Spotlight On Liz Callaway

by Nancy Rosati       

... continued from Page One

The Look of LoveNR:  Letís talk about The Look of Love. Give me a little background on the show for the people who havenít seen it.

LC:  Itís a celebration of the music of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Itís a revue but it doesnít feel like a revue to me. Theyíre trying for an evening of music and dance. Iím a Bacharach/David fan from way back.

NR:  Even as a kid?

LC:  Yeah, I listened to all that stuff. I had an album of instrumentals by Bacharach, and when I met him in December I asked him to autograph it. I was so embarrassed but Iíve always loved his stuff. I love just hearing the music, whether Iím singing it or whether Iím listening to my fellow castmates do it. I think itís incredible.

NR:  Iím picturing you when you were 10 or 12 listening to this album, and now youíre standing on a Broadway stage singing it.

LC:  I know. Itís amazing. I used to listen to the Fifth Dimension and now Iím doing ďOne Less Bell to Answer.Ē When I first started singing it, it was hard to erase that in my mind. I hadnít listened to it in years, but when you listen to something a lot, especially when youíre a child, you never forget it. I kept thinking, ďI have to make this my own,Ē but itís cool. I never thought I was going to do this. My son knows Burt Bacharach from Austin Powers so itís nice to bring this music to a younger audience. I think it will appeal to a lot of people.

I got to work yesterday and we made changes. We re-choreographed. We added stuff, we made some costume changes, and we had to put it in that night. I love that.

NR:  Doesnít that scare you?

LC:  It scares me but I love it. I find it very challenging and exciting. To me, the most interesting process of putting together a new show is putting in new things and seeing if they work. Iíve had experiences where it was a catastrophe, but I love the process. Itís live and itís a great challenge. Generally, I react well to that kind of challenge.

NR:  What happens if youíve been doing a role for a long time and it becomes routine? Do you still react well, or do you find that more difficult?

LC:  Itís a different kind of challenge. When I did Cats, people would say, ďHow can you do it so long?Ē but I never got tired of singing ďMemory.Ē I got tired of putting on that make-up but I didnít get tired of doing the show because there are very different ways you can do it. I tried to do new things. Certain shows I couldnít do that long because it wouldnít be that interesting. It depends on the show and the role.

This is singing pop music and trying to make it theatrical. Itís very much trying to find a context in these songs and put them on a Broadway stage. Itís a very tricky thing to do, but itís an interesting challenge. Iím still finding things. I will need every minute of this preview. The first preview that we did felt like a first rehearsal to me because a lot of this show we couldnít stage in a rehearsal studio. We could stage the dance numbers but not the solos because we didnít know the set and the lighting. Itís a real growth process.

NR:  Have you created little characters for the songs?

Liz in the Look of Love
Photo: Joan Marcus
LC:  Not so much characters in terms of completely different people, but the context of the storyline for the song. You really have to invent it because for the most part, itís not there in pop music. Thatís the challenge for the actor on stage. How do you put this on a Broadway stage without it being just a plain concert?

NR:  I was wondering about that before I saw it. I didnít know if you were going to try and have a little story to run it together, but you really didnít do that.

LC:  And Iím glad they didnít.

NR:  It reminds me a lot of the variety shows from the Ď60s.

LC:  Itís very different. Originally the Roundabout did something in San Diego with completely different creative people. They tried to have a plot, and when you try to put a plot to pop songs, itís very difficult. Mamma Mia! did it, but thatís a little more tongue-in-cheek. This music is so sophisticated. If you study the lyrics, thereís a lot of fun stuff in these songs, but thereís also a lot of great, profound, adult themes in them. A lot of what I have are these ballads so you canít put a plot to it. That has to be done with great care. I did Marry Me a Little years ago and thatís all Sondheim songs that had been cut. They were incredible songs but itís very hard to turn that into an evening because he writes specifically for each show. And yet I see why people keep trying to put a plot to songs. I think thereís going to be a real trend of trying to have pop songs on stage.

NR:  You mentioned September 11th before. Between the economy and the war, Broadway is really hurting. You can see theyíre trying a lot of different things to answer the question, ďWhatís going to get people to pay $90 to $100 for a ticket?Ē Itís such a challenge.

LC:  The prices are just ridiculous. Itís so horrible. Itís tough, but thatís the way it is and I donít think itís going to go backwards. Itís a shame. I personally would like to see discounted kidsí tickets. Thatís a crusade of mine. Tickets for kids should be half off. Thatís still a lot of money, but who can afford full price? I donít take my son to very much theater because I canít keep spending $90 apiece. Kidsí Night on Broadway is great but I think kids should be able to come to the theater like they can go to the movies.

There can be a real audience for this show. People are wanting something different and I think Broadway is trying to build a bridge between itself and the pop world. There are shows like Moviní Out and Mamma Mia!. I hear about all these shows being optioned out that are the music of the Beach Boys, and other groups like that. I think itís great. Weíll see if theyíre done well and weíll see what the public thinks, but I think itís a new source.

NR:  And being cynical, thatís easier to put together than a book show.

LC:  It is. Thatís why Iíve told my son that if he wants to be a writer, there is a need for playwrights and lyricists. Book shows are hard, but theyíre great.

