- CHARITY BENEFIT
Reviewed By: Joel Benjamin
With elegant modesty and soaring vocal talent, Liz Callaway toured the songs of the three Stephens: Flaherty, Schwartz and Sondheim. The program at The Town Hall was a little bit of heaven for theater lovers and an object lesson in the power of musical theater songs to move and entertain.
Part of the invaluable Scott Siegel’s Summer Broadway Festival, Even Stephen, used modest means to impart the brilliance of these three songwriters. Alex Rybeck, the show’s pianist and Musical Director led his expert three-member ensemble admirably adapting to the different styles of each composer. Add to these professionals three brilliant male singers, Jason Danieley, Joshua Henry and Norm Lewis and Callaway’s dynamic sister, Ann Hampton Callaway and you have the ingredients for an evening of sit-back-and-let-the-music-flow-over-you delight.
Rather than mix and match their work, Ms. Callaway divided the show into three, each part featuring a Stephen. Stephen Flaherty and his lyricist Lynn Ahrens were represented by songs from Once On This Island, A Man of No Importance and Ragtime. The dreamy “Nothing to Lose (But Your Heart)” from Island was Callaway’s stylish way of singing a number she’d never get to do on stage, while her poignant “Back To Before,” about moving on in life (Ragtime) was heartbreaking. Jason Danieley was powerful in “Streets of Dublin,” a paean to that Irish town from Man of No Importance and Norm Lewis brought his powerful baritone to “Wheels of a Dream,” an anthem to hope and the future.
Stephen Schwartz’s songs ranged from the sweet “Love Song” (Pippin), sung by Callaway and Joshua Henry, to the showstopper “Meadowlark” (The Baker’s Wife) which is a bit of a Callaway specialty. In between was a song from the film Notre Dame, “Out There,” sung by Jason Danieley as the Hunchback looking over Paris from his high perch. Callaway’s sister joined her in “For Good” (Wicked) a touching hymn to friendship and, sadly, their only collaboration of the evening. Their affection and respect for one another was palpable.
Sondheim’s more cerebral songs completed the program beginning with an absolutely hilarious take off on “Another Hundred People,” substituting new lyrics by Lauren Mayer and Sondheim which made fun of the notoriously difficult time performers have with his songs with their tempo and key changes, tongue twisters and sheer volume of words. Callaway’s first Broadway show was Merrily We Roll Along and she seems not to have lost any of her awe of his work. She was delightful in “What More Do I Need?” which turns New York noise and dirt into a young at heart love song. The three men sang a lovely, but dry version of “Pretty Lady,” which suffers when out of context (Pacific Overtures), when “Someone in a Tree,” from the same show would have been far more exciting and satisfying.
Callaway sang “Losing My Mind” as a clear-eyed song of defeat in love. Her duet with Danieley of “Move On,” the theme of Sunday In the Park with George was pure clarion singing illuminating Sondheim’s incisive view of creating art.
She ended on a vaguely reassuring note: “With So Little to be Sure of” from Anyone Can Whistle that, in the hands of this warm, lovely professional, became a blessing on an audience already blessed by her and her colleagues’ display of their ample gifts.