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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Ann Hampton Callaway: The Streisand Songbook
Arizona Musicfest
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Gavin Creel with Seth Rudetsky


Ann Hampton Callaway and Barbra Streisand
Photo Courtesy of Arizona Musicfest
While concerts that center on the works of one artist are commonplace in the cabaret world, they usually involve a singer performing songs of a musical legend or personal icon that they've never met. In the case of Ann Hampton Callaway's concert this past week at Arizona Musicfest where she sang songs from the Barbra Streisand songbook, Callaway hasn't just met Streisand but she has also written songs for her, seven of which Streisand recorded.

Callaway used the words "chutzpah" to describe Streisand's drive to tackle anything that comes her way, and the same could be said about Callaway, as doing a concert devoted entirely to Streisand where Callaway's vocal abilities will undoubtedly be compared by just about everyone in the audience to Streisand seems like a very risky move. Fortunately, except for a few in-between song patter moments, she never attempted to mimic the voice or song stylings of Streisand and instead paid loving homage to the multiple award winner with a nice assortment of songs, including many Streisand classics, and a rich singing voice that more than delivered on the set list's wide range of musical styles.

Barbra Streisand has recorded hundreds of songs and dozens of albums. Her albums have topped the charts in every one of the past six decades. So, Callaway had a treasure trove of songs to choose from for this concert. Streisand has also recorded numerous songs from the Great American Songbook as well as many musical theater recordings on her Broadway albums, all of which fit perfectly into a typical cabaret concert setting. With only one slight omission, the evening featured a good mix of familiar and unfamiliar songs that showcased the highlights and range of Streisand's career. The concert marked Callaway's Arizona Musicfest debut and her passionate and powerful singing beautifully matched the devotion and dedication Callaway spoke about Streisand having to the many recordings, films, and projects in her career.

After opening the concert with a rousing performance of "Starting Here, Starting Now," the majority of the show was a fairly chronological overview of Streisand's career. Callaway delivered soaring versions of four lesser known numbers from Streisand's early years. These included "A Sleepin' Bee," which Streisand sang on her first appearance on TV in 1961 on "The Tonight Show," as well as a rousing "Cry Me a River," which Callaway said Streisand performed to great acclaim at her Bon Soir nightclub appearances in her early days in New York City. Also, the somewhat now forgotten Harold Arden-Yip Harburg classic "Down with Love" received an upbeat and driving take, and a slow and sultry rendition of "Lazy Afternoon" featured a dreamlike arrangement.

Several songs that Streisand sang in films came next, including two Oscar winners. Callaway delivered a heartfelt and moving version of "The Way We Were" and spoke about Streisand's love for that song's composer, the late Marvin Hamlisch. Streisand won an Oscar for co-writing "Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born)" with Paul Williams, and Callaway's version featured an arrangement more in style with songs from the Great American Songbook than the pop style of that 1976 song, which made it fit in nicely with the other songs in the concert. "Don't Rain on My Parade" from Funny Girl ended the first act on a high with Callaway showing off her ability to belt with a vengeance.

Funny Girl earned Streisand a Tony nomination and she also won the Oscar when she recreated her role in the film version. Ann Hampton Callaway's second act featured the love song from that show and film, "People," which Callaway paired beautifully with a Stephen Sondheim song from Company that Streisand sang on her "The Broadway Album," "Being Alive." Those two songs worked perfectly together with Callaway's strong emphasis on the word "somebody" in the latter song, proving highly effective as a way to fuse the theme of the importance of finding someone to enrich your life that both songs stress.

The concert also featured two of the songs Callaway wrote that Streisand featured on her albums: the moving ballad "At the Same Time," which Streisand recorded in 1997; and the elegant yet simple love song, "I've Dreamed of You," which Callaway supplied the lyrics for after Streisand heard the instrumental piece while on vacation in Ireland with her soon to be husband James Brolin. Callaway added that Streisand not only recorded the song but also sang it, just three hours after learning it, at the wedding.

Callaway also delivered lovely versions of "Cockeyed Optimist" and "Lover Come Back" and also included an impromptu song she wrote on the spot with input from the audience, a fun moment at all of the concerts I've seen Callaway perform. The show ended on a high note with a soaring version of the classic Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim song from West Side Story, "Somewhere," followed by an encore of a joyful and moving pairing of "On a Clear Day" and "Happy Days Are Here Again."

The concert featured an expert quintet of musicians, including Christian Jacob on piano, Bob Sheppard on saxophones and flute, Trey Henry on bass, MB Gordy on drums, and Larry Koonse on guitar. The only omission in the night was a song from, or even the mention of, Streisand's 1983 movie Yentl. It was the first major studio film that a woman wrote, produced, directed, and starred in, so not including a song from that soundtrack seemed a bit odd. Still, the evening proved to be a loving tribute to one of the greatest singers and performers of the 20th century by an acclaimed, award-winning singer and songwriter.

Callaway mentioned that she is now an Arizona resident, having recently relocated to Tucson from New York, and based on the capacity crowd at her Streisand concert, I highly suspect and hope that we'll see more concerts from her in future Arizona Musicfests.

Ann Hampton Callaway: The Streisand Songbook was performed at the Arizona Musicfest on Thursday March 7th, 2019. Information for upcoming Arizona Musicfest concerts can be found at www.azmusicfest.org.


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