DIVA TALK: Betty Buckley: An Evening at Carnegie Hall

DIVA TALK: Betty Buckley: An Evening at Carnegie Hall New York City. Carnegie Hall. June 10, 1996. The night we had all been waiting for finally arrived, and if it's possible, the evening surpassed the expectations of the greatest Betty Buckley fans.

New York City. Carnegie Hall. June 10, 1996. The night we had all been waiting for finally arrived, and if it's possible, the evening surpassed the expectations of the greatest Betty Buckley fans.

As the many anxious fans poured into the world-famous hall, they were handed two programs, one a special souvenir program, with a cover featuring Betty B in the leopard-spotted Norma Desmond gown that was also used on the posters that advertised the show. Inside this special fundraising program were ads from friends of Betty's and supporters of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. There were also two letters in the program that I thought you would be interested in reading. One was from Betty that read:

Beloved friends, There are no adequate words to express the gratitude I feel about this night. Our preparation has been joyous, exciting, funny and fraught! I have never worked so hard and for such a compelling cause. Beyond the gift of the night the blessing of reaching into the community and being so richly answered by all of you has a sweetness that I hope will be reflected in the music and stories we've planned for you. To Paul, Tony, Janet, Don, Pam, Jules, Peggy, Kenny, Paul H, Barbara, Jim, Joan, Dianne, George, David, Howard, Susan, Jim, Beth, Dick, Juliet you are my heart.


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And to Kevin Duncan and Tom Viola who are relentless and exhausted two of the finest men I have ever met Kevin whose heart is more resonant than Carnegie Hall. Thank you, thank you. I would like to dedicate our evening to Rene Clemente, Steven Gelfer, Reed Jones, T. Michael Reed, Timothy Scott, all members of the original company of "CATS" who have died of AIDS, and to all the others who are living so bravely with this dread plague May our love help ease your pain. Betty Lynn


There was also a note from the President, which read:

Dear Betty: I am delighted to commend you for your participation in the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS concert.

In one way or another, AIDS has touched each of our lives. Far too many people are dying from this disease, and far too many families are suffering from the fear, pain and grief of its devastating effects. I am grateful for the efforts of generous individuals like you who seek to raise awareness of the disease and to provide care and compassion to those in need of both.

Your work is helping us to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Together, we can overcome this crisis and bring hope to those living with AIDS.

Hillary and I extend our best wishes for a wonderful concert.

Sincerely,
Bill Clinton

As the over 50-piece American Theatre Orchestra, headed by Paul Gemignani warmed up, the audience's anticipation grew. Among the hundreds of fans in the audience were comedienne Joan Rivers and recent two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy. As the lights dimmed, the orchestra began the overture, and soon we heard that one-of-a-kind voice begin to sing from backstage. As she stepped onto the great stage of Carnegie Hall, the audience went crazy, and an ecstatic Buckley smiled from ear to ear, took a bow and launched into her opening medley of "Hello Young Lovers" and "Almost Like Being in Love." From there she went right into a stirring rendition of South Pacific's "Some Enchanted Evening." Buckley then welcomed the audience and thanked everyone for coming out to support such a great organization. Her introductory remarks were followed by an upbeat version of "Unexpected Song" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance,which she starred in during the show's last six weeks on Broadway. Buckley was in terrific voice for her evening at Carnegie Hall, singing with all the power, heart, skill, and style that have made her one of the greatest singers in theatrical history. In addition to the steel of which her voice is made, there is also an aching quality in the sound of her voice that can tear you apart.

After "Unexpected Song," she delivered two standards: "As Time Goes By" and Rodgers and Hart's "Where or When." She introduced the song that was to follow as one of her all-time favorites, Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Come On, Come On," a bittersweet tune about lost love and the ache that often accompanies the search for new love. She plumbed the depths of this song, wringing every emotion possible from it.

Buckley's "favorite story song" followed. . ."Meadowlark" from Stephen Schwartz's The Baker's Wife. Buckley poured her heart and soul into this number that built to a wonderfully dramatic intensity, and when she got to the last line "My beautiful young man and I," the audience burst into a deafening applause. After that show-stopper, BB remarked that Stephen Schwartz told her that at the time of The Baker's Wife that he had written the show with her in mind, but she would have to audition for the director. She then explained that she auditioned for the show nine times, but didn't get the part. But, she joked, it didn't matter because "I've claimed it for my own now."

Following "Meadowlark," Buckley was joined onstage by Carol Maillard for a beautiful rendition of "Everyday a Little Death" from Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music."

