EXCLUSIVE! Sibling Revelry: An interview with ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY and sister LIZ.
Seventeen years after bring their Sibling Revelry show over from New York to form part of the Divas At the Donmar series, the Callaway sisters, Ann Hampton and Liz, are back in London from 7–11 July with an updated version at the Hippodrome.
They appeared individually at the Crazy Coqs last year and Ann did a jazz set at Ronnie Scott’s even more recently, but Musical Theatre Review contributor Jeremy Chapman asked them what they will be bringing with them for their long-overdue return as a double act…
JC: We’ve had both of you over individually in London in the recent past, but this will be the first Sibling Revelry we’ve seen since the Donmar when we were all quite a bit younger! Will this Sibling Revelry contain much of the same material as that 1998 visit or will be there be a lot of newer stuff?
Liz: Yes and yes! For those who saw us at the Donmar or are fans of our Sibling Revelry CD, much will be familiar, although we have updated the show to reflect our current, shall we say, ‘older but wiser’ status. Oh, and the ‘Huge Medley’ has gotten even huger! So yes, there will also be some songs that London audiences haven’t heard us sing before.
Ann: The bones of the show are there but we’ve got a few new curves, shall we say. It’s funny how Sibling Revelry feels like a mini musical and works even better now with time enhancing the resonance of the songs. Changing the song order too much would be messing with the integrity of our very carefully crafted show. Somehow it has acquired a cult status we are told, so repetition adds to the fun.
We’ve tweaked the patter to be reflective of the years since we’ve done the show in ’98 and we’ll be singing these great songs, with a few surprises, with the added heft of life experience.
JC: How often do you get to do your sister-act show in the States? Is this a fairly rare get-together especially for London or are you doing Sibling Revelry on a regular basis in New York and on the road?
Liz: Most of our work is solo, but we try to perform together as often as we can; sometimes in small venues as well as concert halls with symphony orchestras. In 2014 we were asked to bring back Sibling Revelry to New York City for the first time in 18 years! We did two sold-out runs at NYC’s 54 Below and it was a fantastic experience. We followed that run with several shows in Australia last summer. We are confident our ‘sibling return to London’ will be just as special.
We also have a new show (and album) called Boom!, which is a celebration of the music of our childhoods: the ’60s and ’70s. We would love to come back and bring Boom! to London next year. Hint hint…
Ann: Liz and I appear together sometimes a lot in a year – when a show is just out or when a revival has just been polished. But we mostly sing on our own. Singing together is a joy – it’s the icing on the cake of our very demanding solo careers. It surprises me that this is only the second time we have performed in London. We both adore the city and the friends we’ve made through the years. I’d love if singing in London together would be a Liz-and-Ann-ual experience!
JC: Ann, I read you had an idea for a Broadway musical in your head and were looking for a librettist. Have you got any further along that route and what would the subject matter be?
Ann: I am still searching for the perfect librettist. I thought Harvey Fierstein might be the person but he is extremely busy. I’ve always wanted to write a musical with Jane Wagner. And I love Tina Fey’s comic writing. We shall see. I can’t divulge the show I am involved with but the librettist decision is not just mine – it belongs to some very influential and talented people who have enlisted my talents for an exciting new Broadway project.
Liz: I think Ann should write a Broadway musical for me. Oh, wait… this was a question for Ann.
JC: Liz, as the younger sister in a musical family was it always on the cards you would follow Ann into showbiz and was there any element of competition between you growing up?
Liz: Not on the cards at all! I was the shy one in the family and would only sing when everyone left the house. I always knew I had a voice, but I think because Ann and our Mom sang all the time, I wanted to do something different, maybe go into sports journalism. I didn’t really start performing until mid-way through high school, and then there was no stopping me!
Yes, I did feel a certain amount of rivalry with Ann growing up; it wasn’t easy being the younger sister of someone who was so accomplished at everything she did – everything! But when we moved to NYC together, at 18 and 21, that rivalry turned into revelry. Except when we played ping-pong together. Or miniature golf.
