By Brian Scott Lipton
Ti amo. J’adore. Jag alskar dig. Just as there are dozens of ways to say “I love you,” there are infinite ways to sing about love. And few artists do that better, with more feeling and more variety, than the remarkable Ann Hampton Callaway, as she proves in her delicious show “On My Way to You,” now at 54 Below.
Take the show’s title tune (and final song) as well as “How Do you Keep the Music Playing,” two superlative standards featuring the timeless lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (with music by Michel Legrand) which Callaway interprets with a rare depth of feeling. She brings that same sense of unbridled passion to a striking medley of Ned Washington and Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart” and Richard Rodgers’ “My Romance” – a pairing that had me practically in tears — as well as a brilliant reimagining of Cyndi Lauper’s contemporary classic “Time After Time.”
Smartly, though, Callaway – here joined by a fabulous jazz trio led by pianist (and first-time collaborator) John DeMartino – begins the evening on a up note with a swinging version of Burton Lane and Ralph Freed’s “How About You” (complete with some new Callaway lyrics), followed by an intensely pleasurable take on Sammy Cahn and Gene DePaul’s unforgettable “Teach Me Tonight.”
She’s equally joyous on the infectious, Brazilian-flavored “Finding Beauty,” which is just one of several songs in the show written either completely or in part by Callaway herself. While I enjoyed the pun-filled “Moody in Paris” and marveled at the loveliness of “I Gaze In Your Eyes” (which features a melody by, of all people, Cole Porter), nothing quite matches the bittersweet, gimlet-eyed “Never Really Mine to Lose” (featuring lyrics by Lindy Robbins), which she delivers with gutsiness and all-out bravado.
As in all Callaway shows, there’s a section of improvisation, but her opening night provided a distinct twist from her usual fare of audience suggestions turned into a song by the piano-playing diva. Instead, Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Kurt Elling joined her on stage for some hilarious, slightly lascivious banter about the secret to a long-lasting marriage, followed by some seemingly improvisational singing. The segment’s length caused Callaway to cut at least one of her songs, but it was such a high-point that it earned a well-deserved mid-show ovation. Which was the audience’s way of saying “I love you.”
Ann Hampton Callaway: On My Way to You continues at 54 Below (254 West 54th Street) on June 19, 20, and 25. Visit www54Below.com for tickets and information.