Saturday, August 11, 2012

cabaret review LIZ CALLAWAY AND FRIENDS- EVEN STEPHEN, Town Hall, July 30

Wow!  I think that pretty much sums up my review of Liz Callaway's concert at Town Hall last week.  Titled "Even Stephen" and featuring four special Broadway co-stars (three of whom are former Tony nominees like Liz no less) the evening featured the songs of three guys named "Steve"- Stephen Flaherty, Stephen Schwartz and Stephen Sondheim.

Now considering that Liz just played Norma Desmond in the musical Sunset Boulevard in Pittsburgh the week before this concert, it is amazing not only how clear and strong her voice was but that she delivered a two hour long concert that included some of the most challenging songs by the three Steve's.  Several of the solo highlights included a perfect "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife, a heartbreaking "Losing My Mind" from Follies and a stirring "Back to Before" from Ragtime.

Directed by Liz's husband Dan Foster, the concert was divided into sections.  After a beginning that featured Liz singing one song from each composer, "Company," "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin and a rousing "Waiting For Life to Begin" from Once On This Island, the evening wisely then separated each composer into their own 30 minute set.  While this separation didn't do much to show how each composer is comparable to the others, it did provide a more focused way to allow each to stand alone.  I only wish Liz had given us a coupling or trio of two or three songs by the different men as segues between the sections.

Liz and Norm Lewis
Liz has had a personal connection to each of these men.  In 1981, she made her Broadway debut in Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, appeared in the legendary 1985 concert of Follies as well as the 1983 concert "A Stephen Sondheim Evening."  For Flaherty, she sang on many demo recordings for him and his lyricist partner Lynn Ahrens as well as sang the lead part of Anastasia on the film of the same name that they provided songs for.  For Schwartz she has toured the country with him for many years in his "Stephen Schwartz and Friends" concerts.  The personal stories she told about each composer is what made this concert even more special and made it more than just a singer singing songs from some of their favorite composers.

Jason Danieley, Norm Lewis and Joshua Henry were the three male Broadway "friends" that joined Liz throughout the show.   Each of the men got two solo spots as well as a duet with Liz.  Danieley was first out of the gate with a roof raising take on "The Streets of Dublin" from Flaherty and Ahrens' A Man of No Importance.  He actually was the only "guest" to appear in all three sections, coming back in the Schwartz section with a forceful "Out There" from the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame and capping off the evening with an absolutely perfect duet with Liz, "Move On" from Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George.  Norm Lewis got the touching duet with Liz, "Forever Yours" from Once On This Island which he followed with a slightly subdued "Wheels of a Dream" from Ragtime.  I don't know if it was because it was his night off from performing in the Broadway revival of Porgy and Bess or what, but it seemed like he was struggling a bit as well as holding back.  Fortunately later in the evening he gave us a soaring version of "Being Alive" from Sondheim's Company and he didn't disappoint.

On the surface, Joshua Henry's three songs might seem to be all slow and simple but they allowed his clear voice and straightforward delivery of the lyrics to shine through.  He had a fun and charming duet with Liz on "Love Song" from Pippin which he followed with a perfectly delivered "Beautiful City" from Godspell and came back with a simply lovely take on Sondheim's "I Remember" from the tv musical Evening Primrose.  The three men joined together for a lovely yet somewhat under rehearsed "Pretty Lady" from Sondheim's Pacific Overtures.  The "special" guest of the evening was Liz's sister, Ann Hampton Callaway, and their duet of "For Good" from Wicked was stirring, touching, heartbreaking and just about as perfect as you can get. 

Liz was joined by musical director Alex Rybeck on piano, Jered Egan on bass and Ron Tierno on drums.  The arrangements for the songs and their playing of them was always concise, professional and lively. The direction by Foster was exactly as it should be, finding a way to combine Liz's personal stories about these three men with some beautiful songs and four guest stars and letting the stories and songs shine through.  Besides my one quibble about not finding a way to combine songs from any of the composers together, this was just about as good as you can get with a concert from a Broadway leading lady.

Other solo highlights included the beautiful pairing of two Anastasia songs "Once Upon a December" and "Journey to the Past," a quiet and simple "Lion Tamer" from Schwartz's The Magic Show and a straight forward yet forceful "There Won't Be Trumpets" from Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle.  Liz also sang two Sondheim songs she has sung many times in concert, "What More Do I Need?" from Saturday Night and her encore for the night, "With So Little To Be Sure Of" from Anyone Can Whistle.  Both could not have been delivered any better and they are completely different types of songs, with one a driving, humorous song about living in New York City and the other a perfect and touching statement for the end of a perfect evening.

Liz sings "Meadowlark" -

Liz sings "Journey to the Past" -

Liz sings "Losing My Mind" -

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