By Ron Fassler . . .
Back in New York City and together for the first time in two years, Feinstein’s/54 Below is playing host all week long to the phenomenal Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway, sisters and exceptional performers. It’s a show you don’t want to miss (especially when at the very, very end they answer audience questions, which is a total delight).
Singing mostly Broadway tunes long established as part of the Great American Songbook, their powerful, intelligent, pitch-perfect stylings are simply out of this world. Separately, their voices couldn’t be more different yet when they blend, the sound is effortlessly beautiful.
Putting all my cards on the table, I have been a fan of Liz Callaway since even before her career on the stage began in earnest with the 1981 original production of Merrily We Roll Along. It was no surprise that three years later, after her Tony nominated performance as Lizzie in Baby, she would become a go-to musical theatre actress appearing as everything from Grizabella in Cats to Ellen in Miss Saigon. Last night, she once again thrilled with her Act One closer of Baby, “The Story Goes On,” which seems to grow in richness with her delivery over the years.
As for Ann, it was she who first came to New York from their hometown of Chicago to seek fame and fortune. The pair soon found themselves in their own private revival of Wonderful Town, two sisters living together and dreaming of success in a city they would come to call home. As Ann recalled last night, “I was five foot ten and worth the climb.” Happily, she found her true calling as a jazz vocalist, piano player, arranger, and songwriter, and has been at it ever since (even finding her way to Broadway and a Tony nomination of her very own for 1999’s Swing).
No strangers to performing together, as anyone familiar with their 1995 album Sibling Revelry knows, it’s simply magical the way their combined singing soars. Alex Rybeck, Liz’s longtime collaborator, musically directed the show, joined by Ritt Henn on bass and Ron Tierno on drums. Highlights included solos for Ann of “Blues in the Night,” “Not a Day Goes By/Being Alive” and “If He Walked into My Life” and for Liz “Broadway Baby” and “The Music and The Mirror” from A Chorus Line. Performed without a mirror and any subsequent dancing makes you realize what a spectacular song it is.
But it is when Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway blend their voices in such magnificent ways that it makes their combined efforts an amazing two-of-a-kind experience. And though it may be equally thrilling to see them live in their individual cabaret shows, I sincerely hope they won’t stay away too long from the concert stage as a duo, even if they run the risk of giving the audience too much of a good thing.
Liz Callaway & Ann Hampton Callaway: Broadway the Calla-way! is playing January 4th through the 8th, with a live stream this Saturday night. For more information, visit https://54below.com/calendar/
Photos: Ron Fassler