Musical numbers: “It’s Today,” “The Sweetest Sounds”/”I Can See It,” “Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes,” “My Buddy”/”Old Friend,” “Friendship,” “Meadowlark,” “Not While I’m Around”/”Stop Time,” “Our Time,” “Some People,” “Sun in the Morning,” “To Be or Not to Be Bop,” “At the Same Time,” “The Story Goes On,” “Being Alive, ” “The Huge Medley,” “There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,” “You Must Believe in Spring.”
It’s summer indoors as well as out these days at the Donmar Warehouse, with the arrival from what its current occupants call “diva headquarters” (i.e. New York) of those singing sisters sine qua non, Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway. Ann is better known of late for penning the lyrics to Barbra Streisand’s musical mash note to spouse James Brolin, while Liz toils away on Broadway in “Cats,” playing Grizabella. But in place of “Memory,” their glorious cabaret show instead provides the sort of melodious tonic from which lasting memories are made. By the time they get to their concluding number, “There’s a Boat That’s Leavin’ Soon for New York,” you’ll be ready to follow them anywhere, by whatever means necessary.
Their two-week London stint kicks off a monthlong Donmar series under the umbrella title “Divas at the Donmar,” with Barbara Cook up next (returning to the theater that relaunched her London career in 1986) and Olivier Award winner Imelda Staunton completing the lineup.
That’s heady company for the Callaways, who are easily the least well-known of the lot on this side of the cabaret pond. But as directed by Dan Foster on Robert Jones’ elegantly spare set (the diminutive glitter ball neatly hints at exactly the sort of kitsch that the show is not), the Callaways’ Donmar stand suggests that a show conceived three years ago for places like Rainbow and Stars — and available on a live recording — is more than ready for an actual playhouse. Is Off Broadway listening?
It helps, too, that the women are so fully complementary: Ann tall and dark, possessed of a sultry caress of a voice that can burn a hole through the wonderful Sammy Cahn-Don Raye lyric, “Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes”; Liz shorter and fairer, an old-style belter who is just one of many talents to have been subsumed by the largely anonymous Broadway musical theater that prevails today. (Shame, however, about her second-act costume.)
Each sister has a high old time encroaching on the other’s terrain — Liz risking a successfully slow, torchy “Sun in the Morning,” Ann ripping into “Being Alive,” a song with particular associations at this venue following Donmar artistic director Sam Mendes’ 1995 production of “Company.”
The patter is kept to a thankful minimum, and Liz’s potentially cloying child obsession — the impetus behind three of her numbers — is entirely forgivable from a one-time Tony nominee for “Baby.”
The revue’s title, of course, toys with a sisterly rivalry, and on that front , too, the Callaways don’t disappoint. “Is that still running?” Ann gently inquires of “Cats.” (Liz later proffers her own take on her employer, admitting at one point that it’s “so refreshing to sing songs without wearing whiskers.”)
Each separately parades trophies, CDs and the like in front of the audience, while quips abound about therapy and dieting and even one’s desire to silence the other — that last giving a newfound literal meaning to the phrase “sight gag.”
But for all the good-natured one-upmanship, it’s the admiration one remembers: Liz’s affectionate “that’s my sister” after Ann raises the roof with “Being Alive,” not to mention the delight each clearly feels in being yin to the other’s yang, watched over by an exemplary three-person band headed by musical director Alex Rybeck.
The evening coalesces in the so-called “Huge Medley,” which manages to send up gently “West Side Story” and “Miss Saigon” while linking “Chess” to “Wonderful Town” to, of all things, Streisand and Donna Summer’s disco hit “Enough Is Enough.” It’s “Sibling Revelry’s” very real virtue, thank heavens, that enough isn’t enough, and one is truly left wanting more.
To that end, it was touching to see Ann at the curtain call quickly shed a tear at the response, seemingly unaware that when it came to being utterly transported, most of the audience had got there already.