DIVA TALK: Buckley's Turn

DIVA TALK: Buckley's Turn BETTY BUCKLEY

BETTY BUCKLEY

From the moment Betty Buckley strides down the aisle to make her onstage entrance in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Gypsy, you know you are in the presence of a dynamic force. This is not your garden-variety Mama Rose. Less warm and effervescent than some who have played the role, this is a Mama Rose to be reckoned with, a woman with so many neuroses and protective layers, even she doesn't know what is real and what is not. In fact, it isn't until the shocking closing number of the first act that the audience realizes just how narrowly-focused and self-serving Rose has become. Having already alienated her daughter June with an overbearing desire to make her a star, Rose sets her sights on her other child, Louise, and insists, "Everything's Coming Up Roses." Right before the song, however, Buckley bellows, "They think that we are nothing without [June]. Well, she is nothing without me! I'm her mother, and I made her. And I can make you now. I'm going to make you a star. . . Finished? We're just beginning! There's gonna be no stopping us this time!" Buckley delivers these lines with such ferocity and overwhelming passion that Louise and Herbie (the theatre agent and Rose's love interest), not to mention the audience, recoil in horror. It is as dark a moment as the musical theatre can deliver.

This is not to say, however, that Buckley doesn't have fun with the role in the show's earlier scenes. There is a devilish glint in her eye when -- in the musical's first scene -- she removes a hairpin to pop the balloons that make up the entire outfit of her daughter's competitor in a kiddie talent show. Buckley is also especially funny when she sheepishly brings on pieces of scenery during June's act and is then caught in the spotlight. And, when she first meets Herbie, there is a tenderness and vulnerability that she lets seep out in measured doses.

Of course, Buckley sings the role exquisitely: We all know she's a great belter, but it is the way she uses her voice as a true musical instrument that sets her apart from those who just sing loudly. Her version of "Some People" as is as riveting as her take on "Small World" is gentle and seductive. She also provides "You'll Never Get Away from Me" with the right mixture of coyness and determination, and when she lets loose on the aforementioned "Everything's Coming Up Roses," it's as thrilling vocally as it is disturbing emotionally.

During the second half of the evening, Buckley's interpretation grows darker, and by the time Louise has transformed herself into the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, there's a hardened edge to Rose only hinted at in the first half. She's a battered and bruised soul who has now seen a mother, numerous husbands and one daughter exit her life. When Herbie finally summons the courage to leave Rose after her promises of marriage have consistently fallen by the wayside, she is again subjected to another loss. As Buckley struggles to hold onto Herbie's arm, he forcefully pulls it away, and the moment is scarily heartbreaking, for we see the self defeating consequences of Rose's actions. Rose's need for success in vaudeville, whether for her daughters or herself, has grown over the years as more and more people have abandoned her. And, such "success" has gradually become the only justification for all these losses, so the need is now stronger than ever. When it becomes apparent that Louise no longer requires her mother's assistance, it is a final injury that Rose cannot endure. Her already weak grasp on reality is shattered, and out pours the show's most remarkable character song, "Rose's Turn." In Buckley's hands, it is, simply, phenomenal. It is an exorcism of emotion from deep within her soul, and by the time she sings, "This time boys I'm taking the bows. And everything's coming up Rose, everything's coming up roses, this time for me! for me! for me," you will find your spirit touched and your hands spontaneously and vigorously applauding. Just to witness her mastery of this song would be more than reason to make the journey out to the Paper Mill.

In his original New York Times review of Gypsy, Brooks Atkinson had this to say about the musical's star, Ethel Merman: "Not for the first time in her fabulous career, her personal magnetism electrifies the whole theatre. For she is a performer of incomparable power." And, the same could be said about the show's current star, Betty Buckley. In fact, a Rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but I doubt a Rose played by any other actress could be more emotionally present than the thrilling one being offered by Betty Buckley at the Paper Mill Playhouse through October 25. Let's hope some wise producer snaps up this production and gives it the further life it deserves, whether on Broadway or in the West End.

THE LEADING LADIES

I wasn't able to attend Monday's diva-packed evening at Carnegie Hall ("My Favorite Broadway--The Leading Ladies"), but a few diva lovers wrote to tell me how wonderful the evening was, and I thought you would enjoy seeing, as I did, the song and performer list for the program:

Overture to "My Favorite Broadway" by Glen Kelly
"Beauty That Drives a Man Mad" Tony Roberts and Robert Morse
"Nowadays"/ "Hot Honey Rag" Karen Ziemba and Bebe Neuwirth
"Adelaide's Lament" Faith Prince
"Don't Rain On My Parade" Judy Kuhn
"Life Upon the Wicked Stage" the Kit Kat Girls from Cabaret
"If He Walked Into My Life" Jennifer Holliday
"Nothing" Priscilla Lopez
"Could I Leave You?" Dee Hoty
"I Can Cook Too" Lea DeLaria
"Look for the Silver Lining"/ "Tomorrow" Andrea McArdle
"Down with Love" Audra McDonald
"Bewitched" Marin Mazzie
"Liza with a Z" Rosie O'Donnell, then Liza Minnelli
"Sing Happy" Liza Minnelli
"Some People" Liza Minnelli

