Betty Buckley

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Betty Buckley Takes On The Men Of Broadway … And A Few Women, Too

By Libby Slate

Earlier this year, Betty Buckley was dining with friends at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, a quintessential London restaurant dating back to the early 1800s, when she heard a melody performed by the house pianist.

"I'd heard it many times before," she recalls. "I asked the piano player what it was." After learning that it was the theme from a motion picture drama, she wondered if it might also have lyrics. Yes, as it turned out, a singer had set words to the music. Someday, Buckley says, she'll add it to her repertoire.

"I'm always listening, listening, to see if there is something I want to sing," explains Buckley, who returns to perform in the Center's Cabaret Series, May 16–18 at the Samueli Theater. "A lot of times, it has come to me from the universe."

The show Buckley will be doing features songs that were originally performed by men, and she counts at least one of those as being delivered by said universe. "I've sung 'I Won't Dance' around the house all the time, since I was a kid," she says. "And I said, 'Wait a minute. Is that a man song?' Yes, it is." Fred Astaire sang it with Ginger Rogers in the film Roberta; here, Buckley performs both parts of the duet.

Her show Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway premiered in 2011 to stellar reviews; many of the songs are available on her CD of the same name. At Samueli, Buckley will also perform selections from last year's sequel, The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway, which was similarly well received and includes numbers sung by supporting characters as well as some less-than-virtuous ladies.

Buckley first contemplated the idea of performing men's songs when she was starring in the 1985 Broadway production The Mystery of Edwin Drood, playing a male impersonator along with the title role. "That was fun in those days," she says. "I thought, 'Why not do that now?' "

Among her favorite numbers are Pippin's "Corner of the Sky"; a Sondheim Sweeney Todd trio, "Not While I'm Around", "Johanna" and "My Friends"; and the poignant "Venice" from William Finn's Elegies, about the longed-for trip three men will never take because one of them dies of AIDS. Other songs include "Hey There" from Pajama Game, "Song on the Sand" from La Cage Aux Folles and "More I Cannot Wish You" from Guys & Dolls.

And there's a hilariously clever send-up, by Eric Kornfeld and Eric Stern, "Hymn to Her," which takes on Henry Higgins' "A Hymn to Him" ("Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?") from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. Buckley gleefully asks and affirmatively answers that question, with renditions of songs by fellows from Jean Valjean (Les Misérables) to Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof).

Also noted in the song are some of Buckley's own career successes: her 1983 Tony Award-winning role as Grizabella the Glamour Cat in Cats, her London Olivier Award-nominated turn as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, which she also did in New York and her first-ever Broadway role as Martha Jefferson in 1776.

Her other Broadway credits include Triumph of Love, for which she was Tony nominated, Song and Dance and Carrie. Her film work includes Carrie and Tender Mercies, and on television, she starred in Eight Is Enough, was featured in Oz and recently appeared in ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars.

In choosing her cabaret material, Buckley says, "Ideally, the song is a beautiful story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Or a character starts in one place and comes to another one at the end, with a new awareness. I like songs that are entertaining visually, in my mind's eye, that can be interpreted with a beautiful music arrangement."

With her solo career in full bloom, it had been 15 years since Buckley had performed in a theater production, until this past February and March; she was in London to star in the British premiere of Jerry Herman's 1969 musical Dear World, directed and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, who had choreographed Cats.

She played the character that won Angela Lansbury a Tony Award: Countess Aurelia, aka The Madwoman of Chaillot, the owner of a café in 1945 Paris who attempts to stop a group of businessmen from destroying the café so as to drill for the oil they believe is underground. During the rehearsal period, she was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, for lifetime achievement in the American theater; her good friend Ellen Burstyn accepted on her behalf.

Back in the U.S., Buckley lives on a ranch outside her native Fort Worth, Texas, where she rides her beloved cutting horses and relaxes and recharges for the next adventure.

"Life continues to work on us," she reflects. "I think of it as wearing away all the rough edges. The good part as you age is you become more and more yourself. Hopefully, [each experience] lifts you to a higher place."

Libby Slate is a Los Angeles-based arts and entertainment journalist whose other credits include Emmy, Performances, Live Design and Where Los Angeles.


SAMUELI THEATER

Dates: May 16 – 18, 2013
Tickets: $72 and up
For tickets and information, visit SCFTA.org or
call (714) 556–2787.
Group services: (714) 755–0236

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With Special underwriting from:
Steven and Herma Brenneis

The Center applauds:
Omaha Steaks

 

     

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