Liz Callaway may not be a household name in the world of entertainment but if you love Broadway or have children, you’re likely familiar with her work.
Callaway, who will perform Friday at Silverthorn Country Club, has a highly credentialed resume as a Tony Nominee and Emmy Award winning actress, singer and recording artist. Her Broadway credits include a Tony nomination for the lead role in “Baby.” She has performed in the original casts of “Miss Saigon,” playing the role of Ellen, “The Three Musketeers,” and “The Look of Love.” She won acclaim as Grizabella in “Cats” on Broadway, singing the much loved, “Memory” to enthralled audiences for several years.
Callaway sang the Academy Award nominated song, “Journey to the Past” in the animated feature “Anastasia,” and is the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin and the King of Thieves,” and The Return of Jafar.” Other film work includes the singing voice of the title character in “The Swan Princess,” “Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars.”
Friday’s show, “Liz Callaway in Concert,” will include Broadway classics, film musical numbers, and her favorite genre, 1960s classic pop hits. She also loves the music of Stephen Sondheim.
Callaway says her concerts are very low key.
“I want everyone to feel like we have just had dinner together,” she said. “It is a very personal experience.”
Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote after hearing Callaway, “Ms. Callaway took it to the moon, and was as incandescent as ever! She illuminates the room like a ray of sunshine.” The New York Post wrote “One of the best I’ve ever seen! She has a passionate, gleaming-eyed poignancy.”
Callaway says she has been touched by how audiences all over the world react to “Memory.”
“I have sung it in China, Iceland, Korea and most recently Paris, and even if they don’t speak English — everyone is so affected by it. It is one of those extraordinary songs that really touches people.”
Callaway worked with her friend, John Leggio, in “Cats” on Broadway and says she kept in touch with him over the years. She is thrilled to perform in Spring Hill on Friday and teach a master class at Leggio’s School of Performing Arts Studio on Saturday.
“John is such a sweetie,” said Callaway. “And he is a beautiful dancer and wonderful person.” Accompanying Callaway at the piano is her longtime friend and music director, Alex Rybeck.
Though Callaway grew up in a house where her mother taught voice, and her older sister had a fabulous voice, she was shy and only sang when her family wasn’t around.
“I was more of a closet singer,” she said.
While in high school, she discovered the camaraderie and support of the theatre.
“It was a difficult time for me and I found theatre to be another kind of family,” she said. “This really turned me on to doing theater and singing, and I also found that I loved working with people on a collaborative effort.”
Callaway has found success because she understands that singing is story telling. Her ability to connect to the song has moved audiences all over the world. Whether in film or at a concert or on a CD, audiences get it.
“In this day and age of TV shows — so much is about vocal pyrotechnics. That is not necessarily music,” Callaway said. “I would personally rather hear someone who doesn’t have the most incredible voice, but who understands how to project the feeling of the song to the audience. It can be very freeing when they stop worrying and concentrate on expressing something rather than trying to impress.”
Callaway’s first big break on Broadway was the lead role in “Baby.” Then, while playing the role of Grizabella in “Cats,” she had the opportunity to sing the role of “Anastasia.” That happened because she is a friend of songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, of renowned Broadway musicals, including “Ragtime,” and “Seussical, The Musical.”
“They called one day while I just happened to be at home with my son, who was sick, and asked if I could come to the studio right away to record two or three songs from this new animated movie they were trying to make because the girl they were using was not working out.”
Later, she was asked to sing the role for the film. When she learned Meg Ryan was speaking the role, she recorded dialogue from the movie “Sleepless in Seattle.” Then, on the way to the studio on the train, she listened to Ryan’s voice over and over to try to get her voice in her head.
Callaway says that though her success has come from a lot of hard work, it is also being at the right place at the right time and of course, the people she met.
“I tell students in my master classes to always be kind to the pianist when you go in for an audition” Callaway said, “because you never know if he or she will be the next writer or composer on Broadway.” That’s how she met Stephen Flaherty, the famous songwriter.
Spend “An Evening with Liz Callaway” at 8 p.m. Friday at Silverthorn Country Club, 4550 Golf Club Lane, Brooksville. Tickets are $30. VIP tickets are available for $50 and include preferred seating and a wine and cheese reception before the show at 6 p.m. where guests can meet Liz, have a photo taken with her and get a CD signed. The Vocal Master Class workshop is from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at John Leggio’s Center for the Performing Arts, 10455 County Line Road in Spring Hill. Tickets are $75. To purchase tickets for the concert or the Master Class, call (352) 683-8395 or visit Leggio.ticketleap.com.
Email Hernando Today correspondent Marsha Reiniers at Marsha@LTC-FLA.com.