Eclectic Betty Buckley

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday April 26, 2011
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Betty Buckley. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Betty Buckley. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Betty Buckley had fully expected that her upcoming appearance at the Rrazz Room would neatly dovetail into a run as Mrs. Madrigal in ACT's musical version of Tales of the City, but alas, it was not to be.

"It just fell apart for some strange reason," Buckley said of her Tales of the City run. "I was very sorry about that because it's a great show, and I really enjoyed doing the workshop. I think it had to do with my schedule and their needs, so we parted company." Fellow Broadway veteran Judy Kaye, whom Buckley highly praises, now has the role of Mrs. Madrigal in the highly anticipated musical.

But the good news remains that local audiences will still get to enjoy Buckley's special song stylings during her six-day run at the Rrazz Room beginning May 3. For the Love of Broadway is the title of Buckley's current cabaret act, which debuted last year to considerable acclaim at Feinstein's in New York.

"It's made up of songs from Broadway shows that I have always wanted to sing, but haven't before had the chance," she said from her animal-friendly compound about an hour from her teenage home in Fort Worth. "I take liberties with what songs I do, depending upon my inspiration."

A few of the songs you are sure to hear, she said, include "We Kiss in a Shadow," "This Nearly Was Mine," "Hey There," "Lazy Afternoon," "You've Got Possibilities," and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." She's undecided about whether to repeat a piece of specialty material written for the repertoire's original run in New York.

That song, "When I Belt," addresses expectations from producers, promoters, and some audiences that Buckley stick to Broadway songs and Broadway-style arrangements, even though her own musical interests are far more eclectic. "It's been a gift and a frustration in my career because I'm definitely a child of the 60s, and my taste in music is all over the place," she said. "If you aren't in a category that's easily identifiable, you fall between the cracks in packaging and marketing."

All she really wants is the chance to sing "really good songs," Buckley said, "songs with a beautiful lyric, a story, a clear sense of character. It's been frustrating, because in the years I've been doing cabaret and concert work, I have put together any number of collections of material, and people would say, 'That's too esoteric,' or, 'That's too rock n roll,' or, 'That's too this and that.' It's been mystifying to me."

For the Love of Broadway follows a cabaret show from the previous year titled Broadway by Request, but Buckley is looking ahead to the fall release of Ghost Light, a new CD she recorded with legendary producer T-Bone Burnett. "It's a very eclectic mix of music recorded with a band T-Bone put together, and I think it's the most beautiful album I've ever done. And by going back to the eclectic thing, I'm kind of stating my right to do that."

This is actually a reunion for Burnett and Buckley, who worked together when they were both in their late teens and had begun fledgling music careers. It was 1967 in Fort Worth, and Buckley's mother wanted a recording of her daughter's voice, and happened to know Burnett's mother. "Our mothers got us together in a recording studio," Buckley said, and the 11-track album of standards and pop tunes had an initial release of two tape copies.

One copy went to Buckley's boyfriend at the time, and the other went to a former agent as a Christmas gift. That agent, Roger Hess, went on to become a big-time Broadway producer who was interviewed as part of a Bravo documentary about Buckley when she took over from Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard. Hess had saved his reel-to-reel recording, and played excerpts for the TV production. After that, the newly created Playbill Records released the album, then on vinyl, and now available as a CD.

"When they wanted to release it, I couldn't understand why, because I remember dismissing it and thinking it wasn't very good, but then when I sat down to listen to it, I was really touched," Buckley said. "It helped me bring this younger version of myself back into my appreciation of my talent as a singer." 

As for her voice today, she recalled the words of a longtime vocal coach. "He told me that you can sing your entire life if you take care of yourself because the voice continues to unfold and manifest your soul."

Anyone who has seen Buckley perform in concert or cabarets knows how much of her soul she invests into each song. "The reason I sing them is because I love them and they move me, and they don't stop moving me. I have a relationship to every song I sing, and that relationship grows and changes just like it does with people."

 

Betty Buckley will perform For the Love of Broadway May 3-8 at the Rrazz Room. Tickets are $45-$55. For more information, go to www.therrazzroom.com.