When some singers rehearse, they need an accompanist, a vocal coach and plenty of quiet.
Singer Liz Callaway just needs a CD and a full tank of gas.
“I do most of my rehearsing in the car so I drive and practice along to piano tracks,” says Callaway, a Broadway veteran of “Miss Saigon” and “Cats.” “People have no idea what I’m doing.”
All that practice — in a silver Toyota Camry while running errands near her Croton-on-Hudson home or on the Taconic — is paying dividends: Callaway is out with first CD in eight years, “Passage of Time,” on the Bronxville-based PS Classics label.
She’ll be singing songs from the album next week at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Room, a cozy venue where Callaway says you can “get dressed up or wear jeans.”
This is a more pensive, personal album, she says, one without the unifying theme her earlier CDs had: theater songs, Frank Loesser works or ‘60s Burt Bacharach songs.
“Passage of Time,” which takes its name from the James Taylor track “Secret O’ Life,” also has songs by frequent Callaway collaborators Stephen Schwartz (a fellow tennis fanatic), David Shire & Richard Maltby Jr. and Stephen Sondheim.
“It’s very eclectic, as all my CDs are, crazy eclectic,” she says with a laugh.
It also brings Callaway back to a song that has become her signature: “Memory,” the anthem from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.”
For five years, eight shows a week, she sang: “Midnight, not a sound from the pavement. Has the moon lost her memory? She is smiling alone.”
But when she recorded an album of Broadway and Off-Broadway music, she didn’t include it.
“It was while I was doing ‘Cats,’ but I had no desire to record ‘Memory’ back then because I was singing it every night. I loved, loved doing ‘Cats’ and I loved singing ‘Memory,’ but I just didn’t want to record it.”
For years, singing the song in concerts and cabaret dates, Callaway has been asked the same question: Which CD has ‘Memory’ on it. (Some fans call it “Memories.”)
Now, she has an answer.
“I wanted to take the ‘Cats’ out of it while still staying true to the original and I’m really happy with it,” she says.
Callaway pairs songs on the album: “Cats” follows on the heels of another Lloyd Webber song, “The Perfect Year” from “Sunset Boulevard”; “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” is paired with “Singin’ in the Rain”; and “Make Someone Happy” melts into a gorgeous “Something Wonderful” (from “The King & I.”)
“I really like putting songs together,” Callaway says. “I like the storytelling in that. People either love it or hate it, but so far they are loving it.”
While the orchestrations are large and lush at times on “Passage of Time,” at the Metropolitan Room, Callaway will have just a piano, bass, drums and guitar.
“It’s unusual to have the guitar, but I love singing with guitar. There’s something cozy about it.”
Tuesday’s opening will be extremely cozy at the Metropolitan Room, as she’ll be joined on the tiny stage by her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway, who also lives in Croton-on-Hudson.
They share a duet on the new album — on Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” — and have been singing together all their lives, most notably on their album “Sibling Revelry.”
The album’s first track — “Nothing to Lose (But Your Heart) — is a new song from Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the minds behind “Ragtime” (soon to back to Broadway), “Seussical,” and “Once on this Island.”
Callaway recorded a demo of the song for the songwriters years ago, and she came across it in her “Lynn and Steve” sheet music folder in her basement. (“I keep every piece of sheet music I ever sing,” she says.)
She contacted Flaherty and Ahrens, who rewrote parts of it. Then Flaherty orchestrated it, conducted it and played second keyboard on the album.
The lyric includes the lines:
“But the world calls your name.
I can see your breath on the window of life.
Take my hand, I promise something new will start.
You have nothing to lose but your heart.”
It was an emotional summer for Callaway. It started with the death of her father, beloved Chicago newsman John Callaway. It ended with Callway and her husband, Hudson Stage co-founder Dan Foster, taking their son, Nicholas, off to college in Ohio.
Now settling into an empty nest, with her cat Lennie (named for the character in “Of Mice & Men”), Callaway has the house to herself mostly.
But she still rehearses in the Camry.
Years ago, when she was preparing to sing Stephen Sondheim’s impossibly fast “Getting Married Today” in Chicago, she logged a lot of miles to get it just right.
“It was so hard to concentrate on driving in the beginning and do all those lyrics,” she say. “But I knew I was getting good at when I could drive comfortably and alertly and sing the lyrics.”
She concedes that the opening number for this week’s concerts at the Metropolitan Room is still taking a back seat to driving.
“I drove to Brooklyn the other day and it was like ‘I can’t work on the lyrics if I don’t know where I’m going,” she says.
She’s likely the only suburbanite who doesn’t mind traffic: It gives her more time to rehearse.
“I’m driving to LaGuardia today and I’m like ‘Whitestone construction? No problem!’ I’m gonna be singing.”
Her longtime pianist and musical director Alex Rybeck understands how it works. When Callaway was having trouble with one section of a particular song, he told her “Just pretend you’re driving.”
“I should really do a show some time with just a chair and a steering wheel. I’m really good in my car,” she says.
If you go
What: Liz Callaway at the Metropolitan Room
When: Oct. 20 and 25 at 7 p.m.; Oct. 22, 23, 24 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd St., (near Sixth Avenue) Manhattan.
Tickets: $30, plus two-drink minimum.
Liz sings, signs
Liz Callaway will sign copies of “Passage of Time” at the Barnes & Noble Store near Lincoln Center on Oct. 21 at 5:30 p.m. A 30-minute performance and CD signing. Store is at 1972 Broadway (66th and Broadway), New York. Call 212-595-6859.
Photo by Joe Larese/The Journal News: Liz Callaway relaxes in her Croton-on-Hudson home with her cat, Lennie. Callaway says she’s convinced the high-pitched voice she uses when she baby-talks to Lennie has helped her soprano singing.