A Revel With A Cause: Liz and Ann Callaway in Sibling Revelry

You may not necessarily know these sisters from Chicago as ‘household names’ but you’ve most certainly heard their work, and now they are heading to Australia for a series of concerts as part of our winter cabaret frenzy!

Siblings Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway are both Cabaret and Broadway legends and their show Sibling Revelry is playing theatres in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney this year as part of a special tour down under!

Liz and Ann Callaway
Liz and Ann Callaway

Ann Hampton Callaway wrote and sang the theme song to the popular sitcom The Nanny (now you’ve got the song running on repeat in your head, don’t you?) and is also considered one of the best jazz singers in the world. Her sister Liz is the singing voice of Anastasia in the much loved animated film.

Ann’s other career highlights include writing songs for the biggest names in show biz (from Barbara Streisand to Carole King) and she is the only composer to have collaborated with the late Cole Porter.

Liz Callaway is best known for her work on Broadway and as a recording artist. A Tony Nominee and Emmy Award-winning actress, singer and recording artist, she made her Broadway debut as Mary in the original Broadway cast of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and received a Tony Award nomination for her performance in Baby. Callaway played Young Sally in the famous star-studded cast of Sondheim’s Follies and for five years, won acclaim as Grizabella in Cats. She has also starred in the original Broadway casts of Miss Saigon, The Three Musketeers, and The Look of Love.

So now, this duo from Chicago are heading down under to bring Sibling Revelry (first performed in NYC in 1995) to Australian audiences in Sydney on June 23 at The Basement and to Melbourne Recital Centre on June 25 after their appearance at The Adelaide Cabaret Festival (June 20 -21).

We chat with both sisters ahead of their Australian tour!

Revelry v Rivalry

I love that your show is called Sibling Revelry! Is there any rivalry between you at all? And if so – what percentage versus revelry?

LIZ: The rivalry that we play up in our show is all in fun. When we were kids there was definitely some sibling rivalry; I found it difficult to be the baby sister of someone who was so accomplished. But now, I’d say the percentage is 98% revelry, 2% rivalry.

ANN: I think rivalry happens when people think someone else is getting more than their fair share. As kids, I thought Liz had advantages being the adored baby and Liz thought I had advantages being the older kid, doing things older kids do. We were both right. Now that we are adults and are a team, that rivalry is as good as gone. Every now and then a percent or two might creep in if someone has a bout of extra good luck. For the most part I’d call our story “A Revel With A Cause” to play off the James Dean Movie.

There are quite a few famous singing families/siblings that seem to have been gifted with extraordinary voices like yours – why do you think this phenomenon happens? What family influences did you have? 

LIZ: I don’t know how it happens! I think Ann and I very lucky to be born with good genes; our mom is a wonderful singer/voice teacher and our dad loved to scat sing. And now I’m pleased to say that my son Nick is following in our footsteps and has quite a voice himself!

ANN: It’s all about designer genes! When we were growing up I thought all mothers sang torch songs at their piano at 3:00 in the afternoon when their kids came home from school. I thought all dads sang scat and did interpretive dancing on a Sunday morning. We were the Von Trapp family of Chicago and there was no turning back!

This show was first performed many years ago. How did the show come about and how was the material chosen?

LIZ: For years, Ann and I had very busy solo careers. I was doing Broadway, Ann was singing around the country. We always said that we should do a show together and then someone hired us to do an evening at the Russian Tea Room – so we were forced to put together a show. We had so much fun, we said let’s do it again! Thus, Sibling Revelry was born. As much as I enjoy performing on my own, nothing is better than singing with Ann.

It was so long ago; I don’t actually remember how we chose our material. Although it was a very collabartive effort between Ann. Me. Alex Rybeck our Musical Director and Dan Foster, our director. (who happens to be my husband)

ANN: Thank goodness for Donald Smith, who was one of cabaret’s biggest champions in NY. He asked Liz and me to put our first sister show together for his Russian Tea Room Series. It was great fun and the ice was finally broken. I think someone reached out from Rainbow and Stars next and we put our full creative efforts into crafting a show with Alex Rybeck, our musical director, and Dan Foster, our director, who have both been our collaborative team on all sister projects to this day. We brainstormed well together, choosing to do a semi autobiographical celebration of moving to NY to pursue our dreams and having fun with the rivalry theme. I came up with the title which surprisingly Liz agreed to, despite being a hater of puns. Sometimes we came up with things on our own like my jazzy take on ‘Friendship’ which Dan helped craft further for the rivalry theme.  Liz came up with medley ideas and worked further with Alex to develop The Huge Medley. But the real work came from countless hours around the piano trying things out and fine tuning what felt exciting and stayed true to theme. While we are different stylistically we all share the same sense of devotion to lyric and story.

How do you enjoy working in the same profession?

LIZ: I think we’re really lucky that we’ve both had very successful careers in the same profession. We also are able to help each other out through ups and downs of this business, because we really are best friends! Occasionally, we’ll audition for the same project – if one of us gets the job she has to take the other one out for dinner. If neither one of us get the job, then we both go out drinking!

