Sisters Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway, regarded as Broadway cabaret legends, are bringing their acclaimed cabaret show Sibling Revelry to Australia. After sell-out dates at New York’s hottest cabaret venue, 54 Below, this dynamic sister duo is bringing Sibling Revelry for one performance only in Sydney on June 23rd at The Basement and then to Melbourne at the Melbourne Recital Centre on June 25th, following a season at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Sibling Revelry was first performed at New York’s Rainbow and Stars in 1995 to rave reviews and the sisters have been performing it ever since.
Ann Hampton Callaway may not be a well known name to the Australian general public, but her voice will be. Ann wrote and performed the theme song to the popular sitcom The Nanny. She is considered to be one of the best jazz singers in the world and has written songs for the biggest names in showbusiness; from Barbara Streisand to Carole King. She is also the only composer to have collaborated with the late Cole Porter.
Liz Callaway is best known for her work on Broadway, making her debit as Mary in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. She has appeared in Follies (Young Sally,) Cats (Grizabella,) and the original Broadway casts of Miss Saigon, The Three Musketeers, and The Look of Love. Liz received a Tony Award nomination for her performance in Baby.
I caught up with the Callaway sisters ahead of their Australian visit.
Theatre People: Why did you decide to call your show Sibling Revelry?
Ann: Now it's mostly revelry, but when we were kids it was a bit more rivalry. I thought Liz got more attention and whatever she wanted because she was the baby and Liz thought I got to do more because I was the oldest. We were both right. Our biggest curse then and our biggest blessing now is how different we are. We are a template for world peace. If we can get along anyone can!
Liz: There was definitely some rivalry when we were growing up. It was hard being the younger sister of someone so accomplished! (I was a late bloomer) Now we are best friends-although I’m sure we both feel the occasional tiny “tinge of envy” when something great happens to the other, but we really are each other’s biggest cheerleaders!
Theatre People: Growing up – who was the one most likely to become a "star"?
Ann: Without a doubt, me. I put the "ham" in Hampton!
Liz: Ann. And if she tells you otherwise she’s LYING!
Theatre People: Did you attend theatre/concerts/musicals as children? What is your earliest memory of a live show and what was it?
Ann: Yes. We were Chicago's Von Trapp family and didn't even know it. Our dad John played a lot of jazz records and scat sang around the house. Our mom Shirley played and sang torch songs when we got home from school. She loved classical music, Broadway and standards. We eventually discovered The Beatles and the singers and songwriters of our generation and it was people like Carole King and Joni Mitchel who inspired me to be a songwriter. Liz and I were so lucky that our mom taught voice and we learned a lot about singing by hearing her voice lessons. It was inspiring to hear her perform with The Chicago Symphony Chorus in its heyday, and was on Grammy winning albums they made. Our parents took us to Westbury Music Fair to see Ray Charles when I was about 10. It was beyond thrilling. To see him own the audience at the piano singing every kind of great music took my breath away. And our first Broadway show was the original production of Company– Elaine Stritch knocked our socks off-Liz and I dreamed of being on Broadway for that day forward. My favorite singers as a child were Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and Leontyne Price.
Liz: Yes, lots and all different kinds; Broadway, Jazz, Classical, Pop. Plus our Mom is a wonderful singer and voice teacher, and she would sing standards and give voice lessons at our home. Our Dad loved to scat sing. Ann was always singing and playing the piano when we were growing up. I on the other hand was shy, and a “closet singer” and would only sing when everyone left the house. The first Broadway show we ever saw was Company. I think I was 9 and Ann was 12. That was life-changing for both of us. Growing up my favorite singers were Eydie Gorme, Marilyn McCoo of the 5th Dimension, Pamela Myers (from Company) and Barbara Streisand.
Theatre People: Did you both always want to be entertainers? If not, what else did you want to do and what changed your direction?
Ann: When I was a kid I read biographies nonstop. Whatever biography I was reading would inspire my dream. When I read Eli Whitney, I wanted to be an inventor. When I read about JFK, I wanted to be president. My biggest enduring childhood aspirations were to be an actress, a singer, a songwriter and a poet. How lucky I am living so many of my dreams.
Liz: Being a sports journalist, artist or a dancer. (Although, hilarious as it sounds, when I was 8 I told myself if everything else failed in my life I could fall back on a singing career!)
Theatre People: You both have different voices that blend beautifully. What qualities do you admire and envy about your sister’s voice?
