Liz Callaway: To Steve with Love—Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim

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Liz Callaway

To Steve with Love—Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

When she was 9 or 10, the first Broadway show Liz Callaway attended was Stephen Sondheim’s Company, directed by Hal Prince and playing at the Alvin Theatre. As she says, she was “probably not the target age for that show.”  Eleven years later, after five callbacks and a nine-month wait while the director finished another project, she made her Broadway debut in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. The show was directed by Prince and played at the Alvin Theatre—kismet.

Merrily closed two weeks later, but Callaway began a lucky 40-year relationship with Sondheim, “a friend, teacher, and a man who changed my life.” If you don’t hear the love in this recording, you’re not listening.

To Steve with Love, recorded live at NYC’s 54 Below, covers the shows in which Callaway was cast, each one presented with an entertaining personal anecdote, along with a few songs she admires. For example: “Someone in a Tree” (Pacific Overtures), “It’s the fragment, not the day/It’s the pebble, not the stream,” and“What More Do I Need?” (Saturday Night), “With your love, what more do I need?” Both express apt sentiment. From Merrily, she sings “Old Friends” and “Like It Was.” Innocence shines through in music director/pianist Alex Rybeck’s refined arrangements and Callaway’s acting chops.

“The Miller’s Son” (A Little Night Music) arrives with the exuberance of a young colt feeling her oats. One can easily picture Callaway as the defiant, flirtatious Petra. Later on, “Send in the Clowns” emerges gossamer. “I Remember” and “Take Me to the World,” selections from Evening Primrose (a rare television foray by the composer/lyricist), emerge utterly poignant. Callaway’s control of ostinato leads to expansive interpretation, which is rarely the case.

From Sweeney Todd, Callaway offers “Not While I’m Around,” citing it as the lullaby that would best quiet her son when he was a baby. Now in his early 30s, Nicholas Callaway Foster duets with his mother on “Move On” from her favorite Sondheim show, Sunday in the Park with George. “This is not usually sung by a mother and son, but it could be,” she observes; I agree. Foster’s clarity, tone, and powerful ardor mesh beautifully with that of his proud mom’s. “That’s my boy.” More please.

Callaway played young Sally to Barbara Cook’s grown-up Sally in an Alice Tully Hall concert presentation of Follies. “I remember thinking you have to be so much older.” Now she sings “In Buddy’s Eyes” with equanimity, grace, and yearning.  Also from that musical, “The Road You Didn’t Take” reminds her of her dad.  The Callaways parents married very young and later divorced. “I felt the song echoed some of the regrets and justifications that he would (occasionally) reveal over the years.” Octaves shift like butter; we hear the rue and restlessness.

“My scariest moments on stage have all come from singing Sondheim” introduces Lauren Mayer’s clever parody—“Another Hundred Lyrics” to the tune of “Another Hundred People.” The vocalist’s precise enunciation without loss of lyrical emotion (or breath) is infectious; hands off the handlebars, we fly. Another seamless Rybeck medley keeps it company.

“It always comes back to Merrily,” Callaway tells us. “Our Time” begins heart-in-hand a cappella: “Feel the flow, hear what’s happening/We’re what’s happening/Don’t you know, we’re the movers and the shapers/We’re the names in tomorrow’s papers/Up to us man to show ’m.” How many young people would adopt that as anthem if it were performed more often?

“We were so lucky to live in the time of Stephen Sondheim?” leads to a muted “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” which is expressed as a melodic sigh (Anyone Can Whistle). This recording is definitely celebratory.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lauren Mayer

    Liz is truly amazing – and I’m thrilled that you liked my parody!

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