Songwriter Jimmy Webb has returned to Feinstein’s at the Regency for a two-weeker with actor/songwriter Paul Williams and Broadway diva Liz Callaway. Webb’s boldly supportive piano provides most of the accompaniment, with the assistance of some distinctive chords from Chris Caswell’s synthesizer.
Webb took a nostalgic detour from his own notable songbook, with a 1943 Frank Loesser film lament, “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year.” He left the dusty roads of his folksy terrain behind and assumed the role of a sophisticated lounge singer. Like Charles DeForest and Hugh Shannon, Webb brings both a saloon sensibility and a smoky grandeur to the classic torch song.
The Oklahoma-born songwriter has spent the last 20 years in Manhattan, prompting him to pen a tune for a musical-in-progress that’s based on the 1993 film “A Bronx Tale” with scribe/actor Chazz Palminteri. The song, which Webb premiered here, is a panoramic ode to “Belmont Avenue,” a picturesque musical travelogue “from the El down to the zoo.” Webb has become citified.
Centerpiece of the evening is guest Callaway, whose singing is clean, pure and emotionally direct. She served the Williams songbook quite nicely with “What Would They Say?,” a ballad that survived the early John Travolta telepic “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” and “With One More Look at You” from “A Star Is Born.” Callaway opted for the ballad, rather than the better known “Evergreen.” A smart move — I’d forgotten how gorgeous it is.
After joining Webb for a soaring balloon ride with “Up, Up and Away,” Callaway offered a medley of “Didn’t We” and the verse to “MacArthur Park” (minus the “cake in the rain” business) with a strong measure of poignancy and the sting of bitter romanticism.
Williams, a versatile composer rooted in ’70s pop-rock, took a casual and comfortable turn with his own chartbusters, “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “You and Me Against the World.” Previewing a new tune, “This Time,” Williams has bounded back as a distinctive composer and lyricist after a long hiatus.
The three performers combined for the Williams-Kenny Ascher finale, “The Rainbow Collection,” the searching Muppet hymn of hope, and it comes at a time when rainbows seem to hold a healing strength.
Show is a nice homey blend of both sophisticated popular song and rural America. Referring to Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston” as his “Rand McNally period,” Williams wryly noted, “We made a lot of money from places we never heard of!”