Ann Hampton Callaway pays tribute to a legend and more with FEVER! THE CENTURY OF PEGGY LEE at 54 below
A truly special artist deserves to be honored by a truly special artist. An original must pay homage to an original. A woman of substance belongs to a woman of substance. And, this week at 54 Below, two women of substance, two originals, two really special artists are in the spotlight.
Two years ago, Peggy Lee would have been 100 years old. The music world and the world of fans who appreciated the contributions to society made by Legendary Lee all celebrated the occasion…but only in their hearts and in their homes. Peggy Lee’s centenary took place during the global health crisis, when clubs were closed and live entertainment was not possible, and the proposed celebration of Ann Hampton Callaway Peggy Lee was removed from the show schedule of Broadway. Two years later, Ann Hampton Callaway was still waiting backstage, ready to show off her idol in a program of fourteen new treatments of fifteen Peggy Lee classics (with encores, maybe just over fourteen, #bighint), and this is the week lucky fans have been waiting for. Peggy fans, Ann fans, and The Great American Songbook fans. And maybe it’s the two years waiting for it and the desire that it brings, but Ann Hampton Callaway never sounded better, she never looked better, she never looked better .
FEVER! THE Peggy Lee CENTURY is, ostensibly, a Peggy Lee tribute show, but there are so many layers to what happens at 54 Below that the seventy-five minute presentation goes much deeper than one might typically expect. ‘wait. With this new show, AHC is not only honoring Peggy Lee, it is honoring itself, it is honoring women, it is honoring female artists, it is honoring strength and perseverance, it is honoring the songs that made Peggy famous , and she’s honoring the music that Lee gave to the world. Anyone could get on stage and sing “Fever” or “He’s A Tramp” or “Is That All There Is?” (in fact, many do), and anyone could step up to a microphone and recite facts from Wikipedia about Norma Delores Egstrom from North Dakota. That’s not what Ann Hampton Callaway does on her show. AHC sings these songs, and she shares these stories, but everything Ann presents to the audience in this show comes from a place within herself, and in that process, Fever! becomes about how his life has been changed by the presence on this planet of Peggy Lee. What better way to honor an artist, trailblazer, idol than to show how their life and work have changed yours?
Ann Hampton Callaway is a great musician, renowned songwriter, iconic singer, and role model for women who want to live and create on their own terms, in their own way. The look in her eyes, the love in her voice as she expands (seemingly extemporaneously) on Peggy Lee’s accomplishments tells the story of a woman speaking of a loved one, a dear friend , of a family member. Maybe a mother, maybe a grandmother, maybe a mentor, but the person Ann is talking about is more than just a famous singer-songwriter whose songs she loves. There is a relationship here, and as such there is respect, a sense of pride and a sense of protection, not only for Lee but for the music, which AHC has both preserved and reinvented. No mere imitators of Peggy Lee’s style and performance are on the mic today; it’s Ann Hampton Callaway and she knows no other way than Ann Hampton Callaway. She and musical director Ted Rosenthal (whose piano skills are, frankly, insane) worked tirelessly to deliver treatments of “I Love Being Here With You” and “It’s a Good Day” and “Why Don’t You Do Right?” which pay homage to Lee but honor Ann’s own artistic aesthetic. Fever! The team honors the original by allowing AHC to be his own original, and in doing so, they shine a light on Lee’s insistence on being his own wife. Only Lee’s most iconic recordings remain (mostly) unchanged, such as the title track, “Fever,” which the band plays absolutely straight, while Ann layers only occasional new styles. You have to know when it’s safe to step out of the way and when to stay close to what the audience finds familiar and expects to hear in the way they’re used to. Every moment of the show has been meticulously mapped out, to the delight of the audience.
That doesn’t mean the show is rote though. Oh no. No no. That’s not possible in an Ann Hampton Callaway show. Even with the clear mission to praise Peggy’s accomplishments and make her music, there’s no sense whatsoever that Ann is stuck inside her screenplay structure. There is structure. There is also adventure. Playful, whimsical, hilarious, intelligent and aware of everything going on around her, Ann Hampton Callaway is in constant contact with her audience. Even through the dazzling beauty of KJ’s concert lighting, AHC could spot friends in the crowd, flirt with patrons, time a birthday party in progress, and hear an empathetic “Awww” from behind a black mask, to which she answers. . She is, in fact, in constant conversation – with the clients, with the band, with Miss Peggy Lee and with her own inspired artistry. It really is an awesome sight, and (to be clear) awesome isn’t a word this writer uses regularly – but Ann Hampton Callaway inspires awe, so, for this moment, awesome is the only real word of choice. It’s not just the presence and the beauty and the brains and the camaraderie that make it so, either, because (brass tack moment) it’s a musical show, and there has to be music from quality.
Ann Hampton Callaway is the very definition of quality music. It’s a privilege to sit in a room and listen to Ann Hampton Callaway sing. The sounds The Diva is able to make with her vocal instrument are so unfathomably luscious that it’s, in fact, like listening to someone play a Stradivarius. It’s not just about listening to one of the most beautiful voices in the world making music – the technique is in the room. You can actually hear the bow moving across the strings. When Ann Hampton Callaway sings, it’s like an immersive experience in which a person feels all the emotion of the action moments, all the appreciation for technical prowess and all the thrills found in artistic musical performance. . That’s enough to make a person laugh, cry, gasp, or sigh, especially during a devastating “Black Coffee,” an exuberant “Just One of These Things,” and a heartbreaking “The Folks Who Live On.” The Hill” – the highlights of the evening for this journalist.
Fever! The Peggy Lee Century isn’t just a loving tribute to a legendary artist and groundbreaking woman, it’s not just an evening of extraordinary musical achievement, and it’s not just a two-year celebration. It’s one of the sleekest, wittiest and sexiest club acts audiences will find in town this week, and it’s a sight people will want to see – either in person or via live stream on the 21st. May (which will include a visit from Holly Foster Wells, Miss Lee’s own granddaughter and guardian of the Lee legacy). And when audiences are done watching the new Ann Hampton Callaway tribute show, they won’t just have a better appreciation for Norma Delores Egstrom and Ann Hampton Callaway – they’ll have a better understanding of what it takes to being an original, and how important it is to be absolutely who you are and do absolutely everything you can to rise to the occasion.
Ann Hampton Callaway seized the opportunity.
Fever! The band is Ted Rosenthal on piano, Martin Wind on bass and Tim Horner on drums.
Ann Hampton Callaway FEVER! THE Peggy Lee CENTURY plays Feintstein’s on May 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. For more information and reservations, visit the 54 Below website HERE.
The May 21 performance is available live. For information and reservations click HERE.
Visit Ann Hampton Callaway’s website HERE.
Photos by Stephen Mosher