Liz Callaway: The Essential Liz Callaway

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Liz Callaway

The Essential Liz Callaway

Metropolitan Room, NYC, November 30, 2015

Reviewed by Peter Leavy for Cabaret Scenes

Photo: Maryann Lopinto
Photo: Maryann Lopinto

The show was described as a celebration of Liz Callaway’s new CD, The Essential Liz Callaway, but for those in the audience at New York’s Metropolitan Room, it was a celebration of Callaway herself. And with good reason. There are few performers to match her superlative vocalizing and the delightfully unmannered effervescence she brings to the stage.

The CD, Callaway informed us with an amalgam of joy and wonder, was recalling her 30 years in show business; the songs included on it were selected by digging through her past recordings, her memory, her keepsakes and her clippings to recall all the songs she’d performed in order to choose her favorites.

Most of the 18 songs on the CD were included in the evening’s show, often with tales of their original incarnation. Many of them were quite familiar: The Most Happy Fella’s “My Heart Is So Full of You”; “Not a Day Goes By” from Merrily We Roll Along; and John Denver’s lilting “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Callaway’s intro to one number related to memorabilia discovered from her very first New York city cabaret performance. As the piano played the first few notes, the savvy audience broke into cheers, and Liz Callaway offered a highly-appreciated rendition of one of her signature songs, Stephen Schwartz’s “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife.

If there’s anything startling about Liz Callaway’s performances, it’s how over the years she has retained the same aura of freshness she brought to the stage decades ago. Never one to flaunt her ego, some of her banter unabashedly noted the length of time, or lack of it, that a few of her musicals managed before closing—some in days not months—but nevertheless each the source of a long-remembered tune or two.

One seldom-heard number, “When Hope Goes,” was from the 2001 Off-Broadway production of The Spitfire Grill, a show that won universal plaudits from the critics, and a Drama Desk nomination for Callaway as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical. “Since You Stayed Here” was Callaway’s choice song from the 1986 production of Brownstone, also Off-Broadway. That plot followed the lives of five apartment dwellers over a year. New York Times critic Frank Rich panned the show, writing, “Defrosting the refrigerator is nothing to sing about, even when the singer is as radiant as Liz Callaway.”

Callaway’s cabaret shows have been treasures over the years, and one must thank in part her longtime musical director, Alex Rybeck, on board again this night. His sensitive and beguiling arrangements enhance Callaway’s long suits: her bewitching vocalizing and her compelling rendition of the lyrics. Kudos also to his instrumentalists, Jered Egan on bass and backup vocals and Dan Gross on drums, who also shine on the CD tracks, plus special guest Kevin Kuhn on guitar.

As with The Essential Liz Callaway album itself, Callaway ended the performance with a song from her most cherished role. Nominated for a Tony Award for the Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, it was from David Shire and Richard Matlby Jr.

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’s 1983 production of Baby. The character, Lizzie, is a young mother-to-be, feeling the first kicks of her child, yet to be born.

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Closing the musical’s first act with “The Story Goes On,” contemplating the kicks and the cycle of life, Lizzie sings:

“…all these things I feel and more
My mother’s mother felt and hers before
A chain of life began upon the shore of some primordial sea
Has stretched through time to reach to me
And now I can see the chain extending
My child is next in the line that has no ending
And here am I feeling life that her child will feel when I’m long gone
Yes all that was is part of me as I am part of what’s to be
And thus it is our story goes on
And on and on and on and on”

Like a reader who says, “I loved that book, I could read it again and again,” and like many in her audience, I could happily watch Callaway do this same show again. And yet again. Because every time I have seen this charmer over the decades, I am once again captivated by her voice, her style, her modesty, her exuberance, her excellence. Each time, to purloin a line from Yogi Berra, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Peter Leavy

As a youthful columnist, Peter offered dating advice to Seventeen magazine’s teen readers. Simultaneously, his “think pieces” and articles on entertainment appeared in other national magazines. Editing four magazines for a small publisher when the Korean Conflict erupted, Peter entered military service, becoming Editor-in-chief of The Army Home Town News Center. After service, he joined the family business and in the ensuing decades created several companies in the fashion and home decoration industry. Peter signed on as one of the first contributors to the fledgling Cabaret Scenes magazine, later was named associate editor and, in 2007, took over as publisher.