Callaway honors Arlen at Ravinia
Ann Hampton Callaway
‘A Tribute to Harold Arlen’
Ann Hampton Callaway and the John Pizzarelli Quartet, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Ravinia Festival, Lake Cook and Green Bay roads, Highland Park
5 p.m. Sunday, August 5; park opens at 3 p.m.
Tickets can be ordered at www.ravinia.org or (847) 266-5100
Updated: July 31, 2012 6:48PM
The summer after Ann Hampton Callaway graduated from New Trier Township High School in Winnetka, she worked at an usher at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. “I was madly in love with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” she said, when reached by phone at her home in Manhattan, “and I still am.”
On Sunday Aug. 5 she will be singing on the stage of the festival pavilion, accompanied by the CSO, conducted by Ted Sperling. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be singing with this wonderful orchestra,” she said.
Her program will be a tribute to Harold Arlen, a 20th century American composer who wrote more than 400 songs, including “Over the Rainbow,” “Get Happy,” “Stormy Weather,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”
“I remember the first Harold Arlen song I ever heard,” she said. “It was ‘Over the Rainbow,’ and I heard it when we went to see ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”
“Over the Rainbow” has been called the song of the 20th century, she explained. “It’s about dreams and this country was built on dreams,” she declared. “It starts off with a full octave leap — it’s the arc of the rainbow, bringing people together.”
Callaway regards Arlen, who lived from 1905 to 1986, as one of the primary composers of the Great American Songbook, of which she is an unabashed champion.
“In some ways Arlen opened me up to more gutsy songs,” she explained. “I usually sang pretty songs, but then I thought, why not try something different.”
She mentioned Arlen’s “Blues in the Night,” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, which she sang eight times a week in the 2000 Broadway musical “Swing.” She received a Tony nomination for that performance, and she will sing the song in her Ravinia show.
“Arlen’s dad was a cantor,” she said, “and you can hear that soulfulness in Arlen’s music. His songs have so much emotional color.”
She has worked with conductor Ted Sperling on her program, which will include songs from her Streisand songbook, Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Let’s Fall in Love,” and Chris Walden’s arrangement “Over the Rainbow.”
“It’s not the Judy Garland arrangement,” she said, “but it’s a timeless version that everyone can sing.”
With Callaway is the John Pizzarelli Quartet. “John is a wonderful jazz artist,” she said. “We’ll have a little banter between us during the show.”
This is not Callaway’s first appearance at the Ravinia Festival. On June 30 and July, 1, 2002, she and her sister Liz Callaway, also a Tony-nominated Broadway star, did a show titled “Sibling Revelry” in the Martin Theatre.
The two were raised in a creative family. Their father was the legendary television journalist, the late John Callaway, known for his award-winning work on WTTW, Chicago’s PBS affiliate.
“Our mother, Shirley Callaway, is one of the most sought after vocal coaches in New York,” the singer continued. “She sang in the Chicago Symphony Chorus and is on some of their Grammy-winning recordings.”
Last year Ann and Liz presented a program at New York’s Town Hall and their mother joined them in a few numbers.
This summer, just before coming to Ravinia, Callaway was the featured entertainer on a river boat cruise that visited Budapest, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague.
This energetic lady is more than a performer. She is a composer, lyricist, arranger, actress, recording artist and television host and producer. She created two shows for WTTW National in which she interviewed Liza Minnelli and Christine Ebersole, another Broadway star who grew up in Winnetka.
She and Liz developed a show titled “Boom.” as in baby-boomers, which features songs of the 1960s and 1970s. She is now working on a new radio series, titled “Singer’s Spotlight With Ann Hampton Callaway.”
A singing career involves working with others, but Callaway is also a composer, which initially is a solitary profession. When asked whether it was hard to find the time to compose, she answered affirmatively.
“I’ve made a resolution to take time out each day to work on a poem or a song,” she said. “It’s a great discipline for me. Sometimes it’s before I go to bed, but it can be any time of the day. I’ve even composed on airplanes.”
But she is particularly pleased to be coming back to the North Shore. “Any chance I have to go home, I do,” she said. “I’m proud to be from Chicago. I’ll always be a Midwestern girl.”