DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Tony Winner Betty Buckley Plus News of LuPone, Mason and Streisand

News   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Tony Winner Betty Buckley Plus News of LuPone, Mason and Streisand News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley.

BETTY BUCKLEY
"It just seemed like a funny idea," Tony Award winner Betty Buckley said earlier this week about the title of her return Feinstein's at the Regency engagement, Singin' for My Supper.

The celebrated singing actress, who was recently honored with a Texas Film Hall of Fame Award, said, "[Feinstein's] came up very last-minute, so I called all my friends looking for song suggestions. [We will be doing Rodgers and Hart's 'Sing for Your Supper'] in a medley with 'Sing Sing Sing' and 'Sing You Sinners.' This show's about singing and supper," she laughs, "and we're also going to do some beautiful standards."

Buckley strives hard to create just the right program for each venue. "If I'm playing a room like Feinstein's — which is a cabaret and not a big concert hall — I know that in that room people really want to hear standards. My taste is often for more contemporary writers, and while I will do a couple of those, the majority of the songs will be standards." She also adds, "I know there are expectations of me doing Broadway songs, and I do. I try to fulfill that, especially in big concert halls, for people who want to have those moments of Broadway theatre re-created. I do my best to do that, but that's not generally how I think, 'Broadway versus standards. . .' A good song's a good song wherever it comes from. I just look for beautiful songs, songs that mean something to me — that I have something to share through the song as the vehicle."

For her two-week run at the intimate Feinstein's at the Regency, Buckley will be backed by her quintet Quintessence, which features long-time musical director Kenny Werner on piano. The actress was introduced to Werner over 17 years ago by her drummer Jamey Haddad. "[Kenny] came to my apartment in New York and played for me, and I cried," Buckley admits. "I thought he was such a beautiful pianist, and I asked him to be my pianist." The former Sunset Boulevard and Cats star adds that Werner is much more than simply her piano player: "He's my collaborator. He facilitates my vision, what I hear in music that I would not have the [musical] vocabulary to bring into the world were it not for his generosity in lending his immense genius to my ideas.

"From the very beginning, we did all the arrangements together, and I would speak in terms of paintings and visual ideas of what I was trying to communicate and scenarios that I was trying to set up — visceral experiences, emotional experiences I was trying to create for the audience. I would tell him the kinds of sounds I would hear, and we would hand pick the arrangements, but now he knows what I like. After all these years, there's a shorthand." As for her favorite Werner arrangement, Buckley names Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You," which she equates with a Monet painting. She also believes the songs that comprised her recent, thrilling American Songbook concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room were among "the best arrangements he's ever done for me." Those songs (and arrangements) will also be featured on her newest CD, "Quintessence," which Buckley is currently shopping to distributors.

About the aforementioned American Songbook evening — which featured rich, deeply felt renditions of "Stardust," "No One Is Alone," "So Many Stars" and "How Insensitive" — Buckley says, "It was just divine. I think it's one of the most beautiful concert hall venues I've ever been in. I feel like our music reflects the fabric of the essence of New York City, and to bring the marriage of our music to that jewel of a room and to feel like you're literally a part of the city — in the heart of the city with that backdrop — was just a really magical night. The feeling was very reminiscent of those ten years or so that we played at the Bottom Line. I would love to be able to play there every year."

Although Buckley is in New York quite often — in fact, she was a particular highlight at several recent benefits (her rendition of Carrie's "Open Your Heart" brought the crowd at the Broadway Backwards concert to its feet) — the uniquely talented artist now makes her home on a Texas ranch. "It's been really wonderful for me to come home to this sense of space and openness and land and animals. I love my home here and my menagerie of many animals." Those animals, it should be noted, include three cats, five dogs, an African Grey Parrot and two horses: Wild Man Bill and Smart Skat Cat.

Buckley also continues to take part in cutting-horse competitions, although "because I've been traveling so much and working, I haven't lately. My horses currently are with their trainer in North Texas, and he's been showing them. In fact, last week one of them won third and one of them won fourth," she says with a great sense of pride, "but that was with him riding them not me."

Riding cutting-horses, Buckley explains, is "a sport that I've loved since I was a kid. I always wanted to know how to ride these kinds of horses and to have a relationship with them because they're so smart. It's the only equine sport where the horses have to literally think for themselves. They're extremely smart and incredibly athletically talented.

"I was always this frustrated athlete as a kid. I think of myself as an athlete, and it's a sport that I actually get to participate in. It's really fun, and I have this amazing teammate, this amazing athletic, intelligent horse. I just love them — I can't even put it into words. There's tremendous speed to it. It's very, very exciting. It's a highly adrenalized sport. It's really thrilling."

