Dallas — If you just glanced at the promotional flyer, you might think that Barbra Streisand was appearing with the Dallas Symphony Pops this weekend. Her name is writ large. A closer look informs that it is not Babs at all, but Ann Hampton Callaway performing a tribute concert, conducted by Lawrence Loh. While Callaway is not as well known as Streisand (who is?), she is a formidable song stylist with a marvelous voice, capable of an enormous range both vocally and dramatically.
She is a charming host for herself. She offered a thankfully brief introduction for each song so that it would be understood why she selected it for this revue. The songs were roughly in chronological order following Streisand’s career.
She started with the appropriately titled “Starting Here, Starting Now” from a show by the same name by David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. that dates from 1977.
Callaway dipped back in time to grab “A Sleeping Bee” from the obscure musical House of Flowers by Harold Arlen and based on a short story by Truman Capote, who wrote the book and lyrics (his only foray into musical theater). She reached even further to sing “Lover Come Back to Me” from a Sigmund Romberg operetta, The New Moon, from 1927. (Side note: Lyric Stage will offer a full-orchestra concert staging of The New Moon in January 2016.)
After that, all of the songs in the review were familiar: “Cry Me a River,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Cockeyed Optimist,” the latter from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
Everything else on the program was closely associated with Streisand such as “The Way We Were” from the film of the same name and “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl.
Callaway sang all of the songs in a straightforward manner, almost always just one time through and with the original harmonies in tact (with the standard step-up modulations).
The only misfire was a jazzed-up version of “Evergreen” from the film A Star is Born. This is a truly beautiful ballad that suffered from Callaway’s take on it. This is odd because it is the only song that Streisand wrote, so you would think that you would approach it with a little more reverence. She ended the show with “A Piece of the Sky” from the film Yentl.
Callaway sang a song in which she wrote the words to an existing tune at La Streisand’s request, “I’ve Dreamed of You,” which Babs liked so much that she sang it herself at her wedding to James Brolin (and on a few hours’ preparation). Another song, this time completely by Callaway, titled “At the Same Time” was quite moving and made good use of the title, frequently repeated, as a hook.
It is obvious that Callaway has a highly trained voice. While she sings a lot of the show in chest voice, she is not afraid to venture into the middle and even upper voice. You barely notice this because there is a commendable evenness to the sound as she changes of registers. She tends to raise her chin here and there that adds coarseness to her sound—hopefully intended for color. Her diction was generally understandable. However, in some of the lesser-known songs the words were not as easy to catch.
The highlight of the show was an improvisation by Callaway. She asked the audience to help her write a song that she then improvised on the spot at the piano. If you thought the Dallas audience would come up with something elegant, you would be wrong. The names they assigned to the characters were “Betty Jo” and “Bubba.” They had them meet at Wal-Mart and then spend their one night stand in a Motel 6. Callaway gamely did a credible improvisation on the tawdry situation, complete with rhymed couplets, and that took some guts.
“We got our kicks at the Motel 6.” Jeesh.
However, the real treat of the evening came in the opener of the second act, a medley of songs from The Wizard of Oz. The arranger (Sayre) assigned the Scarecrow’s jaunty ballad “If I Only Had a Brain” to the tuba, which certainly was not intended as a judgment call if you knew tuba like I know tuba.
The DSO tuba player, Matthew Good, shone and gave it just the right ‘ol soft-shoe lilt.