by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle ™
The recent holiday season gave us a rare chance to re-connect with some of our favorite Broadway Babies On December 17. Three of the theater’s most talented performers, Jason Graae, Liz Callaway and Mary Testa sparkled and shined in “Broadway Divas – Give My Regards To…”
We first met Jason back in 1993 when he was co-starring in “A Grand Night For Singing” on Broadway, and since then we’ve eagerly attended his performances in Connecticut –from “The Music Man” at the Bushnell to the annual summer Yale Cabaret Conference.
The last time we saw Liz Callaway (“Cats” and “Miss Saigon”) it was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean! She and her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway (who wrote TV’s “The Nanny” theme song) performed on a transatlantic crossing aboard the QM2 back in May of 2007.
Joining this divo and diva at Edgerton was Broadway’s Mary Testa, whose bold rich voice and warm and witty stage personality gave us the motivation to interview her after the show.
The trio began the 90-minute show, on a stage covered in a forest of evergreen trees twinkling with fairy lights, harmonizing through the friendship tune “Together.” Each singer then had a solo turn, beginning with Mary Testa and her homage to the season with “The Little Drummer Boy” and then knocking the Christmas stockings off the audience with a showstopper, “Got a little motto/Always sees me through/ When you’re good to Mama/ Mama’s good to you” from her Matron Morton role in “Chicago.” Wow, can that girl sell a song!
When Mary did “Make Someone Happy” she seamlessly included everyone’s relationship by singing “once you’ve found him – or her- build your world around him- or her…” cleverly updating the lyric with a 21st century sensibility without losing the original rhythm of the song.
Jason Graae, as always, instantly ingratiated himself by saying, “you probably came to see Liz and Mary and are wondering…..who the heck is HE?’” ‘He’ then launched into his energetic and zany renderings of “Applause” from the musical of the same name, “Popular” from “Wicked,” and his own holiday song celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. The story of his stint as the voice of the leprechaun for Lucky Charms cereal commercials was just as funny as the first time saw him do it with brilliant comedic timing. Jason also sings with gusto as heard on his Broadway CD “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.”
As his act came to an end, he was joined by Liz Callaway in the man-vs.-woman duet, “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better,” from “Annie Get Your Gun.”
With more than 500 performances as Grizabella in “CATS” on Broadway Liz once again sang “Memory” so beautifully that it was as if we were hearing the song for the first time. And Liz is not afraid to take chances – she had the courage and talent to tackle one of Barbra Streisand’s signature songs “People, which is no mean feat for a Streisand classic. The Callaway sound can be best described as crystal clear, true, and show-biz perfection.
Accompanying Liz, Mary and Jason was one of the must sought-after piano accompanists and arrangers in the business, the talented and delightful Alex Rybeck. He was introduced by Liz as “one musician sounding on the piano like a 60-piece orchestra.” We caught up with Alex to find out more about his music career, He modestly replied, “I had a wonderful piano teacher who taught me that a piano is both a percussion and a string instrument. The balance of the two elements, incorporating lightness of touch required by strings with the heaviness of percussion is what creates an exceptional sound.”
The Edgerton Center also features two more Broadway Babies, Rebecca Luker and Howard McGillin, on Feb. 12, and the indomitable Broadway and Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds on April 10. Also in April the university’s new Theater Arts Department is doing the Broadway hit “Little Shop Of Horrors” followed by “Sweeney Todd” in July.
This is a comfortable and professionally designed theater with excellent sight lines from each of the 776-plush seats, so get onto your Blackberry, Cranberry, Apple iPad, iPhone or PC and buy those $20.-$30. tickets at www.edentergertoncenter.org or call 203-371-7908. the first-rate shows here costs less than parking space in Manhattan!
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