The This is Lincoln Center podcast offers listeners intimate, enlightening moments with some of the great artistic talents of our time. Hosted by Live From Lincoln Center producer Kristy Geslain, This is Lincoln Center features the musicians, dancers, actors, creators, and thinkers who make the magic happen on Lincoln Center's famous stages.

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Episode Transcript

Kristy Geslain: Hi! I’m Kristy Geslain and welcome to Episode 4 of This is Lincoln Center, a podcast featuring the musicians, dancers, actors, creators, and thinkers who make the magic happen on Lincoln Center's stages.

Liz Callaway is a Broadway legend, a recording star, and a celebrated cabaret artist. Over the years, she's also served as a muse to lyricist Richard Maltby Jr. and composer David Shire, two of America's most engaging musical storytellers. In fact, it was her performance as Lizzie in Maltby and Shire's musical Baby that earned Callaway a Tony nomination in 1984. Over thirty years later, she paid homage to the duo in her 2016 American Songbook show The Story Goes On: Liz Callaway Sings Maltby & Shire.

As Callaway prepared for a 2017 reprise of that resoundingly successful performance, I invited the three longtime collaborators and friends to sit down for an interview. But as you’ll hear, I didn't have to ask many questions. The moment they sat down, the conversation just flowed, with reflections on auditions, collaborations, and what makes a song—and a friendship—stand the test of time.

This is Lincoln Center with Liz Callaway, Richard Maltby, and David Shire.

KG: Tell us a little bit about where your friendship began.

Richard Maltby: We were having auditions for a show called Gallery that was going to be done at The Public Theater and people came in and ... what were you, 19 years old, something like that?

Liz Callaway: I think I was 19 or 20. Yeah.

RM: This young girl came in and she had been in rehearsal so she wasn't, like, dressed up for an audition. She was, in fact, dressed down for an audition.

LC: I was a rebel back then.

RM: And I sat there and she started. We said, "What are you going to sing?" And she said, "I'm going to sing, 'Be a Lion.' And she started singing "Be a Lion," which is a song that just keeps going up and going up and just keeps going. She started to sing, and it was lovely, and as the song went up, her voice went up, no break. Perfect intonation, perfect storytelling. I was sitting next to our musical director, Bill Elliot. I grabbed his knee. I think I just sort of went, "Oh, my God," as this voice just opened up. At that time, we were writing a show called Baby. And we didn't have our young girl, Lizzie. I said, "There she is." She basically had the part that minute. I don't think she knew that. We didn't tell her that for a while, but she had the part right at that moment.

LC: You did tell me ... Actually, I remember you came down to this ... I forget, was it at the Public maybe?

RM: Was at the Public, in a rehearsal room at the Public

LC: And you came up to me and I remember you said something about how "You are just right for this show I'm writing with my partner about a pregnant teenager." And I kind of filed that away for ... oh, that's nice. I'm glad no matter what. I've always said it's good to go to any audition you can because you never know who you're going to meet.

RM: What was your perception of that day?

LC: Well, I was in rehearsal for Merrily We Roll Along. Went to this audition just because I thought it would be good experience. Then I actually got cast in Gallery and I had to decide what to do and decided to do Merrily. And I thought you were going to be so mad at me. I thought you were going to be so mad at me, but obviously you got over it. And then I did a show at the King Cole Room at the St. Regis of Frank Loesser and I think you came.

David Shire: That's when I first saw you. Richard had been raving about this girl so much so that I thought she couldn't exist and be that good and I still remember you on stage singing, I think it was "If I Were A Bell."

LC: It might have been. I did that. Bobby Morrison and Lynne Thigpen were in the show and I knew you ... I don't think you were there. I don't remember you were there.

RM: I think you were there. I don't think I was there.

LC: I think you were there but I recognized you.

DS: I guess you told me to go.

RM: I sent you.

LC: And I knew who you were because I was a huge fan of Starting Here, Starting Now so I loved, I loved their music so I was like oh my God, Maltby and Shire. And I knew almost all that from the cast album. And I went up to you and we talked and that's when I offered if they needed someone to sing their songs for them, like, just wanted to hear a female voice with your song, to do your song, I just offered to help. Sincerely trying to be helpful.

RM: Not trying to get cast?

LC: Not trying to get cast. No, I was very kind of ...

DS: You had no idea how helpful you were going to be.

LC: I had no... yeah. So I started coming over to your apartment and we would work. One day this guy came in and you introduced to me as the producer of the show, Jim Freydberg, and I was like is this an audition? And I think you said you've been auditioning all along. And I had no idea. It was great. And then we did a workshop but I never auditioned for the show. It was just we did a workshop, we did a million backer's auditions and then we did the show and it just was ...

RM: But we should probably say that it's not just a nice talented person came in and we liked her. This extraordinary voice, this extraordinary kind of lyric limpidness of a voice, the complete clarity of words on top of this glorious sound, and she's a kid. We wanted someone who believably was in college and you usually cast 26-year-olds, you know, young-looking 26-year-olds but she was the right age. As we worked, the astonishment at how completely natural and right she was just grew and grew and grew.

