by Linda Amiel Burns
The Encompass New Opera Theater held its summer jazz cabaret benefit at a splendid Tribeca Penthouse with performances by Broadway and Cabaret stars, Liz Callaway and Jason Graae.
The Encompass New Opera Theatre is one of the nation’s leading companies that creates and produces new music theatre and opera and was established 39 years ago. Their Jazz Cabaret Gala was launched in 2009 to showcase some of the nation’s best cabaret, musical theater and jazz artists and have included Klea Blackhurst, Judy Kaye, Ann Hampton Callaway and others.
On a beautiful June evening, (June 15th, 2016), there were a remarkable array of theater notables in attendance, including legendary lyricist Sheldon Harnick and his wife of 51 years, Margery. Both have been involved with the company for many years. Mr. Harnick was just awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tonys for his enormous contribution to the musical theater, and there are two successful revivals of his shows on the boards at the moment, Fiddler on the Roof, and She Loves Me.
Nancy Rhodes, the Artistic Director, warmly greeted the crowd who had just partaken of wine and sumptuous hors d’oeurves, and introduced the entertainment for the evening. In the enormous living room seated at the grand piano was accompanist Alex Rybeck. Liz Callaway and Jason Graae entered singing a wonderful medley of love songs that began with “Almost Like Being in Love” into “Love Is In The Air” with snippets of “I Love a Piano” and “I Love Paris.” Both have performed for Encompass separately, but this was the first time together and they called this act “Happily Ever Laughter.” Jason said that it would be, “a romantic evening of platonic love songs, high belting and hilarity.” And it was that and more!
The two first met at the Cincinnati College of Music and performed together in a production of A Little Night Music. Liz left after a “quarter of a semester” to move to NY, and Jason stayed on. However, a few years later in New York, they both were cast in an Equity Library production of Godspell (which they nicknamed God Smell) and have remained good friends ever since. Liz even flew to California to sing John Bucchino’s “It Feels Like Home” at Jason’s wedding. Jason sang two very moving songs about that experience and talked about how times have changed, singing Bill Finn’s “What More Can I Say” from Falsettos paired with the emotional “Married” from Catered Affair by John Bucchino.
As a survival job, Liz was a singing waitress when she first moved to the city. Her favorite song to sing (and one that she is famous for and sings the definitive version of) is “Meadowlark,” by Stephen Schwartz from The Baker’s Wife, and she didn’t disappoint. Liz also really scored on the amusing parody about the complexity of singing Sondheim songs by Lauren Mayer to the tune of “Another Hundred People” and this lyric was “Another Hundred Lyrics Just Flew Out of My Brain.”
A highlight of the performance was Liz and Jason’s duets including “It Takes Two” from Into The Woods. They showed their versatility with “Old Friend” that went into the dueling “Anything You Can Do” from Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. They are a great pairing as both are not only accomplished singers, but also terrific entertainers who can be hilariously funny one moment, and perform serious ballads the next.
This brilliant duo, along with Alex Rybeck, will be bringing “Happily Ever Laughter” to Philadelphia this week, and other venues around the country.
Liz and Jason closed with “Nice” from Lucky Stiff written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and it was announced that this talented team would be the next composers to be honored by Encompass.
For more info, their schedule and upcoming productions – Visit: www.http//EncompassOpera.org.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto