Storytelling has run throughout the course of human history and culture, from African-American folktales to our own Native Americans, who related tales of survival, observations of the world and the rituals and lessons of life that connect us all. In the past decade or so, Betty Buckley, the Tony-winning Broadway artist who recently relocated to her native Texas, has become one of our greatest storytellers, continuing this ancient tradition in song.
The actress, who is currently playing the Café Carlyle through April 9, is well known for the power and range of her Broadway belt, yet over the past few years she has begun to explore a more intimate styling that brings the true essence of a song more gently to the listener. That is not to say that Buckley doesn't let loose that thrilling, rich, rafter-raising belt, but she does so more sparingly, which makes the effect more exciting than ever.
Buckley began her wonderful collection of songs this past Wednesday night with Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer's "Day In Day Out" and James Taylor's "On the 4th of July" before explaining that after much deliberation she decided to title her current program Smoke. Many of the songs, she said, "describe those exquisite, ephemeral moments that hit us so strongly and then dissolve in the mist as we try to remember or hang on to them." She then proceeded to offer a beautiful rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish standard "Stardust," backed by Kenny Werner's simple piano accompaniment.
Buckley wrapped her gentle tones around Lionel Hampton, Sonny Burke and Johnny Mercer's "Midnight Sun" before presenting one of the evening's highlights, a wonderful pairing of two Antonio Carlos Jobim songs, "Dindi" and "How Insensitive." The two songs explore the opposite ends of love — the open-heartedness of "Dindi" was the perfect balance for the sad reflection of love gone wrong, "How Insensitive." Buckley demonstrated the power of her voice on Tom Waits' "New Coat of Paint" and then dazzled with a striking tune by Mary Chapin Carpenter, "Where Time Stands Still." One could not help but be moved as Buckley, in almost a whisper of pure emotion, sang, "Where's that place where time stands still/ I remember like a lover can/ But I forget it like a leaver will/ It's the first time that you held my hand/ It's the smell and the taste and the fear and the thrill/ It's everything I understand/And all the things I never will." Harold Arlen's "Out of This World" preceded a combination of "Blame It On My Youth" and "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face." The medley allowed Buckley to mine the songs for all their emotional value; her interpretation of the former was especially poignant.
The actress lightened the mood with a wonderful anecdote about life in Texas, which was followed by a humorous, stentorian version of Lyle Lovett's "On Saturday Night." Buckley then brought new depth to an old favorite, Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," but it was Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" that may have been the evening's high point, with Buckley passionately belting, "In the arms of an angel/ Fly away from here/ From this dark cold hotel room/ And the endlessness that you fear/ You are pulled from the wreckage/ Of your silent reverie/ You're in the arms of the angel/ May you find some comfort there."
Buckley concluded her set with a definitive version of Julie Gold's haunting "Good Night, New York," and after much applause returned for an encore of her signature tune, Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory." I'm always amazed how fresh Buckley's rendition of the Cats anthem remains; her array of vocal colors and skills as an actress continue to imbue the song with impressive power. Don't miss your chance to see one of our greatest performers in such an intimate setting; you, too, may find yourself brushing away a few tears as Smoke gets in your eyes.
[For reservations call the Cafe Carlyle at (212) 744-1600.]
FOR THE RECORD: Kristin Chenoweth's "As I Am"
Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth, most recently on Broadway in the hit musical Wicked, returns to her spiritual roots on her second solo recording, "As I Am." Chenoweth, who grew up singing in a Southern Baptist church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, features a mix of hymns, gospel tunes, country hits and one original song by Diane Warren on her 13-track disc and deftly balances the mix of somewhat melancholy tunes with more uplifting fare.
The recording's best offering is a hidden bonus track of Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler's cabaret favorite, "Taylor, the Latte Boy," which has become a staple of Chenoweth's concert repertoire during the past few years. The humorous, yet sweet song about falling in love with a Starbucks employee allows the singer-actress to display the many talents that have impressed Broadway audiences over the past decade: In her rendition of "Taylor," Chenoweth is both funny and touching, and her colorful soprano — which can belt powerfully and soar to the stratosphere — never sounded more beautiful than when she sings the song's refrain, "Taylor, the latte boy, bring me java bring me joy, Taylor, the latte boy, I love him, I love him, I love him."
