Liz Callaway happy to take on Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera’s lead in ‘Sunset Boulevard’
By Alice T. Carter
Published: Sunday, July 22, 2012, 8:50 p.m.
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
When Liz Callaway tells someone that she has been cast as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” the reaction is almost always the same: “But, you're too young.”
There's little resemblance between the blond, youthful, vibrant Callaway and the faded, delusional dowager that Gloria Swanson portrayed in Billy Wilder's 1950 black-and-white film.
Yet, Callaway is exactly the same age —51 — as Swanson was when she played the seemingly ancient silent-film star still waiting for another role from an industry that had forgotten her.
“I don't think of myself as 50. Even hearing myself described as 50 seems strange,” says Callaway, who begins performances Tuesday in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of “Sunset Boulevard.”
“But then,” Callaway says, “neither does Norma. ... She still sees herself as the star (she was) at 16.”
Unlike her character, Callaway still is very much in demand as a performer.
Known primarily as a singer, her website calendar — www.lizcallaway.com — is filled with a string of singing engagements with symphony orchestras and at intimate performance spaces around the country. Her most recent album, “Boom,” which she recorded last year at Birdland with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway, debuted at 19th place on the Billboard jazz chart.
Those commitments, generally booked a year or more in advance, have made it more difficult for her to accept theater roles that arise on much shorter notice, even though that's where she got her start.
After making her Broadway debut in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Merrily We Roll Along,” she received a Tony nomination for her work in “Baby” and went on to spend five years on Broadway as Grizabella in “Cats.”
Last year, she appeared in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's production of “Love Changes Everything,” a musical revue that paid tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber with renditions of all or part of 32 of his songs.
Callaway credits the success of that show, in which she sang selections from “Sunset Boulevard,” for her return appearance.
Soon after the show ended, she was performing a concert in Stockholm when she got the call offering her the role in “Sunset Boulevard.”
“Fortunately, it was far enough in advance and a short enough time commitment (for rehearsal and performance),” she says. “It's one of the great roles of musical theater for women to get to play.”
It's also a role that benefits from her age and experience, she says.
Roles for older actresses are few, Callaway says.
“But the good thing is that there are a small number of roles you can't do until you get older,” she says. “I have a whole lifetime of experience to bring to those roles.”
Callaway has spent time searching through experiences from her theater career to find parallels that will connect her to her character.
“I'm finding my way through the journey she takes. What she goes through is so tragic. Yet, I feel such fondness for her. She can be an over-the-top character. But I want the audience to feel for her. She is a human being. There is so much there,” Callaway says.
Although the brevity of the rehearsal period is somewhat daunting, Callaway was looking forward to the challenge of the role. “It's always exhilarating and scary to explore that dark side. That's why it's a great role.”
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or email@example.com.
- New York mayoral candidate Weiner uses Pittsburgh as backdrop
- Pens will unveil even bigger TV screen for fans in Game 5
- Kovacevic: It’s about time for these Penguins
- Penguins turn Game 4 into a blowout victory over the Senators
- Tarentum man charged with Tuesday’s bank robbery in Harrison
- Whitehall couple sues Pittsburgh zoo over son’s mauling by painted dogs
- Neal, Iginla get back on track to lead Penguins
- Steelers veteran outside linebacker Woodley: ‘I’m good to go’
- Penguins notebook: Morrow sits; Bylsma changes lineup
- Motorist runs light and hits bus, injuring five, before driving away
- Senators on cusp of ouster against Penguins
You must be signed in to add comments
To comment, click the Sign in or sign up at the very top of this page.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.