NR:  You donít see a lot of brand new shows that didnít come from another source because itís such a huge gamble now.

LC:  It is. The odds are so against anything being really successful.

NR:  Which is why you see a lot of revivals like Oklahoma!. If people are going to see one show a year and pay $200 for it, theyíre likely to go with the safe bet and not gamble on something theyíve never heard of. Thatís a shame.

LC:  It is sad, but thatís the gamble of Broadway. Thatís what I like about doing shows - we all do what we do and work hard and see what happens. I almost feel sorry for people whose first Broadway shows are huge hits because they have nowhere to go but down. In my case, it was something we worked so hard on and it was not successful, but it was a great experience.

NR:  You enjoy doing it no matter how it turns out?

LC:  Yeah. In order to get on stage you have to believe in what youíre doing. Iíve been in some real turkeys in my time, as everyone has. But there is a point when you commit to what youíre doing.

NR:  Are you on the Internet at all? Do you ever see any of the online theatre discussions?

LC:  Not too much. I hear about it. I donít even go to my own website. Iím so shy about things like that. I think itís great that people have a source, but you read some really great things, and then you read one bad thing and that stays with you. You have to be able to go on stage, and if you hear bad things that arenít constructive and you canít do anything about them, itís hard.

I know that people can be really nasty. I know that people come to the first previews of things and just kill them.

NR:  How do you feel about that?

LC:  Iíve learned to not read it. One reason to come to a first preview of a show is if you want to see an early one and a late one to see what they do. Iíve done that because Iím interested in the process. The only other reason to go is to see it be bad. Youíre seeing a show at its worst. The night before our first preview we ran through the show for the first time ever. We hadnít done a run-thru in three weeks. If people come for the beginning and then theyíre going to tell the world what this show is, itís not a fair judgment of the show. It can only be better than that. When I did Merrily We Roll Along, word of mouth on that show was so terrible. The show really improved tremendously by the time we opened, but the word of mouth killed it, and this was pre-Internet. If the Internet had been there, I canít imagine.

I understand that word of mouth is important. People have strong opinions and theyíre entitled to them. I can see why people would want to post their opinion because they feel powerless otherwise. You have three theater critics who will review a show, and if a person doesnít agree with that, they want to be heard. Thatís very valid. That they are charged full price for a preview is also a very valid point. I remember when previews were less. At least the first week of previews should be less.

NR:  Isnít the audience helping the creative team? Donít they listen to feedback from the audience during previews?

LC:  Yes, but everyone has different opinions. With this kind of show, some people just love it and some hate it. You can listen to peopleís reactions to Gypsy or Nine and people have strong opinions. But I do know that there is a group of people who come to early previews ready to attack. Theyíve always been around but now they have a bigger soapbox with the Internet. And yet, there are things that are great about the Internet.

NR:  Hopefully, when people go home from the show and do a search on your name, they can look at your site and learn more about you.

LC:  Thatís really nice. Thatís a positive part of it.

NR:  Do you read reviews?

LC:  I donít as much as I used to. I do for some things. I donít read interviews. Sometimes Iím misquoted. I donít think of myself as the most articulate person and sometimes I donít express my thoughts as eloquently as I wish I could. Itís the same reason that I donít like the self-promotion part of this business. Iím not comfortable with it. This is a lovely conversation, but usually, itís a necessary evil. I donít like to talk about myself - thatís just me. I donít seek to find out what they say about me. I just like to do my work as much as I can. (laughs) But God knows there are times when I can use strokes - like right now when Iím so exhausted.

As for reviews, it depends on if Iím going to take it personally. Sometimes Iím curious. Itís easier to read reviews of a book show when youíre a character. You may be critiqued for your performance but youíre not critiqued for the writing of it because itís not your words. When itís my own thing, then I take it more personally. For the most part, I get good reviews. My husband and my mom will read them. Iíve gotten doozies from John Simon, although in recent years, heís liked me more. In the beginning, I had a t-shirt that said, ďI was panned by John Simon.Ē (laughs) Then, the first time he gave me an ok review, I was almost disappointed because I was bracing myself. But you know, you put yourself out there, and thatís the risk of what you do.

With Alex Rybeck
With longtime collaborator,
Alex Rybeck

NR:  Well, you keep working, so obviously youíre doing something right. Is there anything you still want to do that you havenít done? Or do you just want to keep doing it?

LC:  Iíd like to keep doing it. Iíd like to keep doing new book shows, and as you said, there arenít a lot of brand new ideas not based on movies. I would like to keep doing interesting projects. I donít have any career aspirations of ďthis is my pinnacle achievement.Ē I donít really feel that way. I want to do good work and try to improve. I want to stretch myself and take some risks. Youíre kind of at the mercy of other people when it comes to working. Iím really lucky to do a lot of concerts and other work like that. Itís job security to know that I can work. Iím very happy to be back on Broadway. Itís fun. Iíve missed it. I was happy for a break. I was really happy to step away for awhile. Iím happy to be doing something new. We will see what happens. Who knows?

NR:  I have a feeling youíll keep working for a long time. And I hope you decide this is one interview youíll want to read! Itís been great talking to you.

LC:  Thank you so much.

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