DIVA TALK -- 3/29
Betty Buckley fans were out in full force Sunday night, lining up over an hour before show time to get choice seats for that "glamour cats" first New York concert since her reign as Norma Desmond began. The line in front of the Bottom Line, located in the West Village section of New York, stretched literally all around the block, as diva lovers excitedly waited for the doors to open.
I caught the second show, which was scheduled to begin at 10pm, but it was nearly an hour later after everyone was seated that the lights in the down-to-earth concert space dimmed. Betty's usual jazz band (led by pianist Kenny Werner) welcomed three new additions, a violinist, guitarist and a synthesizer(ist).
After a brief musical interlude by the jazz combo, what seemed to be an overjoyed Buckley walked onstage. Dressed in a black outfit specially designed for her, she was greeted by a thunderous ovation. BB opened the show with a jazzy, rhythmic rendition of "Hello, Young Lovers," which segued into a super version of a song she had opened with a few years back at Rainbow & Stars, Lerner and Loewe's "Almost Like Being in Love."
Buckley greeted the enthusiastic crowd, and then spoke about her upcoming Carnegie Hall concert in June. She joked, "I hope you don't mind having paid $20 to see me rehearse." As she was still in the process of learning the songs, Buckley referred often to the sheet music, fumbling on lyrics (only twice), but making up for it with that brilliant Buckley sound that is at once majestic, piercing and utterly her own.
She then launched into a rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Some Enchanted Evening" that was simple but stirring, which was followed by one of her standards, the upbeat, declaration of love, "Unexpected Song," which she sang on Broadway a few years back, replacing Bernadette Peters in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance. A new addition to BB's repertoire followed. It was a little-known gem from the musical Peter Pan, entitled "My House," which is sung in the show by Wendy, and it was perfectly suited to Buckley's rich tones. Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Come On, Come On," which Buckley recorded on her second album for Sterling Records, "With One Look," came next. The special surprises of the evening, which Buckley referred to earlier, were then revealed. Three of her castmates from Sunset Boulevard were introduced as her back-up singers for the evening--the two Norma covers, Susan Dawn Carson and Alicia Irving, and her eight-times-a-week boyfriend from the show, Alan Campbell. After reporting that Sondheim had chastised her for changing the harmonies to some of his songs on her albums (while visiting her backstage in the London production of Sunset), Buckley joked that she would never again reharmonize his songs, and then launched into a Sondheim medley. Alan Campbell began the medley with "Anyone Can Whistle," which was followed by Buckley's playfully sarcastic version of "Now You Know" from Merrily We Roll Along.
A song from Carnival and one from composer Ed McDonald preceded the next portion of the evening, which was a rousing trio of rock songs: the biting "Take Another Piece of My Heart," brought down the house and was followed by "Bye, Bye Love" and "That'll Be the Day." A moving version of Sondheim's "Every Day a Little Death" from A Little Night Music, a musical that Betty revealed she had auditioned for (for the original production) followed.
Because it was the second and final show of the evening, Buckley announced she would be doing an additional song. The delighted audience got to hear a riveting version of "September Song," accompanied only by Kenny Werner on the piano. This Kurt Weill song was followed by another of his classics, "My Ship." These two songs furthered my belief that Buckley is one of the finest interpreters of Kurt Weill's songs around. Just listen to her intense renditions of "Surabaya Johnny" and "Pirate Jenny" on her album recorded live in London. Perhaps a complete Kurt Weill album lies ahead. . .
One of BB's classics followed, Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark," which Buckley imbued with a dramatic intensity that brought the crowd to its feet. Buckley tends to work a song like a craftsman--adding layer upon layer of meaning, taking on new dimensions each time she sings it.
A medley of songs Buckley referred to as "shower songs," songs she has sung in the shower for years but never performed, followed. BB joked that it is sometimes daunting when you finally do learn "shower" songs to realize you've been singing the wrong lyrics or only once verse over and over--in fact, she noted that sometimes the songs mean completely different things than originally thought. This "Time Medley" consisted of "As Time Goes By," "Where or When" and "Time After Time." A melodic tune that I didn't recognize followed with the lyrics: "Rain comes from the clouds/Sun lights up the sky/ . . ."
Buckley closed the set with the Norma Desmond classic, "With One Look," using the arrangement found on her first recording of the song on Sterling Records. The audience demanded an encore, and Buckley graciously offered two: first an upbeat rock tune and then, of course, her haunting version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory."
It was a great evening for all: new Betty fans, old faithfuls, Sunset followers and the great star herself. For those of who you weren't able to make it, there's always Carnegie Hall in June.
That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!