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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Groovy Music: The Divalicious Ann Hampton Callaway at Chicago's Mayne Stage


I still miss Toulouse, the intimate cabaret bar in Chicago where I was fortunate enough to see Julie Wilson, Karen Akers, Lee Lessack and many others perform back in the '90s. However, there was one lovely and talented lady whom I saw more than anyone else, and her name is - you guessed it - the divine Ann Hampton Callaway. I remember sitting in that cozy little room on Lincoln Park West with a few friends, listening to this groovy gal croon a few tunes as she sat at the piano - and usually her father, the late John Callaway, was in the audience, so he would easily be persuaded to join his daughter for a song or two. It was always a fun and memorable evening whenever we would go see Ms. Callaway in concert.

Fast forward 10+ years to last night watching Callaway at the new Mayne Stage in Chicago - it seemed like old times with a familiar friend. The Mayne Stage theater/cabaret space is much larger than Toulouse with 299 seats, but it still has an intimate feeling. However, I think the singer herself had a lot to do with making all of us in the audience feel like we were hanging out in her living room. She's such a personable performer who really connects with her adoring public through back-and-forth banter and amusing stories. Callaway doesn't just stand up there on the stage, smiling at everyone as she sings one song after another. She engages you with her candid conversation - as a potential "Diva of America" should. That's the important position that she's running for - and she's even written a catchy song as part of her campaign called "It's Hip to Be Happy". Judging from her fabulous performance last night, I think the lady has already captured the title.

Accompanied by a terrific three-piece band - Stu Miller on bass, Charles Heath on drums, and the wonderful Reggie Thomas at the piano - Callaway began the evening with the Cole Porter tune, "Just One of Those Things". She then informed us that she was not the daughter of Lionel Hampton and Cab Calloway and dedicated the show to her father, John, before proceeding to blow the roof off the building with a rousing rendition of the hilarious "The I'm Too White to Sing The Blues Blues". I love her sense of humor, which was in full gear last night as she dropped a few names of stars she's met or worked with, including "Bob" DeNiro, Barbra Streisand, Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, whom she almost asked to adopt her. She also shared interesting stories about the songs that she chose to sing - "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" (which Frank Sinatra recorded after Ava Gardner broke up with him) and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (from Carole King's 1971 album, Tapestry, which she bought as a pre-teen). But if I had to choose my favorite tune of the evening, I would have to go with "Summertime" from the 1935 opera, Porgy and Bess. After Callaway's amazing jazz performance of this song, my partner whispered to me that that was the best version he'd ever heard - and I had to agree.

Of course, all good things must come to an end - but for her encore, Callaway took me back in time once again to Toulouse when she would always create an original song at the piano with help from her audience. Last night various folks offered up such unique words as "Stanley Cup", "pickle barrel", "garbage can" and "sensational sequin tunic" (which Callaway was wearing), and the songstress was able to weave them all into a patriotic song about America, which left her fans smiling. It was yet another memorable evening with the marvelous Ann Hampton Callaway.

I highly recommend that you go see her tonight at Mayne Stage (1328 W. Morse Ave.), where she'll be performing two shows at 7:30 and 10 pm. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 773-381-4554 or go to maynestage.com, and for further information on Callaway, go to annhamptoncallaway.com.


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