Club Review: “To Steve with Love: Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim”

April 7, 2022 | By

Ever feel like you’re Sondheimed-out? 

Perhaps, but if it’s Liz Callaway singing the late great master’s songs, as she did recently at Feinstein’s/54 Below in her newest show, To Steve with Love: Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim, I guarantee you that she’ll leave you wanting for more.

You may already be aware of the personal, professional, and artistic relationship that existed between Callaway and Sondheim, starting with 1981’s Merrily We Roll Along, and lasting till the day he left us this past November. So many years, so many stories, and so many revelations to share.

Liz Callaway (Photo: Bill Westmoreland)

With her very first number—a glorious opening medley that included “Someone in a Tree” from Pacific Overtures and the great lyric, “I was part of the event”—you could feel the smiles on the audience members’ faces. They werein rapt attention because this wasn’t merely a celebration of Sondheim; it was how the man, the composer, the friend, informed her life. 

Callaway has always been an honest performer—a truly musical singer, focused and direct in her appeal, with a bright, clear sound whether she is singing sweetly or full out—and she was in particularly good voice on opening night.

Because of the nature of the stories she had to share, it was never patter. They were confidences—well-lived and straight-arrow—and, as such, became as important to the audience as the songs themselves. 

Song and story were a curated match. Numbers from her past were deeply moving, like Merrily‘s “Old Friends”/”Like It Was,” and then on to Follies, marked by a painful and touching “In Buddy’s Eyes,” and a spot-on, worldly-wise “The Road You Didn’t Take”; or being asked by Sondheim to introduce his song “What More Do I Need?” from the then-unproduced Saturday Night; or her love/hate relationship with airplanes igniting “What Do We Do? We Fly” from Do I Hear A Waltz? (music director Alex Rybeck really goes to town on this one with a nifty re-arrangement of a song originally intended for five actors).

Hundreds upon hundreds of young women have probably sung “I Remember Sky” and “Take Me to the World” from Sondheim’s 1967 television musical, Evening Primrose, without a clue of what the songs are about. Well, Callaway took care of that business by telling the horror story behind “I Remember Sky,” and the devout hope/wish that is “Take Me to the World,” and then, having conquered complete stillness from the house, acted them to the hilt.

Nick Callaway Foster

A wrenching “Loving You” from Passion was followed by the hysterical “Another Hundred Lyrics” (the parody lyrics by Lauren Mayer delighted the house). But the true kicker was the duet “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George. Partnered by her son, Nick Callaway Foster, whose beautiful tenor and 6’2″ frame, looked like a combination heldentenor and gentle giant. It proved surprisingly moving, an unexpected family touch. 

Callaway’s husband, Dan Foster, directed the show, and, with the additional guidance of  Alex Rybeck (whom she first met during Merrily), bassist Ritt Henn, and drummer Ron Tierno,  it was a musical bouquet surrounding her all night long.

Many more songs were sung, and many more stories were told.  Can’t spill all of those. Liz Callaway has to do an encore of this engagement, so you can get to hear them all.

***

Presented at Feinstein’s/54 Below March 23-26, 2022

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Charles Nelson, a former professor in theatre, specializes in world theatre history, playscript and character analysis, stage direction, the American playwright and musical theatre, opera history, dance history, and the Great American Songbook. He has an MFA in Opera Direction, and was an Adjunct Professor at Montclair State University. He has been an editorial researcher at "People" magazine, NBC News, and Condé Nast.

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