Expansion for The Artist Series of Sarasota has not only meant more performances, it’s meant different kinds of series, from classical to pop. And last week when it presented the electrifying Liz Callaway and Alex Rybeck, the series positively popped over the top.
You’ll remember Callaway from her award-winning performances on and off Broadway — “Baby,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” “The Spitfire Grill” and “A Stephen Sondheim Evening” — to being the singing voice of myriad Disney characters — “Anastasia” and “Beauty and the Beast” (she was Beauty ...).
In person, she’s an adorably talented package of enthusiastic vocal prowess and estimable acting, so that a simply smile and story about her private and public lives has audiences groveling at her feet. From Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” to the pop songs of the ’70s, she is a balladeer whose sung words weave stories that touch our hearts.
Her pianist and music director, Rybeck, had better watch out! His musical arrangements can steal the spotlight. They make each song into a new piece of music, often more glorious than the one we thought we knew. “The Beat Goes On,” for example, took on new meaning with his innovative modulations and chord progressions. He may take a back bench at the piano to Callaway’s bright and perky rapport with the audience, but his inventive, often ingenious way with his instrument brilliantly enhances and creatively complements his partner’s singing. Together, they’re dynamic dynamite.
The wonderful thing about going to a cabaret-type performance, even in a concert hall setting, is that you get to know the performers. By the end of the evening with Callaway and Rybeck, we felt that we were all friends who’d shared a charming day getting to know each other. There wasn’t any schtick or over-the-top mugging. It was pure performance and music. Who could ask for anything more?