By the way, Buckley's gown, which was designed by James Nadeaux, was not only beautiful but highly alterable as well. In fact, during the first act Nadeaux came onstage and removed part of the gown, which revealed another outfit below. Later in the first act, he came out again, removed another part, added some jewelry, and ta-da! outfit number 3.

Buckley then introduced two other singers who would be joining her, Rohn Seykell and Monica Page. They joined Maillard and did backup for "Hi Lily Hi Lo." After that came a medley of Sondheim tunes that included Rohn Seykell's "Anyone Can Whistle," and then the back-up trio joined Buckley for an upbeat version of "Now You Know" from Merrily We Roll Along. Buckley did a brief, a capella version of "Amazing Grace" as her dress was altered for the final time.

After this costume change came one of my (many) favorite parts of the evening, a trio of songs by Kurt Weill. As I've mentioned previously, I believe Buckley is one of the finest interpreters of Weill's music around. She has a fierce, yet vulnerable delivery that suits his material perfectly; she is also a very intelligent singer, which is required of his work. She started off with a touching version of "September Song." Then Betty B did her "killer" version of "Pirate Jenny" from Threepenny Opera, which segued into a touching "My Ship." It's in songs like "Pirate Jenny," highly theatrical works, where Buckley is at her peak and at the top of her profession. Like very few performers, she ignites a song, giving you that chills-down-your-spine feeling.

For her last number of the first act, Buckley thrilled the audience with her riveting rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye." When she sang, "I've come home at last," the audience again screamed, and it sounded like a thunderstorm of applause as she finished the song, singing, "We taught the world new ways to dream."

After the intermission, the orchestra began with songs from "West Side Story." Buckley entered in a different black outfit and launched into another song from West Side Story, "Something's Coming." After that she spoke about being in a production of West Side Story when she was 15. She was in the chorus, and she longed to have a larger part, perhaps either Maria or Anita or, as she joked, maybe even Riff. At this point she was joined by a group of male dancers, and they announced that they would be doing one of the dance numbers from the show. As they began, however, two men ran down the aisle and announced that they didn't have the rights to do the Jerome Robbins choreography. Instead, they sang "Betty and the Jets" to the tune of "Benny of the Jets."

After this comic, fast-paced number, Betty introduced another special guest for the evening, the title player of the musical Carrie, Linzi Hateley. Hateley, dressed all in white, delivered a rousing rendition of the title song from the show and received a rapturous round of applause. Betty then came back onstage in costume from Carrie dark wig and all. The two belters began the dialogue scene that leads into "And Eve Was Weak" and then delighted the audience with this hair-raising number. After the applause died down, Betty informed the crowd that she wanted to show us some of the theatrics of the theatre, and three dressers came out to change her costume. Right before our eyes, they changed her from Margaret, Carrie's mother, into that aging silent screen star Norma Desmond. Then Betty began, "With one look, I can break your heart," and when she finished singing, "I'll be back where I was born to be. With one look I'll be me," the crowd again exploded. The same three dressers arrived onstage again to change her from Norma D into Mama Rose from Gypsy. Buckley sang a highly charged and fiercely driven version of "Rose's Turn," which again brought down the house.

Songs that followed these three show-stopping numbers included a moving version of Billy Joel's "And So It Goes," and a Judy Collins song. Buckley finished the second act with her unequaled delivery of "Memory" and received another standing ovation. She received so many standing o's during the show that I actually lost track of counting. But it was definitely a lovefest between audience and performer.

Buckley returned to the stage and delivered a long list of thank yous, and explained how humbled she was to be the center of an evening raising money for such a desperately needed organization, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She invited onstage her voice teacher, her director, her publicist, the dancers who had joined her earlier, her back-up singers and other friends, and they all joined her in singing "Seasons of Love" from the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent.

When Buckley left the stage, the audience would not stop applauding and demanded her return. She graciously obliged and sang "My House," a beautiful song from "Peter Pan" that concluded a once-in-a-lifetime evening.

Buckley will begin a world concert tour following her engagement in Sunset Boulevard, and if she sings anywhere near where you live, go see her. She has now entered into that tiny group of stellar performing artists. With a repertoire that includes such songs as "As If We Never Said Goodbye," "With One Look," Memory," "Rose's Turn," "Pirate Jenny," and many others, her concerts should not be missed.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

by Andrew Gans
(My e-mail address is andrew_gans@playbill.com.)