your first experience to be something like that. And when we opened on Broadway, we all really believed in the show and loved it, and obviously it was not received well. But this time, we got to do the show . . . [and] everyone just loved it. It was one of those love-fests. It was like we were all vindicated. And, also, the lunches — we rehearsed a week. And getting together with people and catching up at lunch. And I would practice the music in my car, and I just cried for a week. It was the strangest thing. I'd be driving in my car — people must have thought, 'What is this woman doing?' [Laughs.] It was such an emotional experience, and then for the reunion concert I did Beth, which I didn't do originally. I was in the chorus originally, so that was fun and scary to get to do that extra stuff. They called me about a week before and asked if I could do it. I said, 'Sure, but could I still do. . . ' I wanted to do my little chorus solos, so they let me do [that as well].
Q: I heard that the evening was just so moving.
LC: It was. It was moving on so many different levels, plus what the story is about. It was just incredible. It's funny, my dad lives in Chicago, and I rarely tell people, 'You should come see what I'm doing.' When I did Follies in Concert, I'm like, 'Oh Dad, you can come if you want.' And he came, and he nearly killed for not [insisting he come]. This one, I said, 'Dad, you want to come to this!' And he did. It was more than just a significant event. It had so many other layers to it. It was wonderful. By the same token, it was probably very depressing afterwards — after such a high. And so many people who are really not in the business anymore. They all came back, and they were just outstanding. It's kind of like Cinderella at the ball a little.
Q: It must have been closure in a way, too.
LC: It was. It really was closure. And I had dinner this fall with Ann Morrison and Jim Walton and David Loud. And it was just like, 'Wow, that [concert] was something.'
Q: Is there any talk about recording Relative Harmony?
LC: Well, we talk about it! [Laughs.] I hope so. Sibling Revelry, I think, was a very successful CD. It's amazing how many people have the CD and know the show. It's really fun. We were in Boston in January, and we did it up there for the first time. And, so many people knew the album. We've updated and changed bits of it. Personally, for me to hear a live recording, I want to slit my wrists! [Laughs.] I think it's a good recording, but it's not something that I go, 'I want to listen to this.' But for people to re-create the show [it's enjoyable]. But whether we do it as a live recording or as a studio recording, I hope someone will want to do it because I think there's some very good music in this show.
Q: I really enjoy live recordings. I think it gives an added dimension to listening.
LC: Here's the interesting thing. When we did Sibling Revelry, it was a two-week engagement at Rainbow & Stars, and just before we closed, we recorded both evening shows. We did the first show, and afterward they came backstage and said, 'Liz, there was a problem with your mic, and none of it's any good.' So we had to use corded mics, and we knew we only had one chance. That got everyone's adrenaline going, so it ended up being a really good show.
Q: Are you involved in any workshops these days?
LC: Not theatrically at the moment. I'm looking for something though. Right now I'm doing a lot of concerts. Actually, right now I'm doing this! [Laughs.] This is just endless and all-encompassing. But I'm itching to do a new show. I've been really fortunate that most of the theatre I've done has been brand-new pieces. Revivals are great and everything, but I like creating something new. Nothing real finite right now, but [theatre is] definitely my first love, and I'm looking forward to doing another piece. The last thing that I did that I really enjoyed was Spitfire Grill. That was a great experience, and that, of course, started performances just a few days before 9/11 . . . I've heard talk of that possibly being resurrected because it really didn't get a chance [to find its audience]. It's been around the country now, and it's a huge success everywhere. That was the best part I've had in awhile. I loved doing that role. . . When the right thing comes along, I'll know it. And hopefully the people who wrote it will know it! [Laughs.]
