Praised for her “bright, youthful, expressive and ebullient” soprano, Liz Callaway is sure to put a halo on the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s holiday concert this weekend. The singer-actress, who has starred on Broadway and provided stellar vocals for several acclaimed animated films, will team up with music director Salvador Brotons and the orchestra, which will make a welcome return to its home venue at Skyview Concert Hall.
It’s a real coup for the orchestra to present Callaway, who has been featured in Broadway shows like “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” “The Three Musketeers,” “The Look of Love” and “Baby,” for which she received a Tony Award nomination. Her animated film credits include “Anastasia,” “Aladdin,” “King of Thieves,” “The Return of Jafar,” “The Swan Princess,” “Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and, not last but least, “The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars.”
Like other performers of her caliber, Callaway was going full steam when COVID-19 landed stateside in March of 2020.
“I was on a flight to San Francisco for a weekend of concerts,” she recalled. “I usually don’t get on the internet during flights, because I like to use the time to read or work on a project. But about an hour and a half into the flight, I decided to get on my email. That’s when I found out that my shows had been canceled. After landing, my husband and I decided to be safe. So, we took the red-eye back to New York. And that was it. Everything shut down.”
But even though she didn’t get back to the stage for many months, Callaway kept busy, singing into her phone or her laptop, posting videos on her website (lizcallaway.com) and her YouTube channel, and recording a Christmas album.
That’s part of Callaway’s indomitable spirit. One of the videos on her website sheds light on her ability to persevere multiple auditions.
“My profession is very competitive,” she said. “You’re always reinventing yourself. That is actually a really good thing. You just have to be persistent. If I don’t get the role, I just have to get over it. My parents instilled a confidence in me. They were very supportive in whatever profession I pursued. I decided on theater and they were thrilled, but they never pushed it on me.”
When Callaway performs, she often teases the audience with dollops of off-the-cuff storytelling between songs. Her improvisational talent has an uncanny way of relaxing the audience. She is just a real, down-home gal next door who does not have the diva personality. Coupled with her singing, it shows her innate ability to relate to listeners. You can see this in some of the videos that she has posted.
“This past July, I did my first concert since the pandemic,” she said, “and it was at that venue in San Francisco where the show was canceled back in March of 2020. It was a very emotional, special experience. It’s thrilling to sing for people again. The connection with the audience has never been greater.”
The Vancouver Symphony had arranged for Callaway to appear in December of 2020. But it was not possible to get the full orchestra together, and Brotons was not allowed to travel to the United States from his home in Spain. Those circumstances caused the orchestra to reconfigure for a jazz-holiday concert with clarinetist Ken Peplowski.
Now that the pandemic has calmed down somewhat (fingers crossed), Callaway and the musicians are ready to warm things up.
“I will be doing an eclectic selection of Broadway songs,” said Callaway, “plus a couple of songs from ‘Anastasia.’ I’ll do holiday songs, Christmas songs. There will be something for everyone.”
One of the tunes on the program is “Send in the Clowns,” which the late Stephen Sondheim wrote for the 1973 musical “A Little Night Music.” Callaway has a special connection to Sondheim that started in 1981 with her debut in Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” She has been an ambassador for his music nationally and internationally, including the European premiere of “Sondheim on Sondheim” at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
The orchestra will showcase a bit of Gershwin and a couple of traditional Viennese numbers that will wrap things up with a bow. Be ready to clap when Brotons gives the signal in the final piece, the “Radetzky March” by Johann Strauss Sr.
Callaway will bring her two Christmas recordings, which will be for sale. She intends to autograph them after the show. For aficionados of Broadway, it doesn’t get much better than this. If you haven’t been to the Big Apple in a while, this will be your chance to experience the real thing.