Not many people could transition from Disney-esque princess to Broadway "Baby" and Sondheim sweetheart. But Liz Calloway proved that all things are possible in her appearance Monday night at the Pittsburgh Trust Cabaret at Theater Square.
Her voice ringing with youthful clarity and captivating innocence, she used Lesley Gore's 1960s teen anthem of emancipation, "You Don't Own Me," as a launching pad for a chameleon-like yet self-assured cabaret act.
After skillfully mining some little-known gems such as Steven Schwartz's "Meadowlark" from "The Baker's Wife" and "Since You Stayed Here" from the off-Broadway production of "Brownstone," she embraced "My Heart Is So Full of You" from "The Most Happy Fella" with an honesty that connected all of her songs.
Ms. Calloway then returned to her animated life, which included singing parts in "Aladdin and the King of Thieves," "Lion King 2," "Beauty and the Beast" and, most famously, the title role in "Anastasia." That film received an Oscar nomination for best original song, "Journey to the Past," and received a lovely place on the evening's musical menu.
Next it was back to the '60s with an audience participation twist on Petula Clark's "Downtown." The pop hit took on a whole new meaning with the cabaret group, who laughingly responded "Dahntahn!" in true Pittsburgh-ese. The New York singer, who previously appeared in the Civic Light Opera production of "Sunset Boulevard" here, was still taken by surprise. She got the explanation from the front tables at the end of the song.
Ms. Calloway pushed things into another gear with a Sondheim segment as her voice took on darker shadings and texture. Maybe it was the sophisticated "internal rhymes and infernal counts" of the Broadway composer, but the lyrics and music fit her like a silk glove.
After songs such as "What More Do I Need" (from one of his early shows, "Saturday Night") and "Not a Day Goes By" (coincidentally Ms. Calloway's first Sondheim show, "Merrily We Roll Along"), she began "Another Hundred People" from "Company."
After several false starts and with audience encouragement, she paused and began again to sing: "Another hundred lyrics just flew out of my brain...," a Lauren Mayer parody of those same "internal rhymes and infernal counts" that Mr. Sondheim so elegantly produces.
It was nothing less than a show-stopper, even with "the tricky meter and the picky words in absurd amounts," that Ms. Calloway so expertly negotiated.
Seemingly spurred on by her encounter with Mr. Sondheim, Ms. Calloway went on to sing "Memory" from "Cats," which she performed for an extended run on Broadway. And as the audience listened, she shifted gears one more time, not abandoning her soaring soprano, but tapping it to belt out those iconic climactic notes as few singers can do.
Ms. Calloway wasn't done yet. In an unusual move, she chose the not-so-familiar "Story Goes On" from "Baby," for which she won a Tony nomination. It related the moment that a young pregnant mother feels her baby's first kick. Yet Ms. Calloway made it universal with subtle hints of emotion, making this song the ultimate touch of intimacy in a warmly inviting evening.
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.