Liz Callaway sparkles in the NYC premiere of her new show ‘Screen Gems’ at 54 Below

In addition to her illustrious career on the Broadway stage, from her debut in Merrily We Roll Along and Tony-nominated performance in Baby to five years as Grizabella in Cats and acclaimed roles in the original casts of Miss Saigon, The Three Musketeers, and The Look of Love, actress, singer, and recording artist Liz Callaway has been a significant vocal presence in animated films. She performed the Oscar-nominated song “Journey to the Past” in Anastasia and is also heard as the singing voices of Princess Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin and the King of Thieves and The Return of Jafar, the eponymous role of The Swan Princess, characters in Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, Beauty and the Beast, and more.

Liz Callaway. Photo by Deb Miller.

Her latest show, Screen Gems: Liz Callaway Sings the Movies, making its NYC debut for four nights at 54 Below, presents a synthesis of the genres, featuring a selection of favorite songs written for films, interspersed with humorous comments and personal stories of what they mean to her, in the star’s signature combination of stellar vocals, natural ease on stage, and personable connection with the audience. Callaway noted that when she began thinking about creating the all-new cabaret concert, she posted a request for suggestions on social media, and received more than 500 responses. The chosen set list is comprised of eighteen numbers and an encore that include everything from Hollywood classics and Disney films to movie versions of Broadway musicals and six seamless medleys, all filled with emotive expression and an overall mood of dreamy optimism and upbeat positivity.

Backed by the three-piece band of Ron Tierno on drums, Ritt Henn on bass, and music director Alex Rybeck on piano, whose superb musicianship provides the perfect match for Callaway’s vocal stylings (it’s their first time playing together with her, but the simpatico sounds and rhythms make it feel like they’ve been honing it for years), the concert kicked off with the unexpected but well-paired medley of “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio with Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” from Working Girl – a great indication of the thought, variety, and artistry that went into the show and the top-notch musical arrangements.

Liz Callaway, with Alex Rybeck on piano. Photo by Ray Costello.

Among the iconic hits performed were “Moon River” (by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the most requested song in the program); a bouncy rendition of “The Trolley Song” (by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, from Meet Me in St. Louis) and “Over the Rainbow” (by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, from The Wizard of Oz) – both sung in the original films by the young Judy Garland, and the latter paired in Callaway’s current concert with “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” (her mom’s favorite, by André and Dory Previn, from Inside Daisy Clover); and the blockbuster “Maybe This Time” (by Kander and Ebb, from Cabaret). All highlighted her exquisite voice, rich vibrato, and breath control, and her sincere appreciation for the lyrics, to which she deeply related and delivered with empathy, as she did with the beautiful sentiment of “It Goes Like It Goes” (by David Shire and Norman Gimbel, from Norma Rae).

Other notable songs that took Callaway on “a trip down memory lane” were “Beautiful City” (by her close friend Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell), here toned down from its original jaunty beat; the sweet and romantic “It Might Be You” (by Dave Grusin, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, from Tootsie), which served as her wedding song and prompted the story of meeting her husband 37 years ago (when, she joked, “I was twelve”); a medley of “Once Upon a December”/“Journey to the Past” (the two songs she recorded from Anastasia, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, who was in the audience on the night I attended), accompanied by her account of how difficult it was to break into the business of providing singing voices for animated films; and “Arthur’s Theme” (by Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross, and Carole Bayer Sager, from Arthur), about which she shared the funny story of her equally talented sister Ann Hampton Callaway’s meeting with the film’s star Dudley Moore.

Liz Callaway. Photo by Ray Costello.

Callaway closed the show with a powerful performance of “The Way We Were” (by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch, from the movie of the same name), which resulted in a standing ovation and an encore of “Through the Eyes of Love” (by Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, from Ice Castles) – a romantic love song that, she said, expressed “how I feel about getting to sing to an audience.” I can report that the feeling of the audience, of having her sing to us, was mutual, and her comfort with being on stage, moving around to all sides, and talking to her fans made everyone in the house feel welcome – and very fortunate to be there to experience her extraordinary talent and genuine charm.

If you can’t make it in person to 54 Below for this gem of a show, you can livestream it in real time on Saturday, July 8, beginning at 7 pm. Either way, don’t miss it!

Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, without intermission.

Photo by Bill Westmoreland.

Screen Gems: Liz Callaway Sings the Movies plays through Tuesday, July 11, 2023, at 7 pm (doors open at 5:30), at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC. For tickets (priced at $65-130, plus fees and a $25 food and beverage minimum per person), go online. Masks are not required. The performance on Saturday, July 8, at 7 pm, will also be streamed live (and will not be available on demand). For tickets (priced at $25 plus fees), click here.

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Deb Miller (PhD, Art History) is the Senior Correspondent and Editor for New York City, where she grew up seeing every show on Broadway. She is an active member of the Outer Critics Circle and served for more than a decade as a Voter, Nominator, and Judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. Outside of her home base in NYC, she has written and lectured extensively on the arts and theater throughout the world (including her many years in Amsterdam, London, and Venice, and her extensive work and personal connections with Andy Warhol and his circle) and previously served as a lead writer for Stage Magazine, Phindie, and Central Voice.

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