"BETTY BUCKLEY 1967"
Anyone who has been reading this column for the past decade or so knows that this diva lover is an unabashed admirer of the limitless talents of Betty Buckley, the gifted artist who will make her solo Town Hall concert debut Oct. 20 at 8 PM. So, it will come as no surprise how honored I was to be asked to pen the liner notes for the wonderful, new and never-before-released CD, "Betty Buckley 1967," which was recorded by the Tony-winning actress at the age of 19. The 11-track CD arrives on the Playbill Records/Sony BMG Masterworks Broadway label Oct. 16, and I thought the best way to share my enthusiasm for this superb recording was to reprint those liner notes here:
"Had 'American Idol' been around in 1967, there is no doubt that Ryan Seacrest's predecessor would have announced, 'Ladies and gentlemen, your American Idol for 1967 is Betty Lynn Buckley.' Few, in fact, have ever boasted a voice like the one the former Miss Fort Worth 1966 possesses. It is a singular voice that has wowed audiences and dazzled critics around the world. There are the rich, vibrato-filled chest tones — that powerful Broadway belt with its seemingly unending range for which she is most associated. And, then there is her upper register, an ethereal soprano that is as emotionally powerful as her biggest belt.
This theatre writer has been an ardent admirer of Buckley and her many talents for over two decades, and when I learned several years ago that Buckley had recorded an unreleased album in her youth, I began a quest to obtain a copy of or even to have the privilege of listening to that mysterious recording. I even penned a letter to legendary producer Rodger H. Hess — the former agent who hoped to sign Buckley after seeing her as a guest performer on the 1967 Miss America pageant and the one person I knew who possessed the '67 recording.
Flash forward to 2007, and Playbill Records — working in conjunction with Sony BMG Masterworks Broadway — signs the Tony-winning artist to its label. In addition to releasing her newest recording, "Quintessence," the star of Cats, Sunset Boulevard and Drood agreed to allow Playbill Records a chance to listen to the 1967 recording.
My publisher, Philip Birsh, is a pretty cool character, yet there was no denying the excitement in his voice when he called me one afternoon to play — over the phone — a selection from the early Buckley recording. In fact, he was so taken with the recording that he played me lengthy sections from each of the recording's eleven tracks. A few days after that phone call, I received a copy of the recording, and I immediately rushed to the Chelsea apartment of my friend Tod — another loyal Buckley enthusiast — and we shared an evening to remember, simply reveling in the innocence and exuberance of Buckley's youthful tones.
It is indeed a rarity when something one has waited years for lives up to expectations, but I can say, without any reservations whatsoever, that 'Betty Buckley 1967' was worth the wait. The recording, which you now hold in your very hands (!), is the earliest professional recording of Buckley that exists, and it reveals a voice whose beauty is second to none. From the moment the recording begins — with Bye Bye Birdie's 'One Boy' — one can't help being uplifted by the joyous sounds of Buckley's voice. Just listen to the ease in which the notes pour out of her or the way she effortlessly switches from bigger sounds to more gentle ones.
She may have only been 19, but Buckley was already imbuing her singing with an actress' sensibilities, and her phrasing and musicality were well beyond her years (check out her wonderful version of 'They Can't Take That Away From Me'). Even her song list is surprisingly eclectic for a teenager: a mix of Broadway ballads, standards, pop songs and even a tune in Spanish.
Picking a favorite is nearly impossible. Would it be her sly 'C'est Magnifique,' her free-spirited 'Call Me,' a lilting 'They Were You,' the utterly charming 'My Funny Valentine,' the belty 'Who Can I Turn to?' or 'I Wanna Be Free' with all its pure, innocent ache? I am also particularly fond of Buckley's 'Quando Calienta El Sol.' When she switches from Spanish to English, her joy in singing the lyric 'Love me with all of your heart, that's all I want love!' is utterly contagious.
And when this young woman sings, 'When I give my heart, it will be completely' (in 'When I Fall in Love'), there is no doubt it is as sincere a statement as it is beautifully sung. In fact, listening to these eleven tracks back-to-back, it is no wonder Buckley landed her first Broadway role (Martha Jefferson in 1776) during her first Broadway audition on her very first day in Manhattan.
I've always felt that the Tony-winning Cats star, one of the finest singing actresses that the Broadway musical theatre has ever produced, approaches her material with the skill of a masterful painter. She is wholly unconcerned with renditions of songs that have come before her own and comes to each as an artist would a blank canvas, bringing her unique gifts to the lyric and melody at hand. If an artist has a palette of colors to choose from, Buckley has her own enormous array of vocal colors. There's aquamarine, azure, indigo, navy, royal, sapphire and turquoise, and that's only for singin' the blues. There are also the velvety browns of her chest voice, the smooth soft yellows of her head tones, the off-whites of her whispers, the dark black of her growls and the soaring, fiery reds of her wide-ranging belt. Yet, it is not just the voice that creates such magic, it is her consummate acting skills as well as her intelligent choice of material. Like a pointillist painting, all these elements somehow combine to form a masterwork, and audiences can't help but become mesmerized by the world of her artistry.
