Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Liz Callaway and Jason Graae
The entrancing Broadway diva Liz Callaway and the explosive comic Jason Graae wowed the audience at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center for a two night engagement on April 24th and 25th. Both of these great talents are top flight entertainers with a distinguished style. Liz is a triple threat and she has the capability of completely captivating an audience through her performance. A Variety writer described her voice best in saying, "her voice is clear, pure and with a strong measure of poignancy."
Jason Graae raises flexibility to the skies since he is not only a great comic but a superb character actor who can bring out refinement in a lyric. He is the royal prince of comic timing and can change the romantic Rodgers and Hart classic "My Funny Valentine" into a wildly funny song with new and campy lyrics. It is a hilarious put-on of one of my most favorite songs. The New York Times has said, "Mr. Graae emerges as an irresistible cut up whose splendid voice is matched by mischievous charisma."
Liz and Jason were back at the JCC by popular demand. They appeared two years ago and were a great sensation. The Singers and Songwriters series was able to book them again for the end of the current season and the pair did not disappoint the capacity audience.
My first experience in seeing Liz was when she appeared in the very short run of Merrily We Roll Along in New York. I had seen her as Grizabella in Cats and I rated her up with Elaine Paige. I remember her clear as a bell soprano voice in the Fox animated film Anastasia. I first saw Jason as Houdini in the pre-Broadway run of Ragtime in Los Angeles. I flipped when I saw him two years ago at JCC's Singers and Songwriters Series.
Liz strolled in, singing the uptempo song "Gotta Dance" in black flared pants and a bluish sleeveless top. Jason entered from the back in casual wear, singing all the way to the stage "Wilkommen" from Cabaret. The two did some "buddy songs" such as "My Buddy," using the term "my backstage buddy" in all of the songs, including the song from Follies and Mame. There was banter between them, especially of how they first met in New York when they were appearing in a production of Godspell with Scott Bakula, for whom Liz apparently had very little regard. (She made $18 a week working in that production.) She said in a campy manner to Jason, "You liked him better then I did." No comment from Jason.
Ms. Callaway held center stage for the first half of the show, singing some great numbers, including one of my favorites, Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark." As soon as she started the song the audience was enchanted. She sang songs from her current album, such as "You Don't Own Me" and the "G Rated song" from Hair called "I Met a Boy." She sang several Jimmy Webb songs, including the lovely "Didn't We?" and "Wonder Why."
Liz talked about meeting her husband during the run of a show and how they have been married for 13 years and how she misses her son. She segued into "Make Someone Happy" and "Someone Wonderful." She continued with a strong, powerful voice in Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' song from the film Anastasia, "Bring Me Home," then went into an upbeat mood with Irving Berlin's "Got the Sun in the Morning and the Moon at Night" with back up by Jason and pianist/arranger Alex Rybeck. Liz continued with two Gershwin songs, "I've Got Rhythm" and "Fascinating Rhythm." She ended her session with "Memory" from Cats
The second half was all Jason, who was introduced by Liz. He said to the audience, "I think she is coming along very well don't you think?" She glared back at him in a campy manner. In his well done opening song, "All I Care About is Love" from Chicago, he also played the clarinet. (He said he majored in oboe at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.) Jason interspersed his songs with riotous stories and routines. This is a great comedy act with music. However, not all of his songs were humorous; he sang the lovely Alan and Marilyn Bergman song from Tootsie and "I'll Go My Way By Myself" from The Bandwagon. He showed deep felt sincerity and emotion in these numbers.
Jason told some wonderful stories about Alan and Marilyn Bergman relating to the score of their musical "Yentl." He also talked about Barbra Streisand. When asked to sing one of the melodic songs of the Bergmans' in a show, they replied that they wanted a person who would subjugate their personality and let the song be the selling point. They refused his request so he asked who was going to sing the song. They replied "Barbra." Jason just looked at the audience and then did a few imitations of Ms. Streisand's mannerisms.
Jason sang a song that was on based on Al Hirschfeld's drawings (in which the artist always made sure that his daughter Nina's name would somehow appear in the sketch). The song "Nina" was a little Noel Coward with a dash of Cole Porter in the lyrics. Jason helped write the song and it was a put-on of celebrities in today's world. "You could find Nina in the foot of Ethel Head and the word Nina in the head of Horton Foote. Tallulah had it but I can't tell you where," to give you an example.
Jason and Liz got together for several duets at the end of the show. They were wonderful in Sondheim's "Old Friends" from Merrily We Roll Along, then segued into Berlin's "Friendship" and ended with Flaherty and Ahrens' "It Was Nice." The audience gave them a rousing ovation
I talked to Jason and Liz after the performance. Both were charming and Jason as always was pure camp. I love that man, platonically of course. We will be seeing Liz in New York on the 7th of June when she will singing numbers from Stephen Cole's new musical Time After Time at Merkin Hall under the auspices of Kaufmann Center.