Liz Callaway: Sets in the City

Liz Callaway

Sets in the City

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, June 12, 2019

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

Liz Callaway

Liz Callaway’s voice is a treasure.

That’s certainly been noted since her cabaret debut in 1980 (her first Variety review was shared in this offering). It’s as if her vocal cords sipped from the Fountain of Youth; they are vibrant and warm with an undeniable purity. When Callaway sings, the audience has no choice but to be enchanted by her perfect combination of tone, musicality, and phrasing.

So why does this Callaway performance, live and in person, feel so lukewarm and, well, dull? It can’t be from a lack of connection to the material. She aptly applied herself to “Tell Me on a Sunday” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black) and “The People That You Never Get to Love” (Rupert Holmes). Each found her interpreting away at each turn. But these songs, while intimate, seemed static when she sang them, particularly when she delivered them to the back wall rather than to the audience.

Many of the song choices this time around—“(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” (Burt Bacharach/Hal David), “I Got the Sun in the Morning” (Irving Berlin), “Land of Make Believe” (Chuck Mangione), among others—gave little opportunity for Callaway to find the unexpected, let alone danger. Perhaps it was a subconscious focus on vocal dynamics that kept the performances from havea kinetic life. 

Still there were a few highlights. A pairing of “Where Am I Going” (Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields) and “On Broadway” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weill/Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller) unearthed the uneasiness in Callaway, allowing for a journey full of defiant bite. And a mega-medley of “Sing” songs, including “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (Mann/Weill) and “Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing)” (Louis Prima), allowed her (and the audience) some genuine fun with all of its unexpected transitions and additions.

But it was, even after all these years, her signature number, “Meadowlark” (Stephen Schwartz), that packed the most punch. It was this crossroads of vocal aesthetic and eager journey that felt most alive. Callaway’s voice seemed frozen in time, like the recording of it; yet her performance bubbled and brimmed with twists and turns of authentic emotion.

There’s no denying that Callaway sounds like a million bucks. But this showing ultimately played more milquetoast than magnificent.

Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.