Legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim (d. November 26, 2021) would have turned 92 on Tuesday, March 22. To honor his illustrious life and legacy in musical theater, Tony-nominated Emmy-winning actress, singer, and recording artist Liz Callaway has created To Steve with Love, a beautiful heartfelt tribute to her long-time friend and inspiration, which she’s performing through Saturday, March 26, at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
On Wednesday’s opening night, Callaway, directed by Dan Foster, brought her exquisite soprano, charming personality, and decades of joyous memories to the stage of the intimate supper club, sharing personal stories about Sondheim’s impact on her career (noting that the first Broadway musical she ever saw as a child was Company, and the one in which she made her Broadway debut – singing just two short solo lines! – was Merrily We Roll Along); fascinating facts about the shows in which she played and the songs she sang (revealing that they were at once “the most gratifying and the most terrifying moments” in her life); and behind-the-scenes anecdotes that gave the audience a glimpse of who Steve was (recalling the humorous stage-door notes she received from him and director Hal Prince) and how she felt about him and his extraordinary work (“grateful that we lived in the era of Sondheim”).
Her engaging and genuine comments were interwoven throughout a specially selected set list of sixteen numbers (including an encore that followed a long and ardent standing ovation) from Sondheim’s canon of the ‘50s to the ‘90s. In songs from Company, Follies, Merrily We Roll Along, Saturday Night, A Little Night Music, Do I Hear a Waltz?, Evening Primrose, Sweeney Todd, Passion, Sunday in the Park with George, and Anyone Can Whistle, Callaway’s crystal-clear vocals, perfect timing, and emotionally expressive delivery, backed by an expert three-piece band (music director Alex Rybeck on piano, Ritt Henn on bass, and Ron Tierno on drums), reaffirmed her status as one of the most accomplished masters of Sondheim’s complex and challenging music and profoundly sophisticated and often ambivalent sentiments.
Callaway kicked off the show with an upbeat medley and reworked lyrics to “Company,” containing witty references to her knowing and loving Steve. Among the many other highlights of the evening were the funny “What Do We Do? We Fly!” (written in 1965, but still relatable in its expressed aversion to airplanes); the hilarious “Another Hundred ‘Lyrics’” (a fast-paced self-referencing revision of “Another Hundred People,” with additional lyrics by Lauren Mayer that parody the song’s tricky meter, shifting tempos, and chock-full length – “Phew!”); and the iconic “Send in the Clowns” and deeply affecting “Take Me to the World” (with which Callaway rightfully brought down the house and brought many members of the audience to tears with her vocally flawless, consummately empathetic, and sincerely moving performance).
Another very special part of the show was Callaway’s touching duet with her son Nick Callaway Foster on “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George (in which Liz played Dot in a regional Rhode Island production). His resonant emotive voice and their rich harmonies assured us of another generation of artistic virtuosity and appreciation for Sondheim in this exceedingly talented family.
For fans of Liz Callaway, Stephen Sondheim, and musical theater, this is a must-see concert; if you’re not a fan yet, you will surely become one. And if you can’t make it to the show in person, you can watch a livestream of the closing performance in real time on Saturday, at 7 pm. Either way, don’t miss it.
Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, without intermission.
To Steve with Love: Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim plays through Friday, March 26, at 7 pm, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, NYC, cellar. For tickets (priced at $55-110, plus fees and a $25 per person food and beverage minimum), call (646) 476-3551, or go online. Doors open at 5:30 pm; everyone attending must present proof of COVID-19 vaccination and a valid photo ID to enter. The performance on March 26, beginning at 7 pm, will also be livestreamed (and will not be available on demand). For tickets (priced at $25), click here.