ANN: It’s so amazing to have a collaborator who you know as well as your own flesh and blood. And that means you also have your own 24 hour hotline because we always understand the ups and downs of the business. Liz and I are ‘spiritual advisors’ for each other and call each other up when we need advice. But the best thing of all is that we inspire each other to do our best.

Keeping it Fresh

How have you kept the show ‘fresh’ and relevant over the years and is there any new material that has been added along the way?

LIZ: We recently brought back Sibling Revelry to New York City for the first time in fifteen years. We spent a lot of time updating our patter to reflect where we are in our lives today. Most of the songs are the same, although the Huge Medley is now even huger!

ANN: Part of being a pro is keeping things fresh by using whatever is going on in our lives to add to the context. Over the years, these songs have added layers of meaning and it makes doing this show today so rich.  We always tweak our patter for each show to connect with the audience and our lives. We’ve freshened up some novelty lines in songs like ‘Friendship’. The Huge Medley has aquired some surprises from a few shows which became hits after we premiered our show. But the truth is, the songs in this show are so timeless, they stand the test of time and always inspire our fullest commitment to them. That is a testament to the level of writing of these composers and lyricists.

What is your favourite song/s in the show?

LIZ: I love all the songs in the show, but I especially love doing the Huge Medley and our twisted version of ‘Friendship’.

The Callaway Sisters as children
The Callaway Sisters as children

ANN: My favourite solo to sing is My Buddy/Old Friend which has become a personal anthem for me. My favourite duet is The Huge Medley – so insane and fun – and a real tour de force that pulls out all the stops of sisterhood.

What is your favourite song that your sister sings in the show?

LIZ: ‘My Buddy/Old Friend’

ANN: That’s hard to choose because everything Liz sings is so gorgeous. Today I’d say ‘Meadowlark’ because in my mind, Liz’s is the definitive version.

Who is your favourite composer to sing?

LIZ: That’s hard. I can’t pick one, so I’ll say Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, and Maltby/Shire

ANN: What a hard question. Favourite theatre composer is Sondheim. Favourite standards composer is Arlen or Gershwin. But singing my own songs that I’ve written from my life experiences is as personal as it gets.

On With The Show

You have both been in original Broadway casts – can you tell us what it was like performing in your first Broadway show?

LIZ: It was amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. My first show was Merrily We Roll Along and I was in the chorus. I got to work with Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince on a very special show that ultimately failed (we ran for two weeks.) I always say it was the ideal first Broadway show experience because it prepared me for a career in this business. Having Merrily be my first show was particular sweet because the first Broadway show I ever saw was Company when I was 9 years old. Same composer, director, book write and even the same theatre!

ANN: I love to quip that it “took 21 years to become an overnight sensation.”  It was harder than I imagined because our cast of Swing! had to essentially create our show from the bottom up. And it was more amazing than I could have imagined because all our years of hard work created a hit show that brought such joy to people. I got to chose my songs, arrange them and craft a role for myself that showed all the facets of me as a singer and a person. That rarely happens.

Who are your idols?

LIZ: Growing up, my idols were Eydie Gorme, Pamela Myers (from the show Company), Marilyn McCoo (from the Fifth Dimension), and Barbra Streisand.

ANN: I’ve been inspired by people of all walks of life. Musical idols include Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, George Gershwin and Leontyne Price. They say a nightingale doesn’t know how to sing until they hear another nightingales’s song. Then they can sing for life. These and many others are my nightingales.

What can our Australian audiences look forward to with your show and what do you look forward to in coming to Australia?

LIZ: I think the Australian audiences can look forward to an evening of great music, lots of laughs, but is also quite moving as well.

This will be my third trip to Australia. I love it so much; I love the people, I love the coffee, and I love the wine! I can’t wait to be there this time with Ann so I can show her around.

ANN: They can LizandAnn-ticipate a night of great songs and stories all shared with the palpable feeling of love, joy and mischief! What do I look forward to? I always love the people of Australia. I’ve said many times that I’ve never met an Australian I didn’t like. It’s a country with no strangers. Sharing this all with Liz and my partner, whose never been to Australia, will make it extra special.

What’s next for you after Australia?

LIZ: A lot of sleep! Lots of interesting concerts coming up including one with Michael Feinstein, one with Allan Menken as well as more shows with my sister. This past Christmas I produced my first Christmas album called Merry and Bright. I really enjoyed producing as well as recording, so I am planning another CD as well. And I’m happy to say I will be returning to Australia in 2015, but I can’t say where yet. (:

ANN: I am excited that my new CD The Sarah Vaughan Project will be released on Shanachie Records in July and I’ll be touring that show.  I will continue doing my very popular Streisand Songbook show with symphony orchestras. And this year I am excited to be singing in South Africa for the second time- such an amazing culture.

Are you planning to collaborate on more work together in the future?

ANN:  Liz and I have a new show we are in the beginning stages of creating called Westside Story to Wicked: Broadway with the Callaways. It’s going to be another wild ride!

LIZ: It depends on if Ann behaves herself in Australia!

For more information about Liz and Ann’s tour visit:




Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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