Ann: I like to say that Liz has a sunlit voice and I have a moonlit voice and when they come together we create twilight. I love how Liz has kept her sweetness and hasn't let life harden her. There is a beautiful optimism to her sound that tugs at my heart strings whenever I hear her. To think she used to be too shy to sing in public! My first vivid memory is when she was brought home after being born. They opened the door and this pink baby was crying with a voice so loud and full of ping, she was destined for Broadway from the get go!
Liz: I love the rich deep notes Ann has, and the beautiful emotion she puts into her singing. There is no one I love singing with more than my sister. Even though our voices are so different, I think we “complete each other” somehow when we sing together
Theatre People: What can audiences expect from your show? What are your favourite songs?
Ann: The late cabaret producer, Don Smith invited us to play The Russian Tea Room. That show, Together At Last was the beginning of us singing together and that first show was the seed of Sibling Revelry. We sang through hundreds of songs to create a semi-autobiographical mini musical. What's great about the show is that to this day, we can't wait to sing each song- there is no filler. My favorite solo is My Buddy/Old Friend which had become a personal anthem for me. And I adore singing The Huge Medley which is comprised of 16 dazzling duets from the greatest musicals and collaborations of our time.
Liz: Actually for years people said we should do a show together, but we were always so busy with our individual careers, we just never stopped to do it. Then we got a booking at NY’s Russian Tea Room so we HAD to so it. Was incredibly fun so when we got a booking at Rainbow and Stars, we jumped at the chance. And although the majority of our work is solo, we’ve been performing together ever since. As for my favourite song to do, probably The Huge Medley, although I really love our updated version of Friendship too. (:
Theatre People: Who are the biggest names you have each worked with – and what were these experiences like? Is there a career highlight?
Ann: I loved singing with Stevie Wonder at The Kennedy Center- that was like singing with God. Singing with Liza Minnelli and later Lorna Luft has been a thrill. Writing a song with Carole King the day I recorded my CD Slow and having her stay and sing back up vocals on it was one of the best days of my life. And writing songs and patter for Barbra Streisand is about as thrilling as it gets.
Liz: You are performing together on this tour but you have both individually worked with some big names – what were these experiences like? That’s hard to say- I’ve been so lucky to have worked with so many great artists. One of my favourite experiences was a 2 week run of shows with Jimmy Webb and Paul Williams. I also was Barbra Streisand’s stand-in for her last two concert tours-although that wasn’t exactly working with her, but more like observing her work, it was pretty thrilling.
Theatre People: What challenges do you face working together as sisters? What do you enjoy the most about working together as sisters?
Ann: Working with Liz is profoundly fun. We know each other in a way that nobody else does and to share that bond through music is not only a joy but an honor. Liz has taught me so much and I know performing in Australia will be especially fun since we love to travel and discover new places. The only challenge is when Liz becomes very dutiful and tries to get me to join her in her one-cocktail a day discipline. I am sure I will have the compassion of the Aussies on that one.
Liz: I just love getting to be together. We are so busy, sometimes it’s the only chance we have to spend time together. And I must say our sound checks tend to be pretty hilarious- sometimes we’ll sing a song off-key for fun, or do a ballad as a polka! Challenges? The process of putting together our shows isn’t always easy as we have different styles of working, but in the end we always agree. No challenges in doing the shows, just great fun.
Theatre People: You have both performed in Australia previously (but separately) – what do you enjoy about this country and it’s audiences?
Ann: I don't know what it is, but I love Australian people and I have yet to meet any Australian I don't like. There must be something in the water because the people are such fun and so open- the particular sense of humor of an Aussie is irresistible. There are no strangers. Can't wait to make the friends I haven't met yet!
Liz: This will be my 3rd trip to Australia. I absolutely LOVE performing here. And I’m so excited to be here with Ann. The people are so friendly, the audiences so smart and the coffee is outstanding! I really want to make performing in Australia a yearly experience, either solo or with Ann.
This dynamic duo from Chicago prove they’re one singular sensation, singing the best of the American Songbook from show tunes to jazz and pop in an evening that promises wit and humour combined with some of the best songs America has produced.
“Their voices blend and soar majestically like eagles!” – The New York Observer
“When their strikingly different but equally splendid voices harmonize, Sibling Revelry becomes a thrilling display of vocal prowess.” – The New York Times Magazine
For tickets: www.ticketmaster.com.au