Written by Alix Cohen
Liz Callaway has a true Broadway belt voice just to the right of pop. Her instrument is bright, open, well honed, and always a good listen. Though seasoned, she can still reflect ingénue qualities and often chooses material embodying characters who hope or dream. Callaway’s 54Below debut, Coming Around Again, is a mélange of unrelated songs comprising some she’s revisiting and others she’s always wanted to sing. The show has no through line.
A tribute to her “big sister” Ann Hampton Callaway (in the audience), makes humor of “always following in Ann’s footsteps” up to and including her appearance at this club, and Ann’s having had her power turned back on yesterday in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, while Liz still waits. “I Gotta Be Me” follows with special lyrics: What else can I be, I can’t be Ann. Next comes “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” in an appealing low key rendition wherein she integrates the signature choice of seamlessly going up an octave or two (especially towards the end of a song) when other singers go down. Piano accompaniment is lovely.
Callaway arrived in New York in the heyday of Studio 54, but despite love of disco, “being a good Midwestern girl, I never ventured inside.” A dense, percussive version of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” bears no resemblance to the referred-to genre. (Back-up vocals by Rybeck and Egan are fun.) The disconnect between anecdotes and selections continues as the vocalist tells us that in an effort “to broaden my horizons,” she requested out-of-the-box song suggestions from Face Book friends. The apparent result, her son’s recommendation of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes,” however, firmly rests in said box.
Son Nicholas also gets a nod with the song Callaway would offer to make him feel better as a child, the lullaby-like “Not While I’m Around,” a highlight of the program. Her voice fills with warmth, sentiments appear to have personal meaning. A strapping 6’ 3”, 21 year-old, Nicholas’ song has changed to “Now You Know:” It’s called flowers wilt/It’s called apples rot/It’s called thieves get rich and saints get shot/It’s called God don’t answer prayers a lot/Okay, now you know. The evolution is clever. A third Stephen Sondheim number, “Another 100 Lyrics” (rather than “Another 100 People”), with additional parody lyrics by Lauren Mayer, raises eyebrows and broadens grins. Callaway, an experienced purveyor of Sondheim, manages every endless , tongue twisting phrase with sharp articulation and zest.
Pop selections securely in the artist’s comfort zone include one by Burt Bachrach/Hal David and one by Albert Hammond/Hal David, replete with reflective humming. Callaway speaks of the recently deceased David with admiration, and of one of our other major musical losses this year, Marvin Hamlisch, with affection. “Music and the Mirror” (Marvin Hamlisch/Ed Kleban) gives her the opportunity to let vocals soar to the rafters. She knows just where to breathe, gasp, embed a sob, and make a fist, yet I don’t believe an emotional investment.
With “Cockeyed Optimist,” Callaway looks at her audience for perhaps the first time. (This is missed.) An encore of “The Story Goes On” which she introduced in the David Shire/ Richard Maltby Jr. Broadway show Baby effectively resonates. This one also seems personal, perhaps tracking back to her son. She was charming in that show. I remember it well. She still has charm.
Coming Around Again Liz Callaway
Alex Rybeck-Musical Director/Arranger/Piano, Jered Egan- Bass, Ron Tierno-Drums
54Below 254 West 54th Street – November 11- 9:00 pm – www.54below.com