I spent a good deal of the week listening to Betty Buckley's newest album on the Sterling Records label, Much More. The CD, which borrows its title from the Schmidt/Jones tune from The Fantasticks, is Buckley's first solo work to be recorded in the studio since With One Look, and the Tony winner's voice is in superb shape. Buckley has shed the darker Norma Desmond sound she adopted to great effect for Sunset Boulevard, returning to a glorious sweetness and a steeliness that is evocative of her live concert recording for Rizzoli Records a decade ago. On her new release, the actress focuses on some of the most classic torch songs, offering riveting versions of "The Man That Got Away," "Cry Me a River" and "Skylark." The aforementioned sound, coupled with a keen understanding of what life and love are about, provide a vision of love gone wrong (and sometimes right) that is utterly moving.
Cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci once joked that she considers a torch song any song about lost love for which "I torture myself onstage for [an audience's] benefit." Many torch singers might agree with this statement, and Buckley does to a degree; however, from this starting point she takes a decidedly unique and refreshing spin. While there is a good deal of pain expressed over lost love in her interpretations, there is also a complete understanding of the ironies of life and a sense that new love may be just around the corner, a wisdom that comes with maturity.
Produced by Buckley and Kenny Werner, the CD boasts five arrangements by the Tony-winning orchestrator Jonathan Tunick ("Much More," "The Man That Got Away," "Laura," "Lush Life" and "It Must Be So") with the remainder by Werner and Buckley. What is most enjoyable about this collection of classics is the novel manner in which many of the songs are presented. Take Buckley's interpretation of "Cry Me a River" as an example. In addition to the anger that is usually displayed when singers take on this song, Buckley also expresses a subtle sense of glee in watching an ex-lover suffer a bit, as if to say, "I suffered over you; now it's your turn, and I'm gonna enjoy it." It is also remarkable the shape that this recording finds Buckley's voice: Just listen to the way she soars up to the high E flat in "Cry me a river, cry me a river, I cried a river over you."
The almost ethereal quality of Buckley's voice is best represented in some of the quieter moments of the recording--in a haunting delivery of "Laura" or a gorgeous rendering in both English and French of "Autumn Leaves." Buckley is well aware of the power of her belt, but listen to the way she caresses a note in this wistful memory of a lost love. Perhaps the most beautiful song offered on her new set is Leonard Bernstein's "It Must Be So" from Candide, with its wealth of melody that in Buckley's hands becomes a cathartic meditation on life.
One of my favorite tracks is the newest song offered, Craig Carnelia's "Flight." Carnelia, who wrote the score for the Broadway musical Is There Life After High School? has been a prominent figure on the cabaret scene in the past decade, performing his own shows while also being championed by Karen Akers and many other chanteuses. I first heard "Flight" about five years ago and was extremely moved by the longing expressed in the song. Buckley offers a radically different arrangement, a jazzy version that is equally beguiling. It is also a perfect complement to the album's title song: Whereas "Much More" expresses a longing for a life that is not simply "keeping house," "Flight" takes that yearning to a higher, other worldly level.
Other highlights include a lilting "Pretty Women" from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and a rousing version of Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine" that finds Buckley in a stentorian mode--hear the way she sings, "Happy together, unhappy together, and won't that be fine?"
Much More is a welcome addition to the ever-growing Buckley canon, a CD filled with beautiful songs that are equally beautifully sung.
*And, of course, you can catch Buckley, F. Murray Abraham and Susan Egan nightly at the Royale Theatre in the new musical comedy Triumph of Love, which officially opens on October 23. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200 or 1-800-432-7250 and may also be purchased in person at the box office of the Royale.
Another Norma Desmond, Diahann Carroll, has also completed her latest solo recording, The Time of My Life. The CD, which will be released within the next few weeks from Sterling Records, is Carroll's first recording since playing the demanding role of Norma in the Canadian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. The songs that comprise The Time of My Life include the following:
"I Concentrate on You" (Porter)
"Someone to Watch Over Me" (Gershwin)
"Old Friends" (Sondheim)
"September Song" (Weill/Anderson)
"I Didn't Know About You" (Ellington/Russell)
"You Fascinate Me So" (Coleman/Leigh)
"Here I'll Stay" (Weill/Lerner)
"A Sleepin' Bee" (Arlen/Capote/Arlen)
"Once Upon a Time" (Strouse/Adams)
"What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" (Lane/Lerner)
"A Song for You" (L. Russell)
"Something To Live For" (Strayhorn)
I ran into that belter of all belters, Alix Korey, on the way home from work Tuesday night. Korey informed me that she had just signed to be the new standby (replacing Michelle Pawk) for none other than Betty Buckley in Triumph of Love. Korey was very enthusiastic about the show and raved about the score, especially the Act I finale, which she believes could be a big pop hit. Korey, who has starred on Broadway in The Pirates of Penzance and Ain't Broadway Grand, is also one of the most talented, humorous and enjoyable performers in the cabaret community, possessing a voice that could probably out-belt Merman. She can be heard on her two solo albums, Songs You Might Have Missed and Gifts of Love.
I've received a few e-mails requesting the many TV, film and video appearances of our Song and Dance gal in the next few months. As requested, here is a brief rundown:
November 9 - Into the Woods reunion concert at the Broadway Theatre
November 11 - Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Forest video released
November 21 - Anastasia, the new animated film, hits theatres
November 23- TV movie "What the Deaf Man Heard" airs on CBS
December 14- TV movie "Holiday in Your Heart" airs on ABC REMINDERS:
JUDI CONNELLI, one of Australia's premiere theatre and cabaret stars, will return to the U.S. for two concerts at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall on October 30 and 31 (212-246-7800), plus appearances at Eighty Eights (October 17, 18 and 24 at 11pm; October 19 at 3 pm) cabaret in the West Village.
FLORENCE LACEY continues her world tour of Evita, now starring at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin from October 15 through November 23.
PATTI LuPONE Tickets for The Old Neighborhood, the new David Mamet play that will bring LuPone back to Broadway, will go on sale this Sunday, October 19 through Tele-charge (212-239-6200). Previews will begin on November 11 at the Booth Theatre (222 West 45th Street) with an opening night scheduled for November 19.
LILIANE MONTEVECCHI will join forces with another legendary French star, Jean Pierre Cassel, for an exciting evening of cabaret on Saturday, November 8 at 7pm and 9:30 pm. The two performers will be part of the 92nd St. Y's annual "Cabaret in Concert" series, held in the Kaufman Auditorium at 1395 Lexington Avenue. Tickets range from $30-$35 and are available by calling Y-Charge at 212-996-1100.
That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!
-- By Andrew Gans
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