"The Essential Liz Callaway" is one title that does not exaggerate; in fact, the new compilation recording, recently released on Working Girl Records, is indeed an essential recording for both fans of Callaway and musical theatre devotees as well as anyone who enjoys a mix of crystal-clear vocals and equally clear and focused lyrical interpretation.
The disc, featuring five new live tracks and 13 others culled from previous recordings, celebrates Callaway's 30 years in show business, and her rangy alto remains untouched by time: Her tone is as rich, warm, lush, smooth and exciting as it was when she first impressed this diva lover on the 1984 Tony Awards, belting out a roof-raising "I Want It All," with Baby co-stars Beth Fowler and Catherine Cox.
Callaway's 30-your journey from past to present begins, appropriately enough, with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' "Journey to the Past," the Oscar-nominated theme from "Anastasia" that the acclaimed singing actress delivers with a vocal purity that is stirring. The first live track on "Essential" is "What More Do I Need?," a long-time staple of Callaway's repertoire that remains a gem and may be the definitive version of this Stephen Sondheim rarity.
A pairing of "Make Someone Happy" and "Something Wonderful" follows, the latter a particularly gorgeous, full-voiced rendition of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Callaway then brings her golden tones to John Denver's "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" before launching into a magical version of the Stephen Schwartz story song "Meadowlark."
The little-heard Frank Loesser ballad "My Heart Is So Full of You" is brought to full life by the Tony nominee, who also scores with the finest rendition of Cy Coleman and Barbara Fried's "You There In the Back Row" this writer has heard. A tender version of Adam Gwon's "I'll Be Here" — the second live track — precedes "Once Upon a December," another welcome offering from Flaherty and Ahrens' "Anastasia."
Callaway's take on "Since You Stayed Here" is quiet and simply touching, and "When Hope Goes," a track from the original cast recording of The Spitfire Grill, makes one want to hear more of the James Valcq and Fred Alley score. A belty, emotional reading of Stephen Sondheim's "Not a Day Goes By" — from Callaway's first Broadway outing, the short-lived Merrily We Roll Along — allows the actress to fully explore the song's dramatic potential.
Callaway gets to show off her comedic skills in the live version of "Another Hundred Lyrics" as well as her penchant for 60s tunes in both a reimagined "Downtown" (Tony Hatch) and "Didn't We"/"MacArthur Park" (Jimmy Webb). A soaring version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory" remains a potent reminder of Callaway's lengthy stint in the long-running, feline-themed musical Cats. And, a powerful rendition of Flaherty and Ahrens' "Back to Before" makes one wonder what Callaway would have brought to the role of Mother in the Tony-winning Ragtime.
The CD concludes with Callaway's signature tune, "The Story Goes On," her show-stopping number from David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr.'s Baby. Just listen to how the Broadway favorite builds the tune to a glorious, belty finale, musical theatre at its best. "The Essential Liz Callaway" is, simply, an essential addition to your holiday shopping list.
Listen here to Callaway's stunning "Not a Day Goes By":
Here is a complete list of the tracks on "The Essential Liz Callaway":
. "Journey to the Past" by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (from the motion picture "Anastasia")
2. "What More Do I Need?" (Live) by Stephen Sondheim (from Saturday Night)
4. "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" by John Denver
5. "Meadowlark" by Stephen Schwartz (from The Baker’s Wife)
6. "My Heart Is So Full of You" by Frank Loesser (from The Most Happy Fella)
7. "You There in the Back Row" by Cy Coleman and Barbara Fried (from 13 Days to Broadway)
8. "I'll Be Here" by Adam Gwon (from Ordinary Days)
9. "Once Upon a December" by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (from the motion picture "Anastasia")
10. "Since You Stayed Here" by Peter Larson and Josh Rubins (from Brownstone)
11. "When Hope Goes" by James Valcq and Fred Alley (from The Spitfire Grill)
12. "Not a Day Goes By" (Live) by Stephen Sondheim (from Merrily We Roll Along)
13. "Another Hundred Lyrics" (Live) by Stephen Sondheim (additional lyrics by Lauren Mayer)
14. "Downtown" by Tony Hatch
15. "Didn't We"/"MacArthur Park" by Jimmy Webb
17. "Back to Before" (Live) by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (from Ragtime)
18. "The Story Goes On" by David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr. (from Baby)
Watch the Tony-nominated singing actress perform the hilarious "Another Hundred Lyrics" in this video:
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to [email protected].
Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.