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A Review by Stephen Holden (The New York Times)
Although the singer Ann Hampton Callaway doesn’t sound at all like Barbra Streisand, to whom she paid fervent tribute on Wednesday evening in her new show, “The Streisand Songbook,” at 54 Below, the two share a fundamental, unshakable romanticism. Both favor overarching, dramatic love songs, and both have the vocal equipment to infuse them with fairy tale magic.
A wholehearted commitment is required to turn kitsch into gold and to loft a cri de coeur like “A Piece of Sky,” the Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman ballad from “Yentl,” into the stratosphere. As Ms. Callaway walloped it out of the ballpark, I reflected on how far she has come in the three decades since she was a polite piano bar entertainer newly arrived from Chicago. She has cultivated a jazz side modeled after her other singing idol, Ella Fitzgerald, and become a theatrical belter, with all the body language that goes with it.
Ms. Callaway has also written two songs Ms. Streisand has recorded: the gushy humanitarian anthem “At the Same Time” and “I’ve Dreamed of You,” Ms. Streisand’s wedding song to James Brolin, which has music by Rolf Lovland. She performed both on Wednesday evening, accompanied by a trio with Ted Rosenthal on piano, Martin Wind on bass and Tim Horner on drums.
Ms. Callaway sensibly didn’t try to duplicate Ms. Streisand’s phrasing and intonation. “A Sleepin’ Bee” became a gently swinging pop-jazz reverie riding on Mr. Rosenthal’s exquisite piano, and “Lover, Come Back to Me,” an early Streisand venture into swing, was accelerated into a breakneck jazz turn.
A vision of “love ageless and evergreen” and “two lives that shine as one,” in the lyrics for “Evergreen,” Ms. Streisand’s hit from the movie “A Star Is Born,” may be out of pop fashion nowadays. But as Ms. Callaway sang that wedding staple, I was reminded that a greeting card sentimentality is forever, and that voices that can really put it over are all too rare. (09/28/2012)