By Marcina Zaccaria
A new arrival in New York in 1981, Liz Callaway stepped into the Duplex in Greenwich Village to pick up the microphone. Offered a show at The Public Theater, but passing it up to perform in the ill-fated two week Broadway endeavor, Merrily We Roll Along, Callaway’s career had an almost triumphant start.
Her charmed path included increased collaboration with Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire. A woman of stature in the intricately woven tapestry of their music through the 80s and 90s, Callaway perfectly carried the songs from her early days to their mature continuation.
All of the bluster that could appear on the Broadway stage is pulled back in the February 15 performance at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room. While the setting at the Appel Room is nothing short of spectacular – with the yellow and green lights from the cars whizzing past an always bright Columbus Circle -Callaway’s performance solidly fills the room, without offering any Razzle Dazzle.
Without recurrent sob stories of life upon the wicked stage, Callaway’s defined presence is brilliantly complimented by her Merrily cohort and current Musical Director, David Loud. In loose black pants and a sleeveless yellow tinted shirt, the blonde Callaway appears everywhere near relaxed chic. Cellist Sarah Seiver and Percussionist Bruce Doctor add to a balanced evening, diligently orchestrated to appeal to the most critical theater fan.
Greatest hits of the evening include the moody Autumn. Although moments seemed to take from the momentum – like the quavering, breathy songs from Big – the overall presentation was largely fearless. A guest appearance by Todd Graff created a moment of surprise, welcome in this calculated evening. Graff joined for a stunning duet from Baby with Callaway. In hearing What Could Be Better?, we acknowledge Callaway’s superwoman of the verge of becoming something better. There’s something incomparably smooth about the performance style, directed by Dan Foster. Callaway claims she parched in three quarters of the way through the evening, and special guest Rebecca Luker appears from the audience with a glass of water. Luker creates a brilliant moment of empathy with the song I’ve Been Here Before.
Keeping the audience thinking and feeling, Callaway sings the dynamic and spirited I Don’t Remember Christmas, and the pensive Patterns, cut from Baby, included in Closer Than Ever. There’s something almost magical about hearing Patterns. In taking on the psychological drama, Callaway gets through the cluttered, unconscious behavior with something of a healing voice.
Liz Callaway really gets to sing the great, contemporary music. With The Story Goes On: Liz Callaway Sings Maltby & Shire, she masterfully interprets sophisticated lyrics and haunting melodies. In this way, American Songbook never fails to impress. As the series offers the best of American popular music, it recognizes songs that would have been forgotten.
Photos: Kevin Yatorola
Liz Callaway appeared at the Appel Room, located at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall on February 15. Lincoln Center’s American Songbook is running until May 2017.