November 18, 2021
In Front of Audiences Again, Cabaret's Liz Callaway 'Feels Amazing'
John Amodeo READ TIME: 8 MIN.
"It feels like a slight miracle that we are doing this again," chimed Tony-nominee and Emmy Award-winner Liz Callaway, about performing in-person again in front of an audience. "It feels amazing."
During the pandemic, Callaway tried everything to stay in vocal shape and to connect with her audiences, whether it was virtual concerts, or using Facebook Live to sing to her Facebook followers while she was driving in her car. "It's very emotional to be singing in person again after 18 months of singing into my phone or my laptop," conveyed Callaway. "It's such a two-way street, because so many in my audience tell me that it's their first time out to see a performer."
Callaway is a prolific recording artist, with seven solo recordings, including two Christmas recordings, and two live recordings of duet cabaret shows "Sibling Revelry" and "Boom," both performed with her sister. She also appears frequently in concerts and cabarets, often singing with the Gay Men's Choruses in various cities across the country. In a rare Boston-area appearance, Callaway will be singing at the Marriott Boston/Quincy on Saturday, November 27, along with the Rising Stars of Quincy, presented by JM Productions.
Callaway and her sister cabaret/jazz singer, songwriter, and actress Ann Hampton Callaway, moved from their hometown of Chicago to New York in the early '80s to jump-start their career as performers. While her sister Ann immediately made her way in the cabaret and jazz circles, Liz was soon cast in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Merrily We Roll Along" at the age of 19. That began a lifelong relationship with Sondheim, that included performing in gala tributes to him, as well as performing the role of Young Sally in the Lincoln Center "Follies: In Concert." She originated the role of Lizzie in the Broadway production of "Baby," for which she garnered a Tony nomination, and also created the role of Ellen in the Broadway production of "Miss Saigon." She performed the role of Grizabella in the Broadway production of "Cats" for five years.
If performing on stage wasn't enough, Callaway also conquered television, starring in her own children's television show broadcast on Boston's own WNEV-TV "Ready to Go," filmed in Charlestown from 1987-91, for which she won an Emmy Award. She continued her television career by singing harmony with her sister on the theme song (also written by her sister) to "The Nanny." Then on the big screen, she became the voice of numerous Disney princesses but is most well known as the voice of Anya in the animated film "Anastasia."
EDGE spoke with her while she was in Palm Springs, CA, taking a break from her rehearsal with her sister in preparation for their performance of "Sibling Revelry" that evening. "Singing tonight with Ann is the first time we will perform together in-person in front of an audience since the pandemic began," chirped Callaway. She then continued to share her thoughts on performing live, sibling collaborations, "Anastasia," and what it means to help the next generation of performers.
EDGE: Tonight, and tomorrow night you are performing "Sibling Revelry," with Ann, which you first performed at Rainbow and Stars in 1995. It's now been over 25 years since you first performed it. Has it changed over the years and if so, how?
Liz Callaway: Oh yes, it has evolved. Most of the songs are the same, but we've updated some songs. We've updated "Friendship." And the "Huge Medley" is even huger! It reflects who we are now, but the bones of the show are the same. We haven't done it for some time, so it's fun to do it again.
EDGE: When was your first concert during the pandemic?
Liz Callaway: In April, I visited Ann in Tucson for the first time in 15 months, and we had such a great time I went back in May and joined Ann in Tucson for a live-streaming concert from her house. But it's not the same singing into a laptop camera as to an audience.
EDGE: A few nights ago, you performed in Palm Desert, California in a show called "One Night Only: Back to the '70s." With your albums "The Beat Goes On" and "Boom," the music of that era is right in your wheelhouse. What did you sing?
Liz Callaway: Ann and I sang a duet of "The Way We Were," and Julie Garnyé sang "The Morning After," and I sang backup. And then all of us sang backup for Amanda McBroom, singing "The Rose," and the audience went wild. It's a benefit I've done every year for the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center. It was such a remarkable program. Debbie Boone sang "You Light Up My Life," and Freda Payne sang "Band of Gold."
EDGE: What will be your show in Quincy?
Liz Callaway: I'm still choosing my songs, but it will be a combination of Broadway songs, and maybe some Christmas music, and a couple of songs with the students. I'm joining them on two songs I've never heard of before, and it's always great to learn new material. I'll be singing from "Anastasia," of course. I'm singing with Jim Rice at the piano. [Rice, who lives in Worcester, and Callaway worked together in 2014 in a Florida concert that he was conducting.] And I'll be singing at the tree lighting in Quincy the night before. I'm looking forward to being in Quincy and back in the area.
EDGE: Will any of the Christmas songs be from your Christmas album, "Merry and Bright?"
Liz Callaway: Actually, I have two Christmas CDs. During the pandemic last year, very last minute I recorded "Comfort and Joy, an acoustic Christmas," and it was done with an acoustic guitarist Peter Calo, who lives down the street from me. He worked with Carly Simon for many years. I was supposed to record just a single, but Peter said there were so many choices, we should do a whole album.
EDGE: You are performing in a program that will include performances from the Rising Stars of Quincy. Have you yourself worked with young rising performers and coached them, either in master classes or in other forums?
Liz Callaway: Absolutely. I love doing master classes. Often when I travel for concerts, I do a master class for a high school or college in the area. I love singing with them, too. In Quincy, I'll be working with them during the rehearsals, I'll be giving them tips.
EDGE: You've gotten to perform and record your big hit "Journey to the Past" from "Anastasia" with Christy Altomare, who starred as Anya in "Anastasia" on Broadway. It's a bit like passing the baton to the next generation. What is that experience like for you?
Liz Callaway: Very special. Christy and I have become very good friends. She released an album recently of all original material and she's also a very good songwriter. And it was rewarding to get to sing with her. When "Anastasia" was on Broadway, it introduced "Anastasia" to a whole new generation, and it connected me with a new generation. It is so beloved, and it is one of the great joys of my life, but especially now, so many years later seeing how important it is to so many people.
JM Productions will present "Liz Callaway in Concert with the 'Rising Stars' of Quincy" on Saturday, November 27, 8 PM at the Marriott Boston/Quincy, 1000 Marriott Drive?Quincy, MA 02169. Tickets: VIP $35, General Admission $25. For reservations, visit: https://www.jmproductionspresents.com/events/lizcallaway
John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and Theatermania.com, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.