Liz Callaway: Sets in the City

 

By Brian Scott Lipton

 

If you’re seeking a night of cabaret entertainment, and you simply want to “settle for the best” (to quote Ed Kleban’s witty “Better”), then head straight to Feinstein’s/54 Below where the wonderful Liz Callaway is wowing the crowds with “Sets in the City,” perhaps her finest offering to date.

What’s so remarkable about Callaway, who has been honing her craft for four decades, is not just how pure and clean her voice still sounds, but also the poignancy or joy she brings to each number (complete with a true understanding of the lyrics), her ability to perform a song she’s done for over 30 years with the same finesse as one she’s just learned, and, above all, her connection with the audience, letting them in on personal (and sometimes slightly embarrassing) stories and seemingly unafraid to let down her guard.

While all of these gifts are present in “Sets in the City,” what makes this show stand out like the Chrysler Building is its flawless song selection, alternating many of her “greatest hits” (at least to her fans) with a few wonderfully chosen newer selections. Despite its title, the show doesn’t strictly stick to the “city” theme, even with such selections as an excellent opening pairing of “Who Wants to Live in New York” and “I Happen to Like New York,” a defiant duo of “Where Am I Going?” and “On Broadway,” and, as her final number, a truly moving rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s “Beautiful City.”

 

 

Picking highlights from this set, for me, is sort of like naming your favorite child, but here goes: Callaway still thrills with her near-definitive versions of Stephen Schwartz’s brilliant allegory “Meadowlark,” Peter Larson and Josh Rubin’s bittersweet “Since You Stayed Here” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Marry Me A Little,” as perfect a summation of one’s willingness to almost be married that’s ever been written.

Callaway also brought a wondrous wistfulness to Rupert Holmes’ “People You Never Get to Love” and even brought a tear to the eye with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black’s “Tell Me on a Sunday,” in which a woman describes how she envisions her imminent break-up. And her take on Burt Bachrach and Hal David’s pop classic, “Always Something There to Remind Me,” perfectly emphasizes the song’s mixture of semi-despair and surprising hopefulness.

Not all was gloom and doom: her sultry version of Irving Berlin’s “Sun in the Morning” is still utterly delicious, while Chuck Mangione’s little-known “Land of Make Believe” proved to be the ultimate feel-good tune (and provided an excellent showcase for pianist/musical director Alex Rybeck, bassist Jered Egan and drummer Ron Tierno). And taking a cue from the legendary Marilyn Maye (who was in the opening night house), Callaway offered up the most marvelous medley, a smile-inducing mishmash of tunes around the theme of sing (including bits from Joe Raposo’s “Sing” from “Sesame Street,” Earth Wind & Fire’s “Sing a Song,” Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s infectious “Make Your Own Kind of Music”) that could have gone on forever.

 

Liz Callaway & Marilyn Maye

 

To add my own take on Kleban’s aforementioned tune (Callaway’s second song in her set): “I’ve seen good/I’ve seen bad/but Liz is better.” Don’t miss this show!

Photos: Maryann Lopinto

 

“Liz Callaway: Sets in the City” plays through June 15 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street). Visit www.54below.com for tickets and information.

 

 

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