In 1997 Liz Callaway joined a select group of women whose voices will be forever linked with some of the most enduring and beloved female heroines in animated film history, when she provided the singing voice for Fox’s musical adaptation of Anastasia.
The Broadway veteran, whose spine-tingling performance of “The Story Goes On” in the 1983 musical Baby earned her a Tony Award nomination, became the voice of a generation when she introduced the Academy Award-nominated anthem “Journey to the Past”—and her name didn’t appear until the closing credits.
While Meg Ryan received star billing as Anastasia’s speaking voice, it was Callaway whose soaring vocals brought the character to life in Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s score for the film. Each time Anya reveals her innermost hopes and desires, it's Callaway’s voice we hear.
The Broadway songwriting team behind Once On This Island and Ragtime made their film debut with Anastasia, crafting their score through traditional musical theatre structure. Their large-scale ensemble numbers provide historic context for turn-of the-century Russia, establishing time and place and a society in turmoil, while their character-driven solos become the emotional engine that propels the story forward.
Now, Callaway returns to Anastasia and the song, recording a new duet version of the classic anthem with Broadway's Anya, Christy Altomare, currently available to stream and download. We spoke to Callaway about her history with the song and how this new version came about.
How did you first become involved in Anastasia?
They were recording demos, and I don't know who they were using, but it wasn't working out. Lynn called me one afternoon and said, “We're in the studio. Could you possibly come now?”
My son was home sick from school, so I happened to be home. I went in that day and recorded a couple of songs. I remember saying to them, “I'd love to be in the chorus of Anastasia if it gets picked up." I sang in the chorus of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and I love choral singing.
But every so often they would call me in to record another demo because they wrote different versions of the song. Since I was just doing demos, I had to always get the OK from the studio. I remember at one point they said Meg Ryan was interested in having her sister do the singing voice, and then there was talk of a Norwegian popstar. But in the end Lynn and Stephen called me personally to say they wanted me to do it.
What was it like hearing “Journey to the Past” for the first time?
It was a really late session, and after we finished recording “Once Upon a December,” Steve said, “Hey, do you want to hear your new song?” At this point I had recorded so many versions and demos of for them, I was like, “Sure.”
So he sat down at a piano in the recording studio and played through it. And I just thought it was the greatest song. For some reason they needed a demo immediately, so I basically sight-read the song on the first take at 1 AM. They never told me when to cut the last note, so I just kept holding it. I didn't realize that I sang it longer than he had written in, but they liked it so much in the demo they kept it.
I also remember that during the recording sessions, no one seemed to really be concerned that I matched Meg Ryan's voice. So I rented Sleepless in Seattle and recorded scenes on my Walkman and would listen to it on the train on the way to the recording sessions.
Did you realize the impact the film had?
It wasn’t until I started doing concerts and I would frequently do something from Anastasia, I had people come up to me crying, telling me that it was their childhood. That’s when I knew. But I remember the opening night in Hartford for the world premiere there was recognition applause when the orchestra played the intros to “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past.”
The Broadway adaptation was a huge moment for fans. It inspired a major resurgence.
The score had a really profound impact on so many people and the Broadway production has put “Journey to the Past” back into our consciousness.
Fans went crazy when you and Christy performed together at The Broadway Princess Party.
I shared a 30-second video of the two of us in rehearsal on Instagram and it blew up. I love singing with Christy and people are so excited about it. So I knew we had to record it.
What was it like recording this new version with Christy and Stephen at the piano?
It was such a moving experience. Steve said it was like bringing it back full circle to when I did the demo. It really felt like that.
You also produced the single.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to produce some singles this year. I’ve been exploring that side of the business and I thought, well, this is a perfect opportunity to release a single for the first time and to experiment and learn. I really want to produce a duets album next.
Would you consider joining the cast of Anastasia if the producers approached you?
I do want to do more theatre, but I don’t know if there’s a role for me. But never say never to anything!