And, how does riding compare to a Broadway opening? "The adrenalin rush is very similar, although in the performing arena, I have some sense of knowing what I'm doing, I think, whereas I'm still trying to figure this cutting horse thing out," Buckley laughs. "I am such a beginner, and I thought some of the tools that I have — in terms of focus and concentrating — would translate, but it doesn't translate as nicely as I thought it would!"

That focus and concentration, however, will be demonstrated when Buckley brings her beautiful, powerful and expressive voice and her laserlike interpretative skills to Feinstein's at the Regency beginning March 27. She may be singin' for her supper, but audiences will be eating it up with relish.

[Betty Buckley will play Feinstein's at the Regency (540 Park Avenue at 61st Street) March 27-April 7. Call (212) 339-4095 for reservations.]

DIVA TIDBITS
NJN (New Jersey Public Television & Radio) will film Karen Mason's upcoming concerts at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ. The New Jersey-based PBS station will record Mason's Timeless concerts March 31 in The Chase Room of the Arts Center. Both the 7 and 9:30 PM shows will be filmed for future broadcast. No air dates have been announced. Mason's Timeless concerts, which are sold out, feature direction by Barry Kleinbort and musical direction by pianist Christopher Denny. Jered Egan will also be featured on bass. Concertgoers can expect to hear Mason's renditions of "All That Jazz," "Just in Time," "A Whole New World," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," "The Winner Takes It All," "I Have a Dream," "It Had to Be You" and "We Never Ran Out of Love, We Just Ran Out of Time." The latter was penned by Mason's husband, Paul Rolnick. For more information visit www.karenmason.com or www.njpac.org.

A live recording of Barbra Streisand's recent acclaimed concert tour will arrive in stores May 8 on the Columbia label. The two-CD set — which features tunes by Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Leonard Bernstein, Frank Loesser and George and Ira Gershwin — was recorded live in Philadelphia and New York. The recording runs over two hours and also boasts duets with guest stars Il Divo. The complete track listing for "Streisand—Live in Concert 2006" follows: (Act I): Overture, "Starting Here, Starting Now," "Down With Love," "The Way We Were," "Ma Premiere Chanson," "Evergreen" (with Il Divo), "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Funny Girl," "The Music That Makes Me Dance," "My Man" and "People." (Act II): Entr'acte, "The Music of the Night" (with Il Divo), "Jason's Song"/"Carefully Taught"/"Children Will Listen," "Unusual Way," "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," "Happy Days Are Here Again," "(Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair?," "The Time of Your Life"/"A Cockeyed Optimist," "Somewhere" (with Il Divo), "My Shining Hour," "Don't Rain On My Parade" (reprise) and "Smile." . . . The recent Streisand tour was co-directed by Streisand and Richard Jay-Alexander, and the 64-piece orchestra was conducted by William Ross. The suggested retail price for the CD is $24.98. Stand-up comic, actor, musician, BC/EFA fundraiser and Playbill.com columnist Seth Rudetsky will perform a master class April 16 to benefit The Actors' Fund of America. Entitled Seth's Broadway 101: A Master Class in Belting, Divas, and Hostile Opinions, the evening will be held at New World Stages. Show time is 7:30 PM. Rudetsky will be joined by a host of Broadway favorites for the benefit performance, including Laura Benanti, Charles Busch, Kristin Chenoweth, Raul Esparza, Norm Lewis, Andrea McArdle, Pamela Myers and Julia Murney. "Using a full orchestra," read press notes, "audio/visual aids and talents of Broadway guest stars, Seth will show the audience what is brilliant about Broadway, how it works and why it sometimes can be a splitting headache!" Peter Flynn directs. New World Stages is located in Manhattan at 340 West 50th Street. Tickets, priced $25-$100, are available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133. The top ticket price includes a post-performance cast party. Visit www.actorsfund.org for more information.

And, finally, the big news of the week. . . Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone, who triumphed in last summer's Ravinia Festival production of Gypsy, will get the chance to perform her Rose for New York audiences this summer. City Center will present the Arthur Laurents-Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne musical as part of its new Encores! Summer Stars series, a spin off of the popular Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert series. Laurents, who wrote the book for what is considered one of the finest American musicals, will direct the fully-staged production, which is scheduled to begin performances July 9 for a limited run through July 29. The official opening night will be July 12. Tickets for Gypsy will go on sale April 9 at the City Center box office (West 55th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues). Tickets, priced $25-$110, will also be available by calling (212) 581-1212 or by visiting www.nycitycenter.org.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.