[Liz Callaway sings "Our Story Goes On"]

RM: She has this brilliant voice that separates the verbal part from the singing part. It's from heaven, this gift.

LC: I always say a good song is not hard to sing. It's just not. I loved doing Baby. I have to say that it spoiled me because when the show closed, I do feel like it was the perfect part for me because I've never fit into ... I wasn't an ingénue, I wasn't ... I just was me and so was the character Lizzie and so was the way you wrote for her.

So I thought, oh, this is the way it's going ... wow, this is great. My career is starting off well and then I went oh no, that was a one in a million, that was a once in a lifetime thing and I've gone on to do a lot of wonderful things but that was just so specific and so unique.

KG: One can hear the deep artistic connection that's shared between these three. But beyond rehearsal rooms and cabaret stages and theaters, the trio have shared some of life's most important personal moments too. A friendship sees a lot over the course of three decades.

DS: The amazing thing is that Liz met her husband Danny. Liz and Danny, did we pick those names before?

LC: Yes.

RM: They were the names in the script and we cast Liz Callaway as Lizzie and she meets, at the stage door...

LC: Dan.

RM: Dan Foster.

DS: Danny.

LC: Who saw the show and was a...

DS: Ten times.

LC: Thirteen.

DS: Thirteen times.

LC: He saw the show 13 times and we started actually dating. He kind of pursued me during it but we actually didn't start dating until two weeks before we closed, but what was so funny, Jim Freydberg, the producer was saying he kept seeing this guy and then by the end of the show, his seats got so much better.

RM: And shortly after that, we did a production of it at the Marriot Lincolnshire Theater in Chicago and cast Liz and Danny.

LC: Yes, because Dan...

RM: So we had Lizzie and Danny as Lizzie and Danny.

LC: Because Dan at our wedding, you guys were at our wedding, he sang, "I Chose Right." Another experience we had... I've never done another show with you guys but several years ago, many years ago I was doing an album called The Story Goes On: Liz Callaway On and Off Broadway. And I was looking for songs to do for it and we met at your house and you played me some songs and you played me a song from Big which was "Stop Time" and I was like oh my God, that's it.

[Liz Callaway sings "Stop Time"]

LC: And that was before the show opened.

DS: Yeah.

LC: You let me record it first before the show opened and it's one of my favorite songs. Beautiful, beautiful...

RM: If "Story Goes On" is about the baby about to be born, "Stop Time" is about parenting when you're older. When the children are going past their birthdays.

LC: Right. Right. And I still sing it. I sang "Story Goes On" in concert, I sing "Stop Time" from time to time, too. And people just love it. I was doing a Playbill cruise and we had a forum about mothers and Broadway and it was me and Kerry Butler and Christine Ebersole and maybe Rachel York and we were talking about what it's like to combine motherhood and theater and then I was like, "Oh, I should sing this song," and I mean there was not a dry eye in the house. Everyone was just so moved by that song.

RM: It's about the fact that nobody warns you but parenting is about saying goodbye as the child grows into something else.

LC: Yeah, it's amazing. I still though ...I mean, now my son is 25. Nicholas is 25. I recorded that when he was like six maybe or eight. It's really interesting being the parent of a 25-year-old. Now, that's its own thing that you never think about. And I'm just saying, on record, I'd like a song about that please. In all your free time.

RM: Too close.

DS: We could give you songs about 25, 40, 45, 50 and then his grandchildren. We could just keep going forever.

LC: Oh my God.

DS: But I want to finish what I started this whole section with. I said you did the part when had lived none of that and you lived the part totally and completely and then fade out, fade in what 25, 30 years later when you sang "Story Goes On" at some benefit, after marriage and two children and she said either to Richard or me, she said, "You know, now I know what that song is about."

KG: Maltby and Shire have written some of the most celebrated and widely performed songs in the American Songbook, and here Richard talks about just what the American Songbook is, Maltby and Shire's place in it, and how important it is to understanding our musical history.

RM: I'm a footnote in Steve Sondheim's autobiography.

DS: I feel the same way.

RM: No, I literally am a footnote in his biography.

LC: Really?

RM: Yes, twice. I was interviewed and my interview showed up as footnotes. I thought, there I go. There's my place in history. I'm a footnote in Steve Sondheim's biography.

LC: There are a lot of people who would like to be a footnote.

RM: It would be unthinkable to have had an American Songbook in the '30s or even in the '40s because that was popular music and there was no sense of retrospective. Those extraordinary things that were written, we can now spot as sort of eras. We can suddenly see the entirety of Jerome Kern's work.

We can see the entirety of the songs that came out in the '60s. One brilliant new structured hit every week. We can now begin to see things over time. So the Songbook is exactly that. You suddenly look at the history of American song which is absolutely astonishing and see the component parts of it. There's this songbook and that songbook. It's a necessary and extraordinary way of holding onto what was and is a central part of America's cultural development.

DS: And we couldn't be prouder, I should add, to be part of that. That's really thrilling.

KG: This is Lincoln Center is hosted by me, Kristy Geslain, with production help from Gillian Campbell and Rob Schulte.

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