It’s a singular voice. Pure and pristine, and one that conveys a range of emotions so distinctively. I am referring to the vocal instrument possessed by Tony-nominee Liz Callaway, who made her debut Friday at Feinstein’s at Hotel Carmichael in Carmel. It was a return to Central Indiana for Broadway singer-actor-recording artist Callaway, who has performed multiple times previously with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and The Cabaret. Accompanying Callaway on piano was Alex Rybeck, her longtime music director.
Playing to a small audience, a surprising turnout for a singer of her caliber and fame, the limited size of the enthusiastic crowd did not deter Callaway from turning in a full-on performance for those fortunate enough to attend. Informing the audience her Feinstein’s show was only her second live performance in 16 months (her most recent was July 9-11 at Feinstein’s at The Nikko in San Francisco), she shared how thoroughly joyful it was for her to be in front of a live audience, a welcome departure from singing into a smartphone or a computer during the pandemic.
Performing a setlist composed of songs from Broadway, films and other of her favorites, Callaway showed off her dramatic talent, as well as demonstrating her considerable skill at storytelling, all complemented by Rybek’s superb musicianship. The program itself, filled with some of my favorite tunes, was thoroughly entertaining in its variety. Equally delightful were the anecdotes and stories about her career she delivered with easygoing charm. Though every song the versatile Callaway performed was enjoyable, there were several that stood out.
Opening with “Something’s Coming” from “West Side Story,” she went on to regale the crowd with songs such as magical medleys of “Make Someone Happy/Something Wonderful,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head/Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Journey to the Past,” made famous by the Callaway in the animated Disney film “Anastasia.”
Continuing to enrapture all those present, Callaway sang a haunting rendition of “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Broadway Baby” from Sondheim’s “Follies,” and “Another Hundred People” from “Company.” Showing off her propensity for navigating the complicated tongue twisters that are Sondheim’s lyrics, she wowed the crowd with a parody of Sondheim tunes.
Callaway paid tribute to legendary cabaret artist Marilyn Maye (who just performed in late April at Feinstein’s) when she thanked the 93-year-old entertainment icon for teaching her three things. She said Maye taught her to shoot selfies from a high angle to avoid double chins, wear slippers for comfort during “meet and greets,” and include a good medley in her act. With Rybeck vocally chiming in at times, Callaway also sang a dazzling medley of 24 songs called “Sing Medley” that included “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sing a Song,” and the Carpenters’ “Sing.”
Concluding her vibrant, well-paced program, Callaway again acknowledged how special it was to perform live and in front of an audience and became emotional when she sang a medley of “A Perfect Year/Memory” from “Cats,” in which she appeared on Broadway as Grizabella.
Explaining that “The Song Goes On,” a tune she sang at the end of the first act of “Baby,” her first Broadway musical, had even more special meaning due to the pandemic, Callaway ended the show, once again shining in a high-powered vocal performance that I count as one of the best cabaret performances I have had the privilege to witness in my many years of reviewing.