Audiences for Liz Callaway can expect to hear faithful interpretations of these now familiar hit songs, but they should also expect the unexpected.
By Robert Israel
These last couple years have been miracle years for American songwriter Carole King. She’s published a memoir (A Natural Woman); a musical (Beautiful) devoted to her life and works is still wowing them on Broadway; a PBS “American Masters” special about her musical career was televised; and an album of duets with fellow pop singer James Taylor received numerous accolades. Her star power continues to ascend.
The fervor for her music – which pinnacled during the 1960s-1980s – has not gone unnoticed by the Boston Pops. They’ve invited Liz Callaway, a Tony-nominated actress and singer, to perform all the songs from King’s 1971 Grammy Award winning Tapestry album with the full orchestra on June 9th and 10th for two shows at Symphony Hall.
Callaway promises to be an inspired choice. A native of Chicago, she made her Broadway debut in Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, and went on to receive a Tony nomination for her work in Baby. And then she took a break from the stage and left New York. She went to live, in all places, in Boston.
“I was known as the Ready to Go lady,” she chuckles on the telephone from her home in New York, remembering when she hosted Ready to Go, a popular children’s show. “I lived in an apartment in the Charlestown Navy Yard. We filmed at the local CBS affiliate. I won an Emmy Award. But after three years, I missed the stage. So I left to take a role in Miss Saigon on Broadway in 1991.”
She has been globetrotting as a singer and performer ever since. This year alone, she tells me, she has performed in concerts in France, Vietnam, and at numerous gigs on both the east and west coasts.
“Fortunately for me, I love traveling, so it’s a treat,” Callaway says of her steeplechase career. “And I like the variety of it: I sing in solo concerts, I sing with small ensembles, orchestras, I accompany myself on piano, I appear with my sister Anna Hampton Callaway doing Broadway show tunes, and, now, I’m getting ready to do Tapestry with the Boston Pops.”
Tapestry achieved mythic status shortly after it was released in 1971. While Carole King – and he late ex-husband Gerry Goffin – had written a number of song made popular by such artists like Aretha Frankln, Tapestry was the first time King performed solo. The album went on to sell 10 million copies and was awarded four Grammys in 1972, including Album of the Year. The songs – either written or co-written by King – include such hits as “You Make Me Feel like a Natural Woman,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” and “It’s Too Late.”
“I grew up in a musical family,” Callaway says, “and, as children, we were given money weekly to go out and buy albums we liked. Carole King’s album during this time, and it became one of my favorites. I first began memorizing her songs as a teenager and sang them constantly.”
Audiences at Symphony Hall can expect to hear faithful interpretations of these now familiar hit songs, but they should also expect the unexpected.
“I’m accompanied by two singers,” Callaway says, “Allison Blackwell and Bryce Ryness, and we mix things up, singing duets and backing each other up on some of the numbers.”
The reason Carole King’s songs have such staying power, Callaway insists, is because “they tell wonderful stories. I have a theater background, so I put an emphasis on the words and the stories behind those words. Many people attending my concerts tell me that they’ve loved the songs over many years, but listening to the way I do them, they say they’re hearing the words as if for the first time. For me, each song is a three-act play.”
Callaway said sister Ann Hampton Callaway, who has previously performed with the Boston Pops, will not join her onstage at Symphony Hall, “although she’s hoping to be in the audience if her schedule permits,” she says. The two sisters will be reunited in Provincetown, at the Crown and Anchor’s Paramount room, later this summer, where they are booked for two shows featuring Broadway show tunes.
One of her greatest thrills, Callaway says, was when she met King a few years ago after a concert in Los Angeles.
“She’s one of the most gracious people I’ve met,” Callaway says, “and very unassuming. She’s very much like the songs she writes: earthy, accessible, and warm hearted.”
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at email@example.com.