Entr'acte: "Girl Crazy"
"I Want to Be a Rockette" Karen Ziemba with Rockettes
"Falling in Love With Love" Rebecca Luker
"Someone Like You" Linda Eder
"Man of La Mancha" Linda Eder

Andrew Lloyd Webber trio:
"Love Changes Everything" Audra McDonald
"Unexpected Song" Marin Mazzie
"I Don't Know How To Love Him" Judy Kuhn

"Everybody's Girl" Debra Monk
"Mean to Me" Nell Carter
"Not While I'm Around" Nell Carter
"I'm Going Back" Faith Prince
"Fifty Percent" Dorothy Loudon
"I've Never Said I Love You" Audra McDonald
"And I Am Telling You" Jennifer Holliday
"The Ladies Who Lunch" Elaine Stritch
"One" The Company


The evening was, fortunately, taped for future broadcast on PBS's "Great Performances" series.

MAUREEN McGOVERN
Last week I discussed Maureen McGovern's latest recording, "The Pleasure of His Company," and this week I received word of a few concert bookings for the star of stage and screen:

Oct. 4 at the London Palladium in London, England
Oct. 10-12 with the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon
Oct. 13 with the Oregon Symphony in Salem, Oregon
Nov. 11-22 in a production of "Of Thee I Sing" at the UCLA Freud Theatre, in Los Angeles, CA
Dec. 10-13 with the Phoenix Symphony in Phoenix, Arizona

HELEN REDDY
There's just something comforting about listening to Helen Reddy sing - like picking up the phone and hearing an old friend's voice. I remember often hearing Reddy's voice emanating from my sister's room growing up. Whether it was "I Am Woman," "Angie Baby," "Delta Dawn" or "I Don't Know How To Love Him," Reddy's voice was a part of my childhood. In the past few years the singer has performed a few stage roles, most notably the lead role in Blood Brothers on Broadway and in London's West End. So, it only seems natural that her newest recording should focus on songs from the musical theatre. In fact, Reddy comments, "I had no idea how many fans would think I had abandoned them when I stopped recording and returned to my first love, the theatre. So, when I was first approached with the idea for this collection of songs, I was delighted. Here was the perfect vehicle to combine these two areas of my career: the recording studio and the theatrical stage."

Reddy's CD, on the Varese Sarabande label, is titled "Center Stage " and includes a range of songs from such musicals as Anything Goes, Drood, Sunset Boulevard, Ballroom, Promises, Promises and more. Highlights include a sweet rendition of the little-heard "I Still Believe in Love" from the Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager musical They're Playing Our Song. She also delivers a passionate rendition of Drood's "The Writing on the Wall" and connects well with "Tell Me It's Not True" from Willy Russell's Blood Brothers. Reddy duets with Richard Hillman on Call Me Madam's "You're Just in Love," and Jessica Williams joins her on "My Friend" from Cy Coleman's The Life. The complete track listing from "Center Stage" follows: (One suggestion: skip the CD's first track, "Blow Gabriel Blow" -- Mermanesque, she is not.)

"Blow, Gabriel Blow"
"I Still Believe in Love"
"A Boy Like You"
"The Writing's on the Wall"
"With Every Breath I Take"
"Knowing When to Leave"
"Love, Look Away"
"Surrender"
"You're Just in Love"
"Tell Me It's Not True"
"Speak Low"
"My Friend"
"Fifty Percent"
"The Party's Over"

NINE DIVAS AND A BENEFIT
On Oct. 4 nine divas will assemble to perform at a benefit for the Dramatists Guild Fund. Those scheduled to entertain at the Cabaret at Sam's Restaurant include Brenda Braxton, Debbie Gravitte, Heather MacRae, Luba Mason, Nancy Opel, Nancy Ringham, Alice Ripley, Emily Skinner and Jane Summerhays. Barry Moss will oversee the evening, which will feature the songs of Bob Ost and musical direction by Michael Lavine [sic]. Sam's is located at 263 W. 45th Street. There is a $20 cover charge and a $10 food/drink minimum; reservations can be made by calling (212) 719-5416.

QUOTABLE QUOTES:

Betty Buckley in the 9/13/98 issue ofThe New York Times, commenting on the upcoming season (article by Andrea Stevens):
"I can't wait to see Judi Dench in the new play she's coming in with, Amy's View, on Broadway. I met her when I was in London. Besides being a tremendous actress and a great lady of the British theatre, she was the original Grizabella in Cats. I figure she's just that much ahead of me on the planet. I'm always seeking role models whenever I can, and she's one of mine. I'm very much looking forward to Faith Prince in Little Me. She works out at the same gym I'm at. In the show, her character has been done by a younger actress and an older actress who play the same part. Faith will be playing the whole part. I'm a great fan of hers. She's one of our treasures. I'm also a huge Rob Marshall fan. I think he's major. And it's exciting to see him out on his own this time, directing and choreographing Little Me."

