There wasn't a dry eye in the house as Betty Buckley, with tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, gave a moving closing-night speech after her more-than-a-year run in the Broadway production of Sunset Boulevard. The speech followed one of the more exciting theatrical events I have ever witnessed.
When Buckley made her first entrance as Norma Desmond on Saturday evening, the audience went wild, giving a rousing ovation to the star of the night. As she waited to deliver her first onstage line, the audience clearly wanted to show Buckley how much she means to them. And, after her heartfelt "With One Look" (where she blasted "This time I'm staying for good....") the audience leapt to its feet for the first standing ovation of the evening.
Buckley added a few personal touches throughout show, which added to the intensity of the evening. During the scene in the first act when Norma instructs Joe Gillis to "Put it back" (referring to a scene he has cut from her script for "Salome") Buckley had one of her dogs underneath one arm. Later, as she glided down the stairs for the New Year's Eve scene, she handed a small gift to the three musicians who are onstage during "The Perfect Year." However, the most moving addition to the evening, and perhaps one of the most emotional gestures I've seen onstage, occurred during "As If We Never Said Goodbye." As Hog Eye announced, "Let's get a look at you" and turned the spotlight on Betty (as Norma), the audience went wild. Buckley then proceeded to stand up and pass out a single, long stemmed red rose to each cast member on the stage. While she was doing so, she began to sing..."I don't know why I'm frightened...." When she reached the line, "I'm trembling now, you can't know how, I've missed you," she sang, "You can't know how I'll miss you" and then continued on. She received a roar of approval after announcing "I've come home at last," and again, the audience jumped up at the conclusion of this show-stopping rendition.
It was a very emotional evening, one that concluded with a lengthy standing ovation for Buckley. During the ovation, Buckley passed out bouquets of flowers to many of the cast members, and in turn, the entire cast each threw a yellow rose at Buckley's feet. This was followed by Buckley's stirring speech that I thought you would like to read. Here is her speech, which followed a few "I love yous" shouted from the audience.
Oh thank you. I love you more than I can express this evening. There's some people I'd like you to help me thank for the most incredible year of my life. First of all is Jim Nadeaux, my dresser. Then a woman who's been with me for two-and-a-half years, for the whole time in London. The Really Useful Group was kind enough to bring her over to New York so that I would feel infinitely secure and know that my hair was beautiful, Miss Dianne St. James. And I'd like you to help me thank the two associate dressers--Larry Calahan and Krysten Gardner-these are the team of four that helps me get through the quick changes night after night. I just wanted you to get to see what these people are like. For me, besides this moment that I've been experiencing with all of you all year long. I have been privileged to work with this incredible ensemble of persons that are the very best in show business. That being the truth what also goes on backstage is a show all its own, and I really wish you could see it. The expertise and the technical work that goes on backstage - the men who are our crew are incredible, our stage management - incredible. Also we have the greatest orchestra. Sometimes in a long run on Broadway the orchestra, like the people onstage, we get tired sometimes, and this show, this group of people - you'd never know that because every night we're out there eight times a week, kicking ass. Anyway, we love we love being Broadway actors, and these musicians play with all their heart night after night, flawlessly and with such passion and such intensity.
I know you know how wonderful this show is. You don'thave really any idea what all goes into it; it's so remarkable, and it's all goes up night after night to look so effortless. It takes around 200 people a night to produce one single crystalline moment in this glorious thing called the musical theatre. I've been a devotee of the musical theatre since I was 11 years old. I've been working professionally in the musical theatre since I was 15, and when I was a little girl in dance school and I had golden slippers that were all painted gold for our tap number and my gorgeous little gowns with sequins on them. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I saw that show Phantom that Andrew wrote, and those costumes and those sets and I thought, 'Before I die, please, Andrew, call me.' I just wanted to wear clothes like this, you know what I mean, and act up a storm and sing with all my heart. And you've afforded me this opportunity. I'm so grateful to the Really Useful Group and Andrew Lloyd Webber and all the people therein. And the designer, Anthony Powell, and everybody connected with the show. It goes on. I wish we had the time. I know that we don't. People have to catch trains and buses and planes and go elsewhere. It was just: It was the best year of my life! It's Alan Oppenheimer's last night, too. . . It's also Jim Nadeaux's last night and Dianne St. James's last night, and they're like family to me, and I'm going to miss them a lot, and I'm going to miss you an awful lot.
Is Elaine Paige here? I thought she was going to be here? Is she here? Yes, well come on down Elaine. Elaine Paige is the premiere diva of musical theatre in London, and I've been her devoted fan from the first time I heard her sing Evita, and I studied her recording of "Memory" over and over again before I was so honored to play the part of Grizabella in Cats. When I got to London, she was doing Piaf there, which is a fabulous show, and you should all write and have them bring that over for her as a vehicle here. It's been all these years. I think she told me it's been 18 years that she's been waiting to come to New York, and I think it's just great and I wanted to welcome her, wherever she is. Is she coming - oh Elaine Paige! Now, Elaine we can't wait too much longer...
(Then Betty launched into a moving "Amazing Grace" as we waited for Elaine, who, unfortunately, never appeared. Elaine had actually been at the performance, but she left the theatre right after the curtain initially came down, so she never heard Betty call her onstage.) It was, however, a once-in-a-lifetime evening. Betty, you can't know how much we'll miss you.
That's all for now. Happy diva-watching! --by Andrew Gans
(E-mail me at email@example.com)