Review: Callaway in fine form as Pops celebrates Streisand songbook

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For those who don't associate songs like "The Sleepin' Bee" and "I've Dreamed of You" with Barbra Streisand, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's PNC Pops Series might prove to be just the ticket this weekend.

Ann Hampton Callaway, a velvet-voiced chanteuse who can belt it out with the best of them, has the chutzpah to take on The Streisand Songbook at Heinz Hall, a task much like climbing a musical Mount Everest.

'The Streisand Songbook' with Ann Hampton Callaway

Where: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra PNC Pops at Heinz Hall.

When: 8 tonight; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $21-$99; or 412-392-4900.

For the record, an 18-year-old Ms. Streisand performed "Bee" for her first appearance on national TV ("The Jack Paar Show") and her first recording. Ms. Calloway wrote "I've Dreamed" for Ms. Streisand's wedding to James Brolin.

She calls the great American songbook her passion, and some may recall her stellar appearance in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's "A Gershwin Fantasy" in 2011. This concert tapped Ms. Callaway's connections with a large-scale version of her cabaret act, complete with luxuriant arrangements led by PSO assistant conductor Fawzi Haimor, a promising staff addition loaded with personality (although he tended to rush his script delivery), and a precise beat.

The two vocal artists shared more than a pair of songs (Ms. Calloway also wrote "At the Same Time"). Of course, singing is all about breath control, and Ms. Calloway could create similarly terrific vocal arcs in tunes like "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "People." However, her bubbling uptempo version of "Evergreen" turned the Oscar-winning melody into the title song for an '80s sitcom.

And while there were hints of Streisand in the intense texture of Ms. Calloway's voice, she immersed it in her own jazz inflections, opting for a bluesy drift through "Cry Me a River" and several effortless scats throughout the evening.

Most surprising was her sense of humor -- she easily popped into killer Streisand imitations (the PSO sounded like "buttah") and composed a soap opera-worthy "Pittsburgh Love Story" on the spot at the piano. With suggestions from the audience, it involved a therapist and a steelworker who went to the Fairmont and ate at Primanti's.


When she opened up "On a Clear Day," listeners had a clearer picture of not only Ms. Streisand, but also another eternal romantic, Ms. Calloway, who can wrap her arms around a song and hug it for all it's worth.

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish:

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