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Some of Broadway's finest will be on hand to sing the works of William Finn March 29 at the Kaufman Center's Merkin Hall. Tony Award winner Betty Buckley — who starred in Finn's Off-Broadway revue Elegies — will head a company that also features Stephen De Rosa, Jerry Dixon, Raúl Esparza, Janet Metz and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Also lending their voices to the evening will be Gi-Hieh Lee, Sebastian Arcelus, Lisa Howard and Kate Wetherhead. Entitled More Infinite Joy: The Music of Bill Finn, the 8 PM performance is part of the Kaufman Center's Broadway Close Up series. Composer Finn will also be on hand for the concert, which will include tunes from Falsettos, Love in Hard Times, Elegies and A New Brain as well as songs from his latest musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Vadim Feichtner is the evening's musical director. The Merkin Hall is located in Manhattan at 129 West 67th Street. Tickets, priced at $25, are available by calling (212) 501-3330 or by visiting www.kaufman-center.org. . . . In related news, the May 10 Broadway Close Up performance will celebrate the music of Charles Strouse. Those scheduled to appear include Penny Fuller, John C. Reilly, Anita Gillette, Laura Marie Duncan, Aaron Lazar as well as lyricists Lee Adams and Martin Charnin and book writer Thomas Meehan. "Welcome to the Theater": Celebrating the Music of Charles Strouse will also be held at 8 PM. . . . Two March fundraisers — one held by the cast of Wicked and the other by the cast of Rent — will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. On March 29, members of the Wicked company will perform at the Zipper Theater, 336 West 37th Street. The 8 PM cabaret will boast special performances by Idina Menzel and Carole Shelley as well as live music and original choreography. Tickets are priced at $40. On March 31, women who are currently starring in or who have starred in Rent, will take to the stage of the Cutting Room, 19 West 24th Street. Hosted by Karmine Alers, the evening will include the Rent band and vocalists Maggie Benjamin, Kristen Lee Kelly, Caren Lyn Manuel, Dominique Roy and Haneefah Wood. Tickets are priced at $25 for the 8 and 11 PM performances. Tickets for both concerts are available by calling Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at (212) 840-0770, ext. 268. For more information visit www.broadwaycares.org. . . . Original Hairspray star Marissa Jaret Winokur and "Six Feet Under" actress Lauren Ambrose have joined the starry cast of the upcoming benefit reading of the screenplay of "Sunset Boulevard" at Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre. Ambrose will play Betty Schaefer, the role originated on screen by Nancy Olson. Tony winner Winokur will portray Connie, the young woman at Artie's New Year's Eve party who won't get off the phone or stop giggling. Ambrose and Winokur join the previously announced Anjelica Huston as faded silent-screen star Norma Desmond, Patrick Wilson as doomed screenwriter Joe Gillis, Sir Ben Kingsley as Max, Stanley Donen as Cecil B. DeMille, Stefanie Powers as Hedda Hopper, Noah Wyle as Artie Green, Steve Guttenberg as the First A.D., James Cromwell as Sheldrake, Charles Durning as L.A. Homicide Captain, Wilmer Valderrama as the Paramount gate guard, and Ed Begley Jr. as Morino, Joe Gillis' agent. The April 4 benefit — directed by Peter Hunt — is part of the Actors' Fund of America's second annual "Screenplays on Stage" fundraiser. Show time is 4 PM. Tickets for the "Sunset Boulevard" reading range from $28-$2,500. Priority tickets are now on sale by calling (323) 933-9266, ext. 35 or 54. . . . And, although it's yet to be confirmed, we hear that Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald and Michael Cerveris, who starred in the Ravinia Festival's production of Passion, will reunite for that Stephen Sondheim musical for a weekend of performances next year at Lincoln Center. Stay tuned for more!
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Now through March 27 at the Cafe Carlyle in New York, NY
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Now through April 3 in Relative Harmony in New York, NY
April 12-17 in Relative Harmony in Los Angeles, CA
April 23 with Jason Graae in Sutter Creek, CA
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
March 29-April 1 at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in Hollywood, CA
April 3 at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, TN
April 6-24 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
May 5-8 in Candide with the NY Philharmonic in New York, NY
Louise Pitre in Concert:
November 4 at the Brock Centre for the Arts in St. Catherines, ON
November 5 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts in Oakville, ON
November 6 at the Dr. J.M. Ennis Auditorium in Welland, ON
November 11 at the Heritage Theatre in Brampton, ON
November 12 at the Imperial Oil Centre in Sarnia, ON
November 17 at the Markham Theatre in Markham, ON
November 20 at the Stockey Centre in Parry Sound, ON
November 21 at The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, ON
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!