REVIEW: Ann Hampton Callaway at Crazy Coqs

Ann Hampton Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway
(Crazy Coqs. 20th April 2015. Second night two of five. Review and photos by Leah Williams)

American singer-songwriter and musical tour de force Ann Hampton Callaway really has a presence like no other on stage. Multi-talented, with a rich, husky voice that travels up and down the octaves and spans genres with ease, astonishing skills at the piano, she has an easy rapport with the audience that makes you immediately feel as though you’ve somehow known her for ever. Hers is an  illustrious career which has been recognized in a Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination.

She’s currently back for another short residency at Crazy Coqs in Soho (ending Saturday 23rd May), this time showcasing her powerful vocals and crowd-pleasing sense of humour with a programme she has aptly named Female Persuasion – a celebration of female songwriters throughout the ages. Tackling well-known numbers from the early pioneers such as Peggy Lee and Dorothy Fields right through to contemporary powerhouses such as Joni Mitchell and Carole King, she also brings us a few surprise modern numbers including Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ and Sara Bareilles’ ‘Gravity’.

Ann Hampton Callaway is an accomplished songwriter herself, having written over 250 songs. We were treated to two of them: firstly ‘I Gaze In Your Eyes’ – a lovely number with a quite amazing story behind it. As opposed to much of the earlier music she sang tonight where it was mainly the lyrics that had been written by women (Peggy Lee’s ‘I Love Being Here With You’ and Carolyn Leigh’s ‘Witchcraft’) with music from their male counterparts, in this case the lyrics came from the genius Cole Porter but had never been set to music. Calloway “channelled her inner Cole” and came up with a number that was so adored by his estate that they ended up publishing it and it has since been covered by the likes of Elaine Page. She also finished with ‘Love and Let Love’, a piece she wrote with fellow singer-songwriter Michelle Brourman and one that is particularly apt in today’s ever-increasingly intolerant world.

The real highlight though was a rendition of ‘How High the Moon’ in imitation of Ella Fitzgerald, which she performed after wittily mimicking a few other well-known ladies: Billie Holiday, Barbara Streisand and Sarah Vaughan had all got the rather short end of her impression stick, but Ella received real adulation, an impressive imitation of her scatting style and a few special improvised lyrics thrown in as well. Another standout moment was a deeply poignant and moving version of ‘God Bless the Child’ remembering Billie Holiday, which showcased Callaway’s ability to move seamlessly from witty and light-hearted to serious and emotional with no sacrifice of quality or talent.

Callaway described how Carole King’s album ‘Tapestry’ had been the inspiration for her to become a musician – she saw the album in a shop window and bought it without even knowing who it was, wept, and subsequently announced to the world that this was what she was going to do with the rest of her life. Only right then, in a programme celebrating women and her musical inspirations, that she should perform King’s classic ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ successfully persuading the audience to join in on the choruses – with volume, and real enthusiasm. That was ironic, considering the several good-natured “Brit” jibes Callaway made throughout the evening (“I’d love to give you all a hug but you’re British so don’t worry, it can just be a virtual diva hug instead” – at which point she suggests we all hug ourselves and – again, amazingly – we actually do).

Callaway premiered Female Persuasion in New York last year with her jazz trio and jokes that we’re getting the special “Anne Naked” version tonight, “because who doesn’t love an emotional striptease?”. It’s true that the lovely intimate setting of Crazy Coqs seems well suited to her style of witty repartee and show(wo)manship but with a voice so big it almost threatens to burst out the walls at times it would perhaps be even more interesting to witness her in action at a larger venue.

For now though, she has just two more nights at Crazy Coqs, following which she will be at The Pheasantry with Joanna Strand and Jacqui Tate on Sunday evening (24th).

Links: Ann Hampton Callaway at Crazy Coqs
London Festival of Cabaret
Feature / interview with Ann Hampton Callaway from 2014

Categories: miscellaneous

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