The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood St, London W1F 7ED
Liz Callaway has a voice that is both pristine and powerful. She burst onto the Broadway scene in 1981, making her debut in the original (and short–lived) production of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, quickly followed by a Tony nominated turn as Lizzie, the expectant mother in Maltby and Shire's musical Baby, where she was perfect casting.
Now in her 50s she still retains that girl next door sweetness and an endearing open hearted quality which can warm up a big concert hall (and she's performed in many) but which, in the confines of the cabaret room, can at times come across as rather synthetic and over cooked. Her one comic turn, a polished skit on Sondheim called 'Another Hundred Lyrics Just Fell Out of My Brain', which admittedly had us all fooled, was ultimately too studied to really tickle.
It's a surprise that despite a distinguished Broadway career running up long runs in shows such as Cats, Evita and Miss Saigon she's at heart a singer (with a radiant voice) rather than 'an actress who sings' and her interpretations often lack varieties of colour. Why complain you might say when the voice is this perfect but the cabaret room does demand more light and shade and being able to let your hair down just a little.
It is notable that she's had a whole additional career providing the vocals for big Hollywood animated musicals including Beauty and the Beast, Lion King II and the title voice in Anastasia. This plays to her strengths as we heard in her full–blooded rendition of 'Journey to the Past'.
Her set was expertly chosen to highlight the peaks in her Broadway and concert career ('Meadowlark' and 'Memory' stood out) as well some personal sentimental favourites for her including Jimmy Webb's 'Didn't We' where she said she'd wanted to be the Sixth Dimension. Thankfully her 'Macarthur Park' was confined to the middle section, the bit without the cake left out in the rain.
She triumphed in the really difficult songs such as Rodgers & Hammerstein's 'Something Wonderful' or 'Losing My Mind' from Follies where having the singing chops really matter. She played Young Sally in the definitive and star studded, concert recording of that show at Lincoln Center in 1985.
Last seen in London 15 years ago at the Donmar, in concert with her sister Anna Hampton Callaway in Sibling Revelry, it has been too long an absence. Her long time collaborator, Alex Rybeck, provided sterling piano accompaniment throughout.
The Crazy Coqs is on a roll now and following a run of great Americans Carole J Bufford, Brent Barrett, Linda Purl and Ms Callaway the Spring programme has a slightly more British and jazz inflected feel: Patti Boulaye (March 4–8), Aaron Weinstein (March 11–15), Marlene VerPlanck (March 18–22), Ann Reid (March 25–29), guitar legend John Etheridge (April 1–3), Domenick Allen and Leigh Zimmerman (April 8–11), Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe (April 15–19), Amanda McBroom and George Hall (April 22–26) and Cantabile (April 29–31). In any case listening to a great vocalist in the intimate setting of this exquisite Art Deco room is a joy.