Sunday July 14, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Sibling rivalry or sibling revelry?

To hear sisters Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway tell it, it's a bit of both, but mostly a musical and personal mutual admiration society as they bring their updated "Sibling Revelry" concert to Barrington Stage. Each singer is widely admired for top-level Broadway, concert hall and small-stage performances.

The combination of classic show tunes, pop standards and banter comes to the 99-seat Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden Street, tonight and Monday evening at 8.

The sold-out shows are among the star attractions of Mr. Finn's Cabaret's first season, named for Barrington Stage's resident musical-theater composer and lyricist WIlliam Finn, who personally invited the Callaways to perform.

Reached during a Nantucket getaway, Liz Callaway, at 52 still feeling like the kid sister, acknowledged that ""when we were children, there was rivalry. It was probably hard to be the baby sister of Ann because she was so accomplished. so I felt it. We didn't become really close until we moved to New York City in 1979."

Interviewed separately from her home in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., Ann Hampton Callaway, 55, also confessed that "at the beginning of our professional lives, I felt some discomfort when she was on Broadway first [in Stephen Sondheim's 1981 ‘Merrily We Roll Along']."

But, before long, each sister had forged separate but equally distinctive careers in theater, with orchestras and in cabaret settings. They created "Sibling Revelry" in 1996 for a CD and for the chance to appear together, including shows at the long-defunct Stockbridge Cabaret in the former DeSisto School.

"It's remarkable how well we get along," Ann remarked. "We try to be as supportive of one another as possible. But there were earlier times when people knew her more than they knew me, and vice versa. So it took us a while to start performing together because we were a little afraid to be compared."

This year, reviving their sister act after having shelved it for several years, both performers revel in their duets and solos, intertwined with anecdotes and reminiscences.

Still, according to Liz, "although we are our biggest supporters and best friends, it would be dishonest to say one might not have felt a little pain when something nice happened to the other person. It's natural."

"We've been very fortunate to have both had great careers," she continued. "We are each other's champions."

During the show, Liz admitted, "I love being the ‘fake mean' bratty little sister to Ann."

This past week, they were putting finishing touches on the revised show with pianist Alex Rybeck, a Manhattan-based stage stalwart.

As always, Liz will include her all-time favorite, "Meadowlark," with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz from his 1989 show "The Baker's Wife." The song, which often brings listeners close to tears, has been covered by performers such as Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, Alice Ripley and Sarah Brightman.

The current version of their show emphasizes the performers' contrasting styles and personalities, Liz explained. "A lot of people don't realize we're sisters because we're so different," she said. "One time, many years ago after we finished a show, someone came up to us and claimed that we're not really sisters. I can understand that. It's surprising to us what happens when we sing together."

Although "Sibling Revelry" is a musical and personal retrospective emphasizing show tunes, the sisters have created a sequel, "Boom," which Liz described as "the soundtrack of our childhood. We talk a lot about our musical influences. Our tastes were wildly different growing up; Ann was into Joni Mitchell, I was more Fifth Dimension."

" ‘Sibling Revelry' has resonated with so many people," Liz asserted. "We've spent a lot of time creating it and polishing it. It's very timeless and I'm amazed how many people know it."

"We've punched up the lyrics and added a few more recent jokes," Ann said. Duets from "Wicked" and "Chicago" have been added.

Now, 17 years after its debut, the show is more "poignant," according to Ann, "because we have more distance looking back at our childhood. It becomes a more beautiful memory since we've both lived through so much. So when we sing these songs, we bring a level of maturity. We've become closer and singing together added depth to our relationship. There's more love and we have a very profound sense of a shared life experience."

Ann starred on Broadway in "Swing!" the 1999 musical showcasing the works of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, and has emphasized jazz as well as the Great American Songbook in recent years. Her musical idols include Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Barbra Streisand. On the other hand, Liz has gravitated primarily to musical theater repertoire.

"I would love for Liz and I to do a show on Broadway," said Ann.

Revelry, a hint of continuing rivalry but above all, devotion to their music and to each other sums up the Callaway sisters in the fourth decade of their joint and individual endeavors.

Reflecting the tight-knit world of New York show business, Ann pointed out that occasionally they find themselves competing. "If we're both auditioning for the same thing, the person who makes it has to take the other out for dinner," she said.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com or
(413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto