DIVA TALK: Ann Hampton Callaway, Who's Singing the Streisand Songbook, Shares Her "Favorite Things"

By Andrew Gans
September 27, 2013

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.



This week, we spotlight Tony-nominated actress Ann Hampton Callaway by combining two Playbill.com features, Diva Talk and Their Favorite Things, which asks members of the theatre community to share the Broadway performances that most affected them as part of the audience.

Callaway, who recently revisited her first concert collaboration with sister Liz Callaway — Sibling Revelry at 54 Below — will bring her evening of Streisand tunes to the South Orange Performing Arts Center this weekend. Entitled Ann Hampton Callaway Sings The Streisand Songbook, the Sept. 28 concert will begin at 8 PM, and attendees can expect to hear Callaway's interpretations of such Streisand classics as "Cry Me a River," "The Way We Were," "Somewhere," "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "People" as well as such titles as "A Sleepin' Bee," "Starting Here, Starting Now," "A Cockeyed Optimist" and more.

Callaway, who in the past decade has become one of the great song interpreters of her generation, explained the genesis of her critically acclaimed tribute to the international star. "Sometimes inspiration demands audacity, and that's what it took to create The Streisand Songbook," Callaway said. "I was approached a few years ago to put together a tribute to perhaps the greatest singer of our time, and I was reluctant to do something so ambitious that might invite comparison. There's only one Streisand. However, in revisiting the idea, I thought about concentrating the focus on the writers she loved — Arlen, Styne, Sondheim, etc. — and also my experience of writing songs for her, and suddenly it seemed exciting and worthy of doing.

"I chose songs carefully to paint a portrait of Barbara's career and her personality, but each song had to be something I also needed to sing," the multiple MAC Award winner continued. "It had to pass the Ann test for reflecting something I believed in and something I could put a personal stamp of my own on. I worked tirelessly on my arrangements of these songs, including my original 'At the Same Time,' and then approached the top orchestrators, many who have worked with Streisand, like Jonathan Tunick and Don Sebesky. My premiere of the show was with Keith Lockhart and The Boston Pops with my special guest, Alan Bergman. [It was] thrilling and illuminating … to speak to Alan and [his wife] Marilyn about writing for and working with Barbra." The subsequent run of the Streisand tribute at 54 Below garnered Callaway two Broadwayworld.com Awards and a MAC Award for Best Show of the Year.

"I am so grateful to be touring the country with this show and celebrating this living legend who has taught me so much about singing, acting and writing," added Callaway, who received her Tony nomination for her performance in the 1999 musical revue Swing! "Barbra is one of the most fascinating women in the world, and her originality is a beacon to anyone who aspires to be true to themselves. Without Barbra, I may never have learned who I am to the extent her originality inspired me to explore."

Callaway said her "sentimental favorite" Streisand performance is her work in the "Funny Girl" film. "Barbra's comedic and dramatic brilliance makes for one of the finest musical theatre performances on stage or screen," Callaway explained. "When I saw this movie as a young aspiring performer, I realized how high she set the bar of artistic excellence, and I've been trying to reach it ever since. The crown jewel of the movie is her live singing of 'My Man' — her idea — and it makes for unprecidented emotional vulnerability in a movie musical. I could watch that movie every day and find something new to love about her performance."

Tickets for Ann Hampton Callaway Sings The Streisand Songbook are priced $35-$55. Click here for more information. Click here for Callaway's complete tour itinerary.

Click through the following pages to read Callaway's favorite Broadway performances.

 

 

 

Elaine Stritch in Company
 

 

 

"My first Broadway musical was Company when I was a kid. Elaine Stritch's feisty and ferocious performance was so phenomenal it helped define my dream to be a performer. She owned the stage as I'd never seen before and seduced me into wanting to shed light on the human condition with irony and compassion."

 

 

Liz Callaway in Baby

 

"Seeing my sister Liz Callaway star in Baby in a role she helped to create was awe-inspiring. My favorite moment in the show was when she closed Act 1 with 'The Story Goes On' — as many times as I saw this, I was in a puddle of tears each time."

 

Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in Sunday in the Park with George

 

"Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters' performances in the original production of Sunday In the Park with George left an indelible imprint on my heart. These two commanded Sondheim's songs with such restrained passion and brought this story of love and art entwined into a permanent home in my heart. "

 

Lena Horne in Lena Horne:  The Lady and Her Music

 

"Perhaps the most exciting musical concert on Broadway I've ever seen was Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. I was brand new on the scene when I saw this, and Lena's joy, style, power and passion was everything I aspired to — the perfect role model for a burgeoning diva!"

 

 

Liza Minnelli in Liza's at The Palace

 

"Another incredible musical performance was given by my friend Liza Minnelli on the closing day of her 2009 show Liza's at The Palace. She inhabited those songs with so much electrifying humanity, that we as an audience gave her about 12 standing ovations. I never stop learning from Liza." 

 

 

Harvey Fierstein in Torch Song Trilogy

 

"Nothing prepared me for the sock in the gut of Torch Song Trilogy when I attended it in 1988. Harvey Fierstein's writing and acting was a call to a more authentic life for me. I hadn't seen a play about a gay person before, and the insights, stories, pain, pride and transformation gave me the courage to own my own life more fully."

 

Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd

 

"My dad and I saw Sweeney Todd together, and watching Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury's penetrating performances was both uncomfortable for me and deeply moving. I had never felt so much empathy for such disturbing characters before, and their acting helped me better embrace the dark side of humanity as an idealistic young woman."

 

Anna Deavere Smith in Twilight: Los Angeles

 

"I'm a huge fan of one-person shows, and one of my most favorites was Anna Deavere Smith's electrifying Twilight: Los Angeles. The research she had done on all the players in the LA riots created a transcendent portrait of the human spirit. And her comedic and dramatic recreation of all of those characters was mind blowing. She made me love and care about everyone and realize that people, when doing insane things, really do believe they are doing something for a good reason."

Lily Tomlin in The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

 

"Another phenomenal one-woman show performance was Lily Tomlin in The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. I loved Lily on 'Laugh-In' as a kid but to see her in Jane Wagner's brilliantly written piece, which had the perfect balance of comedy and philosophical truth in Lily's hands, dazzled me to the core. I'd love to turn this show into a musical!"

 

 

Tovah Feldshuh in Pippin
 

 

"I recently saw Pippin and was stunned to see my friend, Tovah Feldshuh, play the part of the grandmother, stepping in for the brilliant Andrea Martin. Tovah owned the role with her warm comedic performance and took my breath away as she did a tantalizing trapeze performance in superb athletic shape. As we all get older, it is inspiring to see somebody joyously make time stand still in more ways than one —defying both gravity and her well-lived years."


Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.