Review: ‘Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook’ at Feinstein’s/54 Below

A recurrent feature at Feinstein’s/54 Below, Ann Hampton Callaway is best known to cabaret audiences for her sophisticated pop/jazz stylings and to TV viewers for the iconic theme song she wrote and performed for the sit-com series “The Nanny” (starring Fran Drescher). This week, the Platinum Award-winning artist returns to the cabaret stage for three nights with the world premiere of her latest celebration of popular American music, Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook, and it’s a rousing addition to her repertoire.

1.Ann Hampton Callaway. Photo by Bill Westmoreland.
Ann Hampton Callaway. Photo by Bill Westmoreland.

The show traces the growth and breadth of Ronstadt’s career through a set of fifteen of her familiar songs, interspersed with background information and contextualization from her 2013 autobiography Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir and from personal exchanges with Callaway, who also adds her own engaging comments and direct interactions with the audience in the intimate nightclub space. The selection reveals a decidedly feminist perspective on the challenges of love (changing the rules on what would have traditionally  been men’s songs), but it’s a universal theme that anyone who’s ever been in love, or fallen too hard or fast for the wrong person, can relate to and appreciate, as Callaway points out to both the men and the women in attendance. Judging by the reaction, everyone agrees.

Opening with a rocking rendition of “Different Drum” – Ronstadt’s breakout hit of 1967, recorded with her band the Stone Poneys – and then shifting to the bittersweet mood of “Long, Long Time,” the damning attitude of “You’re No Good,” the emotional devastation of “Tracks of My Tears,” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” and “When Will I Be Loved?,” and the haunting anguish of “Desperado” from the singer’s pop/rock years, her heartfelt “songs of longing” showcase Callaway’s powerful voice and empathetic delivery. The show also includes such unforgettable classics as “Am I Blue” (with some skillful scatting) and poignant duets with Musical Director Billy Stritch on “Don’t Know Much” and “Somewhere Out There,” from Ronstadt’s trilogy of albums with Nelson Riddle in the 1980s.

The eclectic song list not only spotlights the variety of Ronstadt’s taste in music, but also Callaway’s own impressive range of styles and signature jazz-infused vocals. What Callaway observes about Ronstadt – “there’s nothing she can’t sing” – applies equally well to her, as she pays homage to the singer and her songs, while giving them her own personal flavor. Whether you’re a fan of Ronstadt, or of pop music, rock-and-roll, American standards, or jazz classics, there’s something for everyone in Callaway’s versatile selection and appealing performance, backed by a splendid four-piece band (with Stritch on piano, Tim Horner on drums, Martin Wind on bass, and Ronstadt’s long-time musician and arranger Bob Mann on guitar).

You have two more chances to catch the debut of Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook this weekend, and you can look forward to seeing the acclaimed singer again when she returns to Feinstein’s/54 Below in October, with another tribute to legendary female vocalists in Ann Hampton Callaway: Diva Power.

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, without intermission.

Ann Hampton Callaway: The Linda Ronstadt Songbook plays through September 22, at Feinstein’s/54 Below – 254 West 54th Street, NYC. For tickets, call (646) 476-3551, or purchase them online.