Lea DeLaria discusses her love for musical theatre in the upcoming October issue of PLAYBILL (article by Ellis Nassour):
"I was this six-year-old weirdo theatre person in the Midwest [Illinois], where the thought bubble over most everyone's head had a pick-up truck or a motorcycle in it! As a teen, while everyone drove around in their trucks, drinking beer and throwing the cans in back, I was in the basement tap dancing on plywood and singing 'Broadway rhythm's got me'! I could hit a high C. I still can. Only now, it depends on what key you're in. It's a high C in the key of Lauren Bacall, but not in the key of Bernadette Peters!"

Jana Robbins (Mazeppa at the Paper Mill Playhouse) talks about the musical Gypsy in the 9/6/98 issue of The New York Times (article by Alvin Klein):
"I'm so connected to this show; it's the full circle of my life. Louise was me; Mama was my mother. But I have no connection to Mazeppa. I'm just a good bumper."

Sandra Bernhard speaks with Playbill's Jerry Tallmer about her upcoming Broadway debut in I'm Still Here. . .Damn It! :
"It just seemed to me and my agents that it would be a shame to make it end [Off-Broadway]. And I'd never been on Broadway. So why not? Why the hell not? There's a whole untapped audience out there. And a lot of them already came down to see me."

Karen Ziemba talks about playing Roxie Hart in Chicago in the 9/11/98 issue of In Theater (article by Sheryl Berk):
"Oh, it's so much fun. Roxie has a lot of heart -- pun intended. I played her on tour for a few months before stepping in here, and I feel like I've really gotten to know her now. She feels more comfortable all the time. She grows on you. . . [The choreography is] like running a marathon! It's very deceiving -- it looks so simple. I wasn't used to it at all. It's very tight and restricting, and it does tire you out physically as well as mentally. By the end of the week I'm pretty exhausted, but it gets easier with every performance. The Fosse movements and Ann's take on them are very contracted; everything is so specific and small. It goes against the natural dancer's instinct to be free and let it all go. It goes against my grain." Andrew Lloyd Webber discusses the upcoming Cats TV broadcast:
"The decision to film Cats was something that had been hanging around for a long while. We had never really tried to take a theatre show and then interpret it for the camera in this kind of way, so it's a great excitement to break new ground."

REMINDERS:

LAURIE BEECHMAN
It was announced recently that the tribute concert honoring the late Laurie (Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) Beechman will be held at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia on Monday, November 30. Entitled "Let the Memory Live Again: A Musical Celebration for Laurie Beechman," the concert will benefit Gilda's Club, where Beechman found support during her struggles with ovarian cancer. Those already scheduled to perform include Patti LaBelle, Sam Harris, Christiane Noll, Douglas Sills and more. Call (202) 226 1780 for more information or visit Congressman Fox's web site (http://www.house.gov/fox).

BETTY BUCKLEY
Betty Buckley and Deborah Gibson currently star in Gypsy at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey through Oct. 25. Tickets range from $25-$55 and $10 student tickets may be available 15 minutes prior to curtain. For tickets and more information, call (973) 376-4343...
BB concert line-up:
Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 1998 at the Bottom Line, in New York, NY
Nov. 6 in at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, PA
Dec. 28 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 29 at the Kravis Center for the Perf Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 30 in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Dec. 31 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL
Jan. 14, 1999 in Irvine, CA
Jan. 16, 1999 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17, 1999 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23, 1999 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3, 1999 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, IL


LINDA EDER
Oct. 2-3 at the Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN
Oct. 9 at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland, OH
Oct. 27 at the Smothers Theatre in Malibu, CA
Oct. 29-31 at the Orange Country Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
Nov. 13 at the Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
Nov. 20 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York, PA
Nov. 21 at the Southern Theatre in Columbus, OH
Dec. 8-9 at the FAU Auditorium in Boca Raton, FL

KAREN MASON
An appearance at the upcoming Cabaret Convention brings Mason to New York's Town Hall on Oct. 13. Mason will teach a master class at UCLA on Oct. 14, and then she will sing in concert at that University on Oct. 17, a concert that is being presented by Michael Kerker and ASCAP. And, Nov. 4 14, Mason will open Davenports, a new cabaret space in her home town of Chicago.

BERNADETTE PETERS
Bernadette Peters makes her eagerly-awaited return to Broadway (opposite Tom Wopat) in the revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. Previews begin at the Marriott Marquis Theatre Feb. 2, 1999. Call (212) 307-4100 for tickets.

RAINBOW & STARS
Kathie Lee Gifford Oct. 6-10.
David Campbell Oct. 13-31
Ann Hampton Callaway Nov. 3-14
Karen Akers Nov. 17-Dec. 5


Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com