Review: Callaway embodies Streisand in Pittsburgh Pops show
The Pittsburgh Symphony Pops journey through the “Barbra Streisand Songbook” with Ann Hampton Callaway was an increasingly involving experience at the Nov. 14 concert, the start of a four-performance run at Heinz Hall.
Callaway is a superb song stylist, but it was as a songwriter that she first met Streisand, who was an inspiration for her career. Callaway slipped easily into Streisand's speaking accent, but never for long because she has much more to offer than impersonation.
The program included two songs from Jule Styne's 1964 hit show “Funny Girl” which, along with the 1968 film based on the show, was the big breakthrough in Streisand's career. In “People,” Callaway perfectly captured Streisand accents on the word “happiest,” but shaped the song with her own personality — including vocal characteristics.
Callaway was never less than engaging as she talked about her life, including the circumstances and hopes she felt while composing some of her songs. Her sly humor came through in many ways. One example was her waiting to tell the audience that the evening was particularly emotional for her because her ex was sitting right in front of her in the first row. After complimenting the lady with him, she then launched into the planned performance of “Lover Come Back to Me.”
The late Marvin Hamlisch used to offer a “Rent-a-Composer” segment in which he would pick one of the ideas for a song called out by the audience and then improvise a song — words and music. Callaway offered her own improvised song with nice rhymes on an imaginary Streisand romance in Pittsburgh. It was based on a dozen details offered by the audience — he's a steelworker, she's a therapist; they meet at Primanti's, go to the Fairmont and so on. It was a tour de force with a sense of humor.
Callaway also gave a sensitive account of Hamlisch's Academy Award-winning title song for “The Way We Were,” another of Streisand's hit films and songs.
Two beautiful songs Callaway wrote for Streisand were among the evening's high points. “At the Same Time” is a touchingly idealistic song. Callaway also wrote the words of “I've Dreamed of You,” which Streisand sang to her husband, James Brolin, at their wedding.
The first half opened with the Symphonic Scenario from Richard Rodgers' “South Pacific,” arranged by the great Richard Russell Bennett, with Fawzi Haimor leading the orchestra in a clean but cool performance. It was followed by an equally good performance of Bennett's arrangement of Styne's Overture to “Funny Girl.”
This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Nov. 16, and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $119.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.