I remember as a kid riding in the back seat of my parents’ mini van with my older sister on the way to Grandma B’s. One thing we did to pass the time was hold pinching contests. I can’t recall who won, but we both have the battle scars to prove it happened. (Me, a crescent-shaped indentation above my lip; her, a similar mark on her wrist.)
We were odd kids.
The Callaway sisters spent their backseat hours as kids in the ’60s doing something more socially acceptable (and significantly less disfiguring): sing medleys of their favorite top 40 songs.
Of course, they’ve each grown up to become mega-talented musicians in their own right. (Ann, a respected and awarded cabaret and big band singer, with a husky, rich and seemingly rangeless voice; and Liz, a Broadway veteran whose airy pop-soprano somehow seems as optimistic as it does wise.) Lucky for us, they’ve taken this joy of singing the sounds of the ’60s from the back of their parents’ 1963 Thunderbird to the stage.
With Baby Boom, which played for one night only yesterday at the Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts, they celebrate the music and artists of of the baby boom age. The Beatles, Carly Simon, Carole King, Petula Clark, Righteous Brothers, The Fifth Dimension, Nancy Sinatra, Stevie Wonder — there’s a lot of ground to cover here. Liz gravitates toward the poppy sounds, such as “Downtown” and “Up, Up and Away,” where Ann accompanies herself on piano to a dynamic arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and leads a gospel-inspired “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
And, of course, they join each other in duets — most notably a near-epic medley of Stevie Wonder tunes, which opens the second act. On the more serious side, their duet of Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” is also remarkable.
The approach they each take to interpreting a song is night (Ann) and day (Liz). Where Liz is simplicity and focus, Ann offers intensity and passion. Put them together, and it’s a match made in vocal arrangement heaven. The blend they share in their complex and unexpected harmonies is unlike anything I’ve heard before. And the arrangements by Alex Rybeck (who also plays piano as part of a tight trio of musicians) are stellar, letting you really listen to the lyrics of these well-known tunes for the fist time.
Aside from the musicianship, this pair is fun to watch simply because they so genuinely enjoy performing together. The respect they radiate for one another is contagious. But they also aren’t shy about stealing the spotlight when it comes time to deliver.
My only gripes is the venue. Not unlike a high school auditorium, the Prairie Center, built in 1986, isn’t the most intimate (or attractive) venue. Maybe someone will be smart and book this pair in a Chicago venue, such as, perhaps, the new Broadway Playhouse. I’m sure the theatre queens, cabaret lovers and baby boomers would fill the house.