By Edward Kliszus
A full house was seated and ready at 54 Below in Manhattan for To Steve With Love: Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim. Wait staff scurried to serve dinner and drinks as live-streamed patrons logged in with hellos from fifteen states, Washington DC, London, and Melbourne. The magic of live-streaming was bringing the artistry of Liz Callaway and Stephen Sondheim live to the world!
Lights dimmed and the rhythm section played and sang an introduction for the delightful, smiling Liz Callaway as she came to the microphone. She was accompanied this evening by musical director and pianist Alex Rybeck, drummer Ron Tierno, and bassist Ritt Henn.
After a cheerful welcome to the audience, Callaway began to reflect on her times with Stephen Sondheim, describing their friendship and collaboration spanning four decades. Each of the songs followed her career, life, and thoughts chronologically like a diary expressing ambition, success, humor, and love. From the onset, her accompanying trio performed Sondheim’s elegant musical structures and dissonances with aplomb, providing subtle but formidable support for her vocal poetry.
Callaway began with a sentimental tour of Sondheim songs including, “What More Do I Need” from Saturday Night, “I’m just a Broadway Baby” from Follies, “Old Friends” from Merrily We Roll Along, “The Miller’s Son” from A Little Night Music “What Do We Do? We Fly” from Do I Hear a Waltz.
She introduced these next songs as her favorites, beginning this segment with “I Remember Sky” from the TV series Evening Primrose.
Callaway relayed an anecdote of her son Nick as a toddler when only one song stood out as capable of soothing him. She sang the exquisite “Nothing’s Gonna Harm You” from Sweeny Todd. One can imagine the flurry of emotions of her 31-year-old son seated in the audience this evening.
In contrast to the insights of her son as a child versus today as a young adult, Callaway sang “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along, set in a jazz style.
Callaway sang the moving and romantic “In Buddy’s Eyes” from Follies for perspective. A sample of lyrics gives the reader a sense of our chanteuse’s soul and romantic spirit. This stanza exemplifies the pathos and sentiments expressed beautifully by Callaway in the song.
In Buddy’s eyes I’m young, I’m beautiful.
In Buddy’s arms, On Buddy’s shoulder, I won’t Bet older.
And all I ever dreamed I’d be, The best I ever thought of me,
Is every minute there to see In Buddy’s eyes.
Callaway next sang a song, reminding her of her Dad. “The Road You Didn’t Take” from Follies. She then conveyed the sentiments of the ever-passionate and romantic “Loving You” from Passion.
She explained that her favorite musical is Sunday in the Park with George just before introducing her son Nicholas Callaway Foster. He came to the stage to sing with her the duet “Move On” from that musical. This was a moving, powerful demonstration of the bond and love between a mother and son. Nicholas is a tall, handsome young man with a voice that beckons. Callaway clearly glowed when they embraced.
“Another Hundred Lyrics” from Company followed and was so exciting it brought the audience to their feet. Callaway’s breath control and diction were fabulous in this challenging song, akin to the protracted consonant phrases made famous in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The pensive “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music slowed things down and led to Callaway’s gracious thanks to the audience, staff, Lighting Director Ashley Kok, Sound Supervisor Amanda Raymond, and Livestream Director KJ Hardy.
Callaway’s closing selection, “Our Time” from Merrily We Move Along, earned another well-deserved standing ovation that earned the audience an encore. This song revealed the songwriter’s and singer’s vulnerability, soul, artistry, and poetry.
“With So Little To Be Sure Of” from Anyone Can Whistle. Here are three lines from the lyrics:
With so little to be sure of in this world,
We had a moment!
A marvelous moment!
Callaway’s repartee was polished and relaxed with insightful anecdotes about her many fellow Broadway luminaries that were delightfully personal. At the same time, she was ebullient and friendly, and her selection of songs sentimentally traced a remarkable career that began for her as a singing waitress. She spoke of private gatherings with Stephen Sondheim and friends and her first Broadway appearance in his musical “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Tonight’s performance reflected not only Sondheim’s poetic brilliance but Callaway’s ability to convey the story of her life through songs that characterize her thoughts and feelings at each step.
Callaway’s singing embraced the elegance of the wonderful songs and sentiments she shared with her listeners, magically drawing her audience as fellow travelers into each song’s poetic, artistic world. Her pitch, tone quality, breath control, articulation, and expression were flawless.
The sound, lighting, video production, and live streaming quality was superb. A special thanks to Feinstein’s/54 Below and Broadway World Events for sharing this production worldwide.
Director Dan Foster, Creative & Program Director Jennifer Ashley Tepper, and Executive producers Steve Baruch, Richard Frankel, and Tom Viertel.
Presented by Broadway World Events
1001 Avenue of the Americas, 11th Floor
New York, New York 10018
254 W 54th St/ Cellar
New York, NY 10019
Tickets & Info 646-476-3551. Upcoming Livestreams HERE.
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