A Valentine’s Day treat was offered to all those who were lucky enough to attend celebrated jazz and cabaret artist Ann Hampton Callaway’s concert Let’s Fall in Love: Ann Hampton Callaway Sings Streisand, Songbook Classics, & More at last night at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. The very prodigious Callaway‘s artistic output is phenomenal from being the only composer to have collaborated with Cole Porter, writing songs with Carole King, Rolf Lovland, and Barbara Carroll, writing and singing the theme song to the hit TV series The Nanny to touring the country with The Streisand Songbook.
Entering the stage in a beautifully tailored black pantsuit with bold, red lapels on her evening jacket, Callaway covered songs that evoked romance, pain, and wit. She hit all the right notes (pun intended!) and more as she displayed her vocal prowess from pristine clarity to scat singing to deeper, evocative and smoky tones. Callaway has an obvious inherent understanding and desire to foster an appreciation of the Great American Songbook and this show spotlighted her love for these beloved classic songs,just as Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney– on her Concord jazz albums– and Michael Feinstein have promoted these treasured songs.
Callaway’s voice is a natural wonder of the world and her voice should be patented as a musical instrument itself. Her voice blended like another instrument as she presented herself as an equal with her very stellar jazz trio. So many artists give very short shrift to their musicians, but Callaway’s approach was obviously to blend right in for an ensemble feel and she gave artistic parity to the three supremely talented musicians on stage with her: Peter Washington on bass, Tim Horner on drums, and Ted Rosenthal at the piano. Many instrumental interludes and solos were the order of the evening and the audience was courted with a veritable musical feast.
Opening with a relaxed and bouncy rendition of Harold Arlen’s “Lets Fall in Love,” she followed up with a smoky and sensuous cover of “But Beautiful,” holding out the heartrending lines with an unerring sense of cadence.
Callaway expressed her admiration of Audrey Hepburn and her fondness for her 1967 film Two for the Road and, then, she proceeded to relate how much she enjoyed traveling around the world with her partner.
These musings were an appropriate lead-in for her soulful rendition of Leslie Bricusse and Henry Mancini’s theme song “Two for the Road” from the film of the same name. The poignant journey of two hearts confronting the world together was beautifully evoked and Peter Washington’s expressive and pronounced yet sensitive interlude on Bass added immeasurably to the song’s effect.
Next on her agenda of romantic songs, Callaway delivered a swinging and audaciously entrancing version of the Gershwin classic “The Man I Love”. Eschewing the angst-ridden versions of yore, she jolted the ear with a disarmingly ultra-rhythmic rendition that was full of bouncy verve and swing, and continued to build to a spine-tingling coda as she reiterated the closing line over and over, finally closing off with a rousing yet sharp crescendo.
Callaway reminisced how music infiltrated her home by virtue of her mother playing the piano and her father bringing home records. She continued to regale the audience with interesting patter on the cusp of performing the oft-performed Rodgers and Hart standard “My Funny Valentine,” describing how Lorenz Hart was a self-loathing homosexual and alcoholic —it was these somber realizations by Hart that inspired the writing of the famed lyrics. She interpreted this esteemed song with a resonant, plaintive quality and she held the last utterance of “stay” for ultimate effect and power.
The Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein classic “All the Things You Are” was performed as a true ensemble combo piece with Callaway’s gorgeous, lush tones blending beautifully with the piano, bass and drums. The drums of Tim Horner were the standout here.
Callaway mused about the joy she felt meeting one of her musical idols, Carole King and writing togethe,, and launched into a cover of King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” performing it with a measured yet yearning quality and with exceptional psychological acuity.
Ross and Adler’s witty and sexy “Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)” from Damn Yankees was performed with great comedic appeal and sass as Calloway sauntered out into the audience and wooed an audience member named Bob.
Speaking of working with the iconic Barbra Streisand and, especially, about the circumstances that lead to her to write the lyrics to the song that was performed at Streisand’s wedding, “I’ve Dreamed of You,” Callaway sang the song in a style almost akin to singing an anthem –in this case, of course, an affirmation of fidelity and love.
Etta James’ well-known standard “At Last” was performed to perfection with a sense of relieved yet robust finality. Ted Rosenthal’s piano solo was haunting.
Callaway conducted an amusing and extremely creative improvisatory composition of a spontaneous song with audience involvement. With a few well-chosen phrases or words yelled out by the audience members, Callaway composed a beautiful song in tribute to Washington, DC.
For her encore, this amazing artists performed a simply stunning medley of Jules Styne’s “People” and Sondheim’s “Being Alive”.
Ann Hampton Callaway is a national treasure.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Ann Hampton Callaway performed last night February 14, 2014 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater-– 2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. For future Kennedy Center performances check their calendar of events.
Ann Hampton Callaway’s website.