Are all the great American love songs basically sad?
Maybe not all of them _ Someone to Watch Over Me can be downright optimistic in some interpretations _ but loneliness and loss and love do seem to go together in a song.
Ann Hampton Callaway, performing Friday in Ruth Eckerd Hall's New York Nights Cabaret series, knows all about the emotional power of pessimism. The best songs in her show were the saddest ones.
In Irving Berlin's How Deep Is the Ocean, Callaway slowed the tempo down and shaped the lyrical line into a lovely, eccentric dirge. Her own composition, Where Does Love Go?, was a keening ballad to love "that is never shared."
Callaway prefaced her daring treatment of My Funny Valentine with a touching anecdote about lyricist Lorenz Hart, who had "a very difficult and painful love life," she said. Hart came up with the words to the song while gazing into a mirror and dreaming of what someone who loved him might someday say, endearments that never came his way.
However, to emphasize the poignancy in Callaway's performance is not to say she is a downer. Far from it. She is a smart, fun entertainer who knows how to work a crowd. And she has a hit TV sitcom theme song to her credit, The Nanny.
"The flashy girl from Flushing, the nanny named Fran _ my favorite lyric!" she said.
Callaway's show has its share of shtick. She does impersonations of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, speculates on a production of Oklahoma! with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong in the leading roles, and makes wisecracks about the weather in her hometown of Chicago.
A love song she wrote on the spot based on suggestions from the audience blithely rhymed "kisses and hugs" and "palmetto bugs."
Callaway performed in the Heye Great Room, which was set up like a nightclub with servers bringing beverages and snacks such as quiche and desserts.
Ann Hampton Callaway
Friday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Shows at 7:30 and 10 tonight. Tickets are $25. Call 791-7400.