Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway: Yuletide Revelry

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

Yuletide Revelry

Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, AZ, December 16, 2023

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway

How lucky Arizona is to be able to experience the debut of a new Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway cabaret! Bravo to Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) artistic director Andrew Walesch for making that happen. Yuletide Revelry takes on the holidays where their highly successful Sibling Revelry left off. The Callaway’s made magic as they took us on a journey that went from their childhood in Chicago to their early days in New York City to their appearances in cabaret and on Broadway and finally to their currently long-distance relationship. Ann and her wife Kari reside in Tucson, Arizona, and Liz and her family remain in New York. Yuletide Revelry opens at New York City’s 54 Below on December 24, which will allow them to spend Christmas together for the first time in years.

Their opening song, “There Is a Santa Clause” (from Elf The Musical), was sung with wide-eyed wonder. We were the treated to the full version of the Irving Berlin classic “Sisters” from the film White Christmas. Their harmonies, and their incredible musicianship, are a gift from the gods. They threw in just enough dancing to be charming. Every cabaret singer should put their water in a wine glass; it adds to the panache of the show. The brilliant pianist/arranger Alex Rybeck accompanied them, and he added a third harmony part to a medley of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Joy to the World.” The latter included a little baby-boomer humor by including some phrasing from the 1971 song with the same title performed by Three Dog Night.

The Callaways sat on stools for their next medley of “Silent Night” and “Mary, Did You Know?,” which was rich and deep and brought tears to my eyes. They each had some solo moments. Ann recorded “Winter Wonderland” years ago with the incomparable Billy Stritch, and she brought it to life here, complete with her signature scatting. Liz sang one of my favorites, “Grown Up Christmas Wish,” which she had recorded on her first of two holiday CDs. One of her many gifts is that she starts a song simply in her head voice, builds the story, and then reminds us in the climax that she can do a Broadway belt with the best of them. One of the peaks of her career was providing the singing voice (Meg Ryan provided the speaking voice) for the animated film Anastasia, so she included a medley of two of the film’s songs that was especially appreciated by the younger audience members.

We were treated to Ann’s original song “At the Same Time,” which she wrote with Barbra Streisand in mind who eventually did record it. (Ann is mentioned on page 811 of Streisand’s new autobiography.) The song calls for peace on a planet where our hearts are all beating at the same time, a message timelier today than ever. It was sung with vocal perfection by Ann. Given the topic of Streisand, why not try to nail her arrangement of “Jingle Bells?” Apparently, it was a number that they both wanted to sing, so a duet was born.

They had a solemn moment, inspired by their journalist father Nick Callaway’s PBS newsletter Christmas Isn’t Easy, when they performed a medley in which Ann sang Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Liz sang “Hard Candy Christmas” from  The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Each of them stayed locked in her own pensive character, and the harmony-filled ending gave me goosebumps.

Another of Ann’s originals, “God Bless My Family,” got the 11 o’clock spot. Because these two incredibly talented singers are in fact family, the stage was sprinkled with fairy dust. It was fun to hear them bicker the way siblings do, and that was only because it was so clear that they loved, respected, and adored each other.

They expressed their appreciation for Rybeck and the MIM staff before their finale, “New Year Coming,” a parody of the Cass Elliot song “New World Coming” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil). Acknowledging the troubles of 2023, they left the audience with hope and inspiration for 2024. The audience brought them back for an encore and they circled back to a family tradition of singing around the piano. That role was filled by their mother for years, and now it has fallen to Ann. Liz sat beside her on the piano bench, and we were transported to their home with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” They invited the audience to sing along, and to my joy, it was right in my key!

The sisters kept us in the moment of each song so that we were either wiping away tears, smiling, or laughing hard enough to cry. Yuletide Revelry runs December 24 and 26-28 at 54 Below in New York City, but it will not be the same show as tonight’s. If you are not able to snag an in-person ticket, the December 26 show will be streamed at 7 pm (EST).

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.