JC: Ann, you wrote so many beautiful songs in your earlier days right up to the Streisand wedding song ‘I Dreamed of You’. Over here, we now seem to know you more as a jazz singer these days and for your latest Sarah Vaughan CD. Are you writing new songs that you’re singing in public or have you now moved on to a different part of your career?
Ann: I write lots of songs every year. And over the last few years I’ve written a poem a day, many which could be songs. The producers who record my CDs always seem more interested in me singing standards but I feel a growing need to do more with my writing and give life to the hundreds of songs that have remained unrecorded.
It’s a very challenging thing finding a balance in what I do. When I did a night of all original songs in NY at 54 Below, the response was amazing. I hope I will soon be surprising people with more of the personal side of my creativity. I loved my Pizza On the Park days when I had hours to share all the many songs that were coming out of my heart. Most shows people ask me to do today are less freeflow and more conceptual and structured.
JC: Liz, you made early acquaintance with Stephen Sondheim and his work when you played Young Sally in the famous made-for-TV Follies in Concert in the 1980s. Have you done much/any Sondheim since and have you any ambition to? Have you any Broadway shows in the pipeline or are you just sticking to cabaret these days?
Liz: Actually, I made my Broadway debut in Merrily We Roll Along. Since Follies in Concert, I’ve happily done a number of Sondheim shows including playing Dot in Sunday in the Park With George and Petra in A Little Night Music. I’ve also sung much of Steve’s music in concert including to a solo concert in Barcelona, and concerts with Marvin Hamlisch and Maria Friedman at the Kennedy Center. In March of 2016 I’m doing symphony concerts of Sondheim music in Lille, France, with a high school chum of ours, David Charles Abell, conducting.
I would love to do more Broadway. I’m involved with a couple of projects that are very early in development so we will see. A few years ago I played Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard in Pittsburgh and it made me realise how much I’ve missed acting. I really enjoy my concert and cabaret work, but my first love is theatre. My fantasy is to be in the new musical Sondheim is currently writing.
JC: Ann, we last saw you in London at Ronnie Scott’s, fulfilling a lifetime dream to appear in that iconic venue where so many jazz legends have performed. Did it live up to your expectations and are there any plans for you to return there for a bit longer than two nights next time?
Ann: I loved the chemistry there – it was a thrill. I hope to do a week there when it works with my schedule. There was a gritty intimacy there that felt good. And the vibration of history was inspiring.
JC: You have done two CDs together, Sibling Revelry of course and a more recent one at Birdland. If/when you do a third one, what songs are top of your lists for the famous Callaway treatment that you have so far not recorded?
Liz: Ann and I actually just premiered our new show of Broadway music in California. We are still doing some fine-tuning, but there are several duets in that I’d love to record. In fact, perhaps we might do one of the songs in Sibling Revelry in London next month. How’s that for cryptic?
Ann: Liz and I have a new show themed on Broadway material that we hope to record. I’d rather not divulge the song list at this moment. But I am very proud of what we came up with musically. Liz and I have such a rich creative process with Alex Rybeck, our musical director, and Dan Foster, our director. The choices and arrangements reflect our deepening relationship with each other. Someday, I’d love to record a CD of my songs together. Maybe I will write us an original musical!
JC: Last year, at different times, you performed at the Crazy Coqs and you both were very warmly received. What are the differences between London and Manhattan cabaret audiences?
Liz: I think London audiences are perhaps a bit more sophisticated, less raucous. Both audiences are equally appreciative, just in different decibels.
Ann: The main difference is the accents. Ha ha!
JC: After you’ve done the Hippodrome, will we see either/both of you in London again this year?
Liz: Probably not this year but I certainly hope for a few visits in 2016: perhaps my solo Sondheim show with special guests from the UK, and Boom! with Ann Hampton Callaway!
Ann: Not sure if it will work out, but there is a query from a woman I adore and it would be wonderful to return. I have a new holiday CD coming out on 13 October called The Hope of Christmas with all new songs and two co-written by me.
* Ann Hampton Callaway and sister Liz Callaway return to the West End in Sibling Revelry at the London Hippodrome, July 7–11.