Ann Hampton Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway
photo by Bill Westmoreland
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What's Not to Love?

Ann Hampton Callaway Returns to the Center with a Tribute to Barbra Streisand

By Libby Slate

Ann Hampton Callaway may best be known for her snazzy, jazzy rendition of the theme song from the 1993–1999 television sitcom The Nanny, for which she also wrote the music lyrics. But her sparkling jazz-pop vocals, which bring artful shadings of colors and emotions to the Great American Songbook, are in demand for her solo shows and symphony concert appearances throughout the country and internationally. This spring, she returns to the Center's Cabaret series, this time with her award-winning show The Streisand Songbook.

Playing Samueli Theater May 7–9 and backed by a trio of piano, bass and drums, the show, says Callaway, "has been a huge hit. Everybody knows Barbra Streisand." When she was first approached to put together such a tribute for a Boston Pops performance, however, she had some reservations, as Streisand is, she says, "a living legend, going strong." But then inspiration hit: "I came up with the idea of [focusing on] the songwriters over Streisand's five-decade career, to paint a portrait of a woman who has inspired me."

Accordingly, there are well-known Streisand selections, such as "The Way We Were," "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" and "Don't Rain on My Parade"—the latter, "the greatest anthem for courage," in Callaway's words. But there are also lesser known gems, among them "A Sleepin' Bee" from the Broadway show House of Flowers, which Streisand sang during her first national television appearance, The Jack Paar Show in 1961.

One notable pairing combines "People" and "Being Alive." "It sums up, to me, what the meaning of life is: life, love, loss, the details of everything we do in life," says Callaway, a breast cancer survivor —"I say, 'thriver' " —for two years now.

There are also two Streisand songs written by Callaway herself. "I've Dreamed of You," with lyrics by Callaway and music by Rolf Lovland, was sung by Streisand to James Brolin at their 1998 wedding. And "At the Same Time," a call for world peace for which Callaway wrote the music and lyrics, was recorded on Streisand's Higher Ground album.

"I love singing the wedding song," she says with a chuckle. "That makes even straight men cry."

Making the audience laugh is what Callaway calls "a Barbra Streisand improv—interviewing the audience to create a Barbra Streisand-esque love story to the town where I'm singing." In this case, of course, that would be Costa Mesa. "The audience loves it!"

What's not to love about Streisand songs? "Barbara is a fascinating singer," Callaway observes. "As a pop-jazz singer, I chose songs I related to, and connected with. So it's an intimate show, even though it's a tribute show."

She listened to hundreds of songs and watched all of Streisand's films before making her final selections. "It took about nine months. It was very daunting. For a woman with such a stellar career, I needed time to paint a portrait of her. How was I going to do justice to her career in 45 minutes?" The show is 80–90 minutes, including Calloway's entertaining and revealing stories; the songs, here and in her other shows, must also tell stories.

Callaway's own career has been pretty stellar as well. Born in Chicago, the daughter of vocal coach-singer-pianist Shirley Callaway and the late television and radio journalist John Callaway, she was classically trained, with a lyric soprano voice. As a young teenager she aspired to sing opera, but ultimately gravitated toward the freedom of jazz and the music of the American popular standards.

She eventually moved to New York and launched her cabaret career, singing solo and with her sister Liz Callaway; their show "Sibling Revelry" played the Center in 2005. In 2000 she was nominated for a Tony® Award as best featured actress in a musical for the Broadway dance revue Swing!, for which she also provided musical arrangements and additional lyrics.

Callaway's father gave her a rhyming dictionary when she was 10. That book, plus the poems of Emily Dickinson, inspired another aspect of her musical career. She has written dozens of songs, some platinum-selling, which she calls "Ann-dards," and was even asked by the Cole Porter estate to write the music for the late composer's lyrics for the song "I Gaze in Your Eyes." Her (living!) collaborators have included Carole King and Harvey Fierstein.

She writes a poem a day, not necessarily as fodder for future songs. "I capture the moments of what I see that day," she says.

Callaway has recorded a number of albums, including a Christmas album done in January during one of the record Northeast snowstorms. But her first love is performing.

"There's nothing more powerful than live music," she says. "You get the audience to play a role. It's an electrifying experience. That energy with the live audience, breathing the same air… . Nothing's been recorded that has ever really captured who I am."

Beautiful, expressive singing and great songwriting aside, anyone creating a love song to Costa Mesa on the spot has to be special!

Libby Slate is a frequent contributor to Center publications

 

SAMUELI THEATER
Dates: May 7 – 9, 2015
Tickets: $79 and up
For tickets and information, visit SCFTA.org
or call (714) 556–2787.
Group services: (714) 755–0236

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With special underwriting from:
Bette and Wylie Aitken
Steve and Herma Brenneis

Media Partner:
Orange Coast Magazine

 

     

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