That artistry may have been in its early stages in 1967, but the seeds of her magic are all there in this old, but thrillingly new recording. So, sit back, put on a pair of bell bottoms, light some incense and enjoy 'Betty Buckley 1967.'"
Buckley has also penned another set of notes that are included with the recording, but I'll leave those as a surprise for the listeners of this unearthed treasure.
A limited number of vinyl LPs of "Betty Buckley 1967" have also been pressed, and this past Tuesday I received a copy of the finished project. After work, I dashed home to dust off my college record player and was thrilled, once again, by the gorgeous tones of the teenage Buckley. The voice is so full of joy at the possibilities that were awaiting her.
Buckley fans, trust me, you will want a copy of the LP as well as the CD — I've already ordered a frame to preserve the cover.
(For tickets, priced $50, to An Evening with Betty Buckley at Town Hall, part of the third annual Broadway Cabaret Festival, call (212) 307-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 West 43rd Street; www.the-townhall-nyc.org.)
Cabaret favorite Mary Cleere Haran returns to Feinstein's at Loews Regency Oct. 16 with her newest show, Mary Cleere Haran Sings Doris Day. Haran, who interviewed the legendary singer and wrote and produced the PBS documentary "Doris: A Sentimental Journey," will play the intimate nightspot through Oct. 27. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, the concerts will feature such Doris Day gems as "Que Sera Sera," "It All Depends On You," "Shakin' the Blues Away," "Why Can't I," "That's What Makes Paris Paree," "I Remember You" and "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps." Haran, who also interviewed several of Day's friends as well as Day's son Terry Melcher, will recount the time she spent with the screen icon during her new program; she will be backed by musical director Don Rebic on piano, Chip Jackson on bass and Jim Hirschman on guitar. Show times are Tuesday-Saturday at 8:30 PM with late shows Friday and Saturday at 11 PM. There is a $60 cover and a $40 minimum for all shows. Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street; call (212) 339-4095 for reservations or visit feinsteinsattheregency.com. Rrazz Entertainment, which has produced evenings of cabaret at the Plush Room, will launch a new cabaret space, The Rrazz Room at The Hotel Nikko, which is located in San Francisco at 222 Mason Street. The 190-seat cabaret will be designed by architect Gregg DeMezza and will feature sound and lighting by Matt Berman. Dame Cleo Laine, who was part of the original cast of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, will inaugurate the new room with husband Sir John Dankworth. The twosome will play a two-week engagement at The Rrazz Room beginning Jan. 8, 2008. The new season will also boast Little Women's Maureen McGovern and stage and screen star Lainie Kazan.
Gay Marshall, the gifted singing actress who was seen in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Baker's Wife, will reprise her work as Denise for the York Theatre Company's upcoming production of that Stephen Schwartz-Joseph Stein musical. She will be joined onstage by Max von Essen (as Dominique) and Lenny Wolpe (as the Baker), who were also part of the Paper Mill run. Gordon Greenberg, who helmed the Paper Mill mounting, will direct here as well. The York production — part of the company's acclaimed Musicals in Mufti series — will also feature Kevin Cahoon as the Priest with Wendi Bergamini, Jacque Carnahan, Joy Franz, Laurent Giroux, Mitchell Greenberg, Michael Medeiros, John O’Creagh, Richard Pruitt, Maureen Silliman and Clinton Zugel. The remainder of the cast will be announced shortly. The Mufti series is presented at the Theatre at Saint Peter's, which is located at 54th Street, east of Lexington Avenue. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (212) 935-5820 or visit www.yorktheatre.org.
Natalie Joy Johnson, who is currently making her Broadway debut in the new musical Legally Blonde, will go it solo at Vlada Oct. 23. Johnson will debut a new club act at the Manhattan venue at 11 PM. Her evening will be directed by Joy's Ben Rimalower with musical direction by Brian Nash. There is no cover charge or minimum for Johnson's concert. Vlada is located in Manhattan at 331 West 51st Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. For more information visit www.vladabar.com or call (212) 974-8030.
A Diva Swap!: Marin Mazzie and Hannah Waddingham, the leading ladies of, respectively, the Broadway and London productions of Monty Python's Spamalot, will switch theatres in 2008. On Jan. 13, 2008, Mazzie will begin playing The Lady of the Lake at London's Palace Theatre, while Waddingham will begin performances in the same role at Broadway's Shubert Theatre.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.