Theater Shorts

Calloway, Muse and Knuffle Bunny

Anne Calloway.
Anne Calloway.

If you know about and love the loosely bordered Great American Songbook, you probably know about her.

If you like women who are smart, witty, and talk your ears off in a good way, you should know her.

If you miss the lost art of scat singing, you’ve heard her.

If you’ve ever watched “The Nanny” originally or in reruns, and can’t get that theme song out of your head, you know a tiny sliver of her work.

If you like jazz, even if you call it blues, if you remember running across an old Nina Simone song on a jukebox that’s never there any more, or remember Ella Fitzgerald racing like a piano player on a keyboard through a Cole Porter tune, you need to know about her.

We’re talking about Ann Hampton Callaway — chestnut hair, Chicago dynamo, versatility-plus, singer, songwriter, living the hectic life of both a performing singer and a recording star, traveling this way and that way, from San Diego to Moscow to Spain to D.C., not to mention her heart-felt home in New York.

Callaway, who did indeed write the theme song of “The Nanny,” will be at the Warner Theater May 15, in a great jazz double bill with legendary jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis. It’s a good time to find out about her if you haven’t.

We talked to Callaway on the phone recently while she was riding in a car driven by her sister Liz, herself a Broadway star and singer in San Diego, where they were doing a concert.

“It’s hectic being on the road, the different kinds of venues, the traveling,” says Callaway, whose latest album “At Last” includes the Etta James classic as its title track. “But I’ve settled too. New York is where I live, where my life is.”

But she’s also a Chicago lady, a singer from the town of blues. For the best introduction to Callaway, check out her album “Blues in the Night.” “It’s about the blues, not necessarily blues songs,” she said. That’s why it’s hard to categorize her, to label her as a kind of singer although she’s richly known for her interpretation of the Great American Songbook, those songs that come from Porter by way of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin and so forth. She’s also in the world of cabaret, jazz and pop.

“I don’t like labels,” she says. “I know I’m a jazz singer, but I have no problem singing pop. “She gets a kick out of the Nanny theme thing. “We were in Berlin during a concert,” she says. “I called out to see if anybody knew the Nanny song. And you wouldn’t believe it. Everybody did, they hollered in unison.”

The singers you remember, of course, are the originals. Never mind for a moment her monumental output of songwriting — some 250 or so. Callaway seems to know, having made her way from Chicago, to college wanting initially to be an actress and discovering her true self and packing up for New York, that no two good, let alone great, singers are alike. And she appreciates the long list of originals.

She wrote as fine an appreciation of one singer by another this year in a jazz magazine, a tribute to Blossom Dearie, the whispery-voiced break-your-heart jazz singer who passed away this year. “There was nobody like her, nobody at all,” she said.

The bet is that there’s nobody like Callaway either. Just check out her scat-fueled numbers on “Blues in the Night,” the lively, anthem-like, breezy “I’m-Too-White-To-Sing-the-Blues Blues”, or “It’s All Right With Me.” She’s a Tony Award winner, songwriter and been-around-a-while force of musical nature. Check her out.


Zinoman's Successor
David Muse, the young gifted director who has also been associate director of Washington’s Shakespeare Theater Company since 2005, has been chosen to succeed founder Joy Zinoman at the Studio Theatre beginning with the 2010-2011 season. He’ll direct the season opener, Annie Baker’s off-Broadway hit “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

Zinoman, who is directing David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” at the Studio with Ed Gero, said that “David’s story is the classic American story of a smart, talented kid from a small town who finds his passion, pursues it with dedication and intensity and manages to win friends and admirers by virtue of his charm, sensitivity and intelligence.”

Muse called his new job “the dream of a lifetime.” He’s no stranger to the Studio either, having started his directing career here in 2005, and directing a successful production of Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” here most recently, as well as David Harrower’s “Blackbird,” which won the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Production in 2008. At Shakespeare Theatre, he directed the recent highly acclaimed production of “Henry V.”


The International 2010 VSA Festival
Very Special Arts, the international organization on arts and disability, will host the 2010 International VSA Festival, featuring more than 600 artists, performers and educators from all over the world June 6 through 12.

The festival will feature theater, literary readings, film screenings, sculptures and paintings, all by eminent and emerging artists with disabilities, as well as educators who will shares innovative instruction strategies.

Venues will include the Kennedy Center, the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, the Atlas Performing Arts Center , Busboys and Poets, DC Improv, GWU’s Lisner Auditorium, Union Station, Smithsonian’s International Gallery and Discovery Theater, The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Harman Hall and Lansburgh Theatre, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the H Street Playhouse.

For more details and information, go to www.vsartsfestival.org.


Ashley Does Shaw
Noted actress Elizabeth Ashley returns to the Shakespeare Theatre Company to star in the company’s final play of the season, George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” beginning June 8.

Ashley, who performed to acclaim in “August: Osage County” on Broadway, is joined by Amanda Quaid, Ted Van Griethuysen and David Sabin, under the direction of Keith Baxter.


Knuffle Bunny
“Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical,” is now at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater, with Tony Award nominee Stephanie D’Abruzzo and music by composer Michael Silversher. The production is based on the prize winning children’s book “Knuffle Bunny,” adapted by author Mo Williams.

“Knuffle Bunny” is about a toddler named Trixie who misplaces her beloved stuffed bunny, and goes on a journey to find him.

The musical runs through May 23.

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