By Marilyn Lester . . .

What took them so long, you might ask? It’s a question that Amanda McBroom and Ann Hampton Callaway have asked themselves about the New York City debut of their delicious show, Divalicious, at 54 Below. The two divas, with compatriot Michele Brourman on piano, have been presenting it in far-flung locations since its 2016 premiere in Barrington, MA. It’s no wonder, then, that the three-night run quickly sold out. Those fortunate enough to score tickets were thus rewarded with an extraordinary evening performed to perfection by two of the American Songbook’s most talented and celebrated singer-songwriters.

Ann Hampton Callaway – Amanda McBroom

It was with a tune from the classic American Songbook that the pair started the evening, delivering a most harmonious 1936 gem, “Glory of Love” (Billy Hill). From that launch point, each of the divas offered their own takes on standards and their own works, rejoining for several numbers along the way. Among them was a terrific hats off to pioneering femme lyricist, Dorothy Fields (1905-1974), who had major success beginning in the 1920s on Broadway and beyond. Fields made her mark from the get-go at a time when songwriting was most assuredly dominated by males. Fitting too, was that this tribute and Divalicious itself acknowledged that March is Women’s History Month. The Fields medley encompassed “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (1930 with Jimmy McHugh), “Pick Yourself Up” and “The Way You Look Tonight” (both 1936 with Jerome Kern) and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (1928 with McHugh). The penultimate song of the evening, with added vocals by Brourman, was a grand message to the assembled, George and Ira Gershwin’s classic “Our Love is Here to Stay.”

Ann Hampton Callaway

Callaway was first to solo, with another classic, a swinging “All the Things You Are” (Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II). Callaway just happens to be one of today’s preeminent jazz vocalists. She has what all the jazz greats possess—an inherent sense of swing that translates into masterful phrasing and the ability to improvise on the melody, along with first-rate scatting ability. Later in the show, she did one of her famous “improvs”—creating a song on the spot from audience suggestions. From her Peggy Lee repertoire, Callaway offered “Black Coffee” (Sonny Burke, Paul Francis Webster), a 1948 tune recorded by Lee (another talented singer-songwriter) in 1953, demonstrating in this torch song a real feel for the blues. And make no mistake, Callaway has the genre bases covered. In the area of ballads, she performed a soulful “I’ve Dreamed of You,” a beautiful tune with a beautiful back story. The melody was written by Celtic-leaning Norwegian writer Rolf Løvland. When Barbra Streisand heard it, she asked Callaway to set lyrics to it. The result was a gift for husband-to-be James Brolin, performed at their 1999 wedding and also recorded by Streisand.

Amanda McBroom

McBroom has an acting background. Among other credits she was on Broadway in Seesaw and Mame, among others, and also starred in the New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and European productions of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Her vocal style is informed by her theatrical talents, making her a foremost interpreter of lyric and a profound storyteller. Her rendition of “Information Please,” written with Callaway, was heart-rending, with the narrative of this story song based on a true event, culled from The Reader’s Digest magazine. And as poignant as the tale was, it was set up with humor—a delightful thread running throughout Divalicious by both stars. They’re witty and fun and that capacity added so much to their collaboration and presentation, like the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae.

Michele Brourman – Amanda McBroom – Ann Hampton Callaway – Ritt Henn

That wit was front and center in “Eggs,” written by McBroom with Brourman, featuring a “morning after” menu of breakfast choices. Reaching back to Brel, his “Carousel” (with Eric Blau) was a masterpiece of vocal delivery. Not only did McBroom ace the tempo build from slow to frenetic, her interpretation of the lyric made it clear that the 1950s hit, with its lyric “the whole world madly turning,” is as relevant today as when it was written. A solo turn was performed by Brourman with “You’re Only Old Once” (with McBroom), a delightful irony about the joys of being “old.” Throughout Divalicious, Brourman provided her lyrical and lively pianistic skills, with bassist Ritt Henn on board for exquisite texture and time-keeping. The latter is the basic task of a bass player; the great ones, like Henn, know how to do it by “walking the bass” with an extra “umph” of creative ideas.

There was probably only one sure-fire way to end an evening as spectacular as Divalicious, and that was with an evocative, exquisitely delivered rendition of McBroom’s international hit (via Bette Midler in 1979), “The Rose.” Topping off an evening of sublime polish and artistry, this sisterhood of music-makers had lifted the energy in the room to a palpable level of jubilation—like a blossoming rose— right off the scales.

Photos: Maryann Lopinto