Acclaimed American singer and songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway reunites with her London audience for only four exclusive concerts at the heart of Chelsea and Soho. Guillermo Názara reviews the very first of these unique performances, to let us know about the show going through the passions and achievements of one the most prominent jazz composers in the last decades.
Words paint pictures. Music enters the soul. Sentiment does the rest. No wonder than in any musical, those are often the only creative credits for which the big print is reserved. Bookwriting, however, is a completely separate matter. In some way, it could easily be compared to a sanitation worker – nobody seems to appreciate what they do, but when they’re missing, you’d better start panicking. Regardless of the kind of show you’re set to watch, it’s a no brainer that productions featuring a compelling storytelling (let’s give Cats the honourable title of ‘the exception that proves the rule’) are far more prone to succeed with their audiences, as our human essence makes us crave for tales – whether it’s fiction, reality or gossip.
Last week, American singer-songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway crossed the pond to reunite with her London viewers. With an impressive career spanding for several prolific years, Callaway has established herself as a widely repected composer through contributions ranging from Barbra Streisand or Carole King’s repertoire to classic TV series such as The Nanny (the latter also featuring her own performance). Such a background sets a strong foundation (and expectation) for what a one-woman concert starring herself could be all about – and, to some extent, that’s what it’s been.
Close your eyes and let your ears be your sight. What do you picture? What do you see? If you have never heard of her before, you might as well think the person sitting by the piano is not that middle-aged white lady you’ve found in the photograph above. Press the keys and the spirit of jazz and soul (no pun intended) absorbe her to release the power of her artistic self – a completely different being, an animal of some sorts, with a voice as forceful as the passionate stamina stemming from her commitment to what she’s singing. Love is a theme Callaway usually recurs (usually unrequitted, though) and that’s no doubt the word that describes her rendition the best – a love for what she does and for what she plays.
Though conceived and announced as a concert, the show is however still far from being a finalised piece, as a lack for cohesiveness, structure and narrative come in almost as many spades as the zeal of her interpretation. With a second act far better and more varied than the first one, Let’s Fall in Love has the unrealised capability to be the perfect intimate gig, but halts its run to the finish by a nearly complete lack of a script and, above all, a storyline. It’s true she does approach the audience and give some little speeches once in a while (yet not as frequently as desired), but the chosen tunes seem to be scattered all over the place, when that same material could lead to a much more flawless and seamless recitle.
Putting the creative / producer hat on, it’s difficult not envision a entirely reorganised show, where the jazz standards (a bit too many altogether in the beginning) and the ballads would intertwine through a narration of obstacle overcoming and an aim for inspiration. Hence, the title would no longer be Let’s Fall in Love, but You’re No Good, a reference to an amazing bombastic composition featured in the second half, which at the same time would have done a much better job as the opening number. Enthralling an audience is often grounded on relatability – and that could have been achieved through a story on somebody told to have no purpose, to be not enough, but anyway still fighting all destruction attempts by following a dream that ultimately comes true. Has it been done before? More than a Disney princess crying for a man she just met, but just as Uncle Walt’s pictures, this would be no less effective.
Despite its need for raconteur improvement, Let’s Fall in Love is still a much enjoyable homage to both Callaway herself and the genre that has defined not only her career but most probably a great deal of her life. Maybe it’s not the one to follow its title’s lead, and hence I can’t go head over heels for it, yet it’s certainly an experience to like, remember and. why not, repeat in due course. When the potential dwells within the artist, a promising light always beacons onstage.
Anne Hampton Callaway performed in London last week at both the Pheasantry (Let’s Fall In Love) and Soho’s Pizza Express (Fever!: The Peggy Lee Century).