Chenoweth also scores on the disc's opening tune, Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick's "It Will Be Me," which was a hit for country singer Faith Hill. There's a gentle ache in Chenoweth's voice as she sings, "What will it take to/bring you to your senses/And finally convince you/It will be me." Chenoweth brings tenderness to Jerry Wise's "Abide in Me" and the Amy Grant/Brown Bannister hit "There Will Never Be Another," and counters the woeful "Poor, Wayfaring Stranger" with an appropriately spirit-raising version of "Joyful, Joyful." Other highlights: the moving Warren tune "Borrowed Angels," an ode to those souls who have gone; and "Upon This Rock," which displays the limitless range of the singer's soprano.
"As I Am" is due in stores April 5 on the Sony Classical label.
[To promote her new disc, Chenoweth will make appearances on NBC's "The Today Show" (March 30), CBS' "The Early Show" (April 5), NBC's "Live at Five" (April 5), ABC's "The Tony Danza Show" (April 11) and NBC's "Last Call with Carson Daly" (April 12). An in-store signing at the Lincoln Center Tower Records is also scheduled for 6 PM on the day of the CD's release, April 5.]
Two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters, most recently on Broadway in the Sam Mendes-directed revival of Gypsy, has been cast in a pilot for ABC-TV. Variety reported earlier this week that Peters will be part of the cast of "Adopted," a new sitcom for the ABC Network produced by Twentieth Century Fox TV. The program, according to the industry paper, "revolves around a grown man who discovers he has two very different mothers." Peters will play one of the mothers, Mrs. Leaf.
Elaine Stritch, who recently won an Emmy Award for the television broadcast of Elaine Stritch at Liberty, will play New York's Cafe Carlyle this fall. From Sept. 13-Oct. 29, the Tony Award-winning actress will entertain audiences at the plush cabaret room with a show simply titled Elaine Stritch at Home at the Carlyle. Stritch's act will be based on the program she premiered March 4 during her American Songbook performance at the Frederick P. Rose Hall's Allen Room. That evening featured songs by Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman and Cy Coleman with anecdotes about Frank Sinatra, Noël Coward, Rex Harrison and Judy Garland. Pianist Rob Bowman will accompany Stritch at the Carlyle. Bistro Award winner Tom D'Angora will bring his acclaimed evening of diva worship, Divas I've Done, to Upstairs at Studio 54. D'Angora — who will release his debut CD, "The Pink Album," on March 20 — will play Sunday nights at the famed New York City landmark beginning March 13 at 7:30 PM. The show features direction by Michael Duling, piano accompaniment by Tracy Stark and back-up vocals by Kate Pazakis, Christine Gonzales, Noel Cody and Cara LaGreen. Divas I've Done celebrates the women of the musical theatre who have meant the most to D'Angora: Among the women saluted in his show are Liza Minnelli, Ellen Greene, Fran Drescher, Princess Diana and the women of "The Golden Girls." The upcoming shows at Upstairs at Studio 54 will also boast a guest artist each Sunday. Drama Desk winner Marla Schaffel will join D'Angora March 13; Maya Days will join the diva-fest March 20, followed by Wicked's Kristy Cates on March 27 and Forbidden Broadway's Christine Pedi April 3. Upstairs at Studio 54 is located in Manhattan at 254 West 54th Street. Ticked, priced at $40, are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com.
And, finally, Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone returns to Carnegie Hall this Monday, March 14, with an evening culled from her two recent acclaimed cabaret outings, "The Lady with the Torch" and "The Lady with the Torch Part II." Conceived and directed by Hairspray's Scott Wittman with musical direction by Chris Fenwick, The Lady with the Torch will boast orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Show time is 8 PM in the Isaac Stern Auditorium. Concertgoers can expect to hear LuPone's renditions of "By Myself," "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," "Something Cool," "A Cottage for Sale," "I Had a Little Sorrow," "Ill Wind," "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise," "A Man In a Raincoat," "Who's Sorry Now?," "I Wanna Be Around," "Frankie and Johnny," "The Other Woman," "The Man I Love," "Nightlife," "Make It Another Old Fashioned, Please," "Me and My Shadow," "Find Me a Primitive Man," "Do It Again," "Early Autumn," "Everything Happens to Me," "I'm Thru With Love," "So in Love," "Miss Lonelyhearts," "My Buddy," "I Regret Everything," "I Love Paris," "C'est Magnifique" and "Body and Soul." Tickets, priced $24-$85, are available by visiting www.carnegiehall.org.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.