DIVA TALK: Praise for Betty B in LA

DIVA TALK: Praise for Betty B in LA BETTY BUCKLEY
Buckley is currently performing at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles through Jan. 17 in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Music of the Night." There has been a plethora of interviews and reviews with and about Ms. B and her work in the show. Following are excerpts from a few of these write-ups.

BETTY BUCKLEY
Buckley is currently performing at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles through Jan. 17 in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Music of the Night." There has been a plethora of interviews and reviews with and about Ms. B and her work in the show. Following are excerpts from a few of these write-ups.

In The Hollywood Reporter, Jay Reiner writes:
"In "Andrew Lloyd Webber Music of the Night," the title says it all. With 36 musical highlights on tap selected from nearly all of Webber's omnipresent shows, fans of the British composer can rest assured their favorite number from their favorite show is almost certain to pop up.
The singing is mostly in the capable hands of Betty Buckley, an actress-singer who goes back a long way with Webber's music and knows how to deliver its melodic richness with a variety of dark and subtle overtones. Buckley gets the evening off to a stirring start with a passionate rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from "Sunset Boulevard," a song she knows well, having played the Norma Desmond role in London and New York.
Later, Buckley returns with an emotionally wrenching "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" and an exquisite version of "With One Look," also from "Sunset." But as good as these selections are, it's her haunting interpretation of "Memory" from "Cats" that steals the evening. Buckley won a Tony in 1983 for playing Grizabella the Glamour Cat in the original Broadway production, and this number is one good reason why. . ."

In the Los Angeles Times, Laurie Winer had this to say about Betty B:
" . . .In the second act, Buckley gives a scintillating glimpse into her Norma when she sings "Greatest Star." [I think she means "With One Look"!] She offers a dementia touched by sweetness. But her most affecting number is "Memory" from "Cats," a song she originated on Broadway back in 1982. The delicate rue in her vibrato, so appropriate to the bittersweet lyric, has grown richer and sadder still. In her hands, the much overplayed song takes on a new patina of melancholy and has an authenticity sorely lacking from most of the rest of the show."

There was also a really terrific interview with BB in the Los Angeles Times' Sunday Calendar section. Patrick Pacheco, a contributor to Playbill and Newsday conducted the interview, and there was also a great, nearly full-page color photo of Buckley.

Following are some of Buckley's choice quotes: * About adapting her songs for a concert setting:
"In Cincinnati, I sang 'With One Look' with all the burners burning," she recalls, "like I did in 'Sunset,' except instead of wearing the diamond bracelets and burnoose and turban, I'm in this ethereal beige gown, with my hair down. The audience didn't know what hit them. I mean, the look on their faces. . . It's been very difficult learning to modulate the material. . .It's a question of balancing what works in a concert format and the desire to unleash these characters to do what they can do for people. Like tonight, singing 'Memory.' Having lived in Grizabella for a year and a half and having sung her in my own concerts for 16 years, I had a desire to share with the audience a flavor, a moment, of what it was I created in that show. As an actress for hire, it's incumbent on me to bring my soul's knowing to the situation. But how far can I go?"

* About life and love:
"I use my own experiences. . .I'd prefer living in a healthy, passionate, vital relationship, and I've had that from time to time, but it's not something that's lasted in my life. I don't think I've selected terribly wisely, having to do with a long journey with self-esteem. It's not an unusual story, I'm afraid. The passion one feels with a significant other is something I'd like to have again because it's such a blast. But I've also found that there is a state of being called love that resides in each person. And my life is so incredibly full of love that I can sing about love at any moment. It's not something in the past or in the future, but something immediate, deep and primal."

* An her mission as an actress:
"People come into this black box--the theater--and if you do your job right, then they have that experience, even when you are telling them the darkest, saddest story. . .If you can bring them that ecstasy, that joy, help them heal their own hearts, then what more could you ask of life?"

THREE EVITAS: PATTI LuPONE, ELAINE PAIGE, FLORENCE LACEY

In what turned out to be one of the last issues of Theatre Week magazine, three of the greatest Evitas, Elaine Paige, Florence Lacey and Patti LuPone (actually LuPone declined the interview but quotes from a previous interview were used), spoke to Michael Buckley about the role and the then-upcoming film of the musical starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. I thought you'd be interested in reading some of their feelings about the role and the film:

Elaine Paige (current star of the NY production of Sunset Boulevard)
"Well, of course, this was the role that completely changed my life. My memories are that I auditioned for it several times. It seemed the world and his wife wanted to play this role. All the famous names were bandied about.
I remember that my final audition took place on the Thursday prior to Good Friday on the Easter weekend. I had to wait the entire weekend, wondering whether or not I'd made it. On Tuesday, I received a phone call from my agent, saying could I go to Andrew Lloyd Webber's apartment. They wanted to see me, once again, to sing around the piano, and go through a few things again. I was out of town. I said I'd come in the late afternoon.
"My mother and I came back up to London together. I went off and met Andrew and Tim and Hal Prince. And I sang round the piano, with Andrew accompanying me. I went home, and I still didn't know [the outcome]. Near midnight, my doorbell rang, and it was my agent. I said to her, 'What the hell are you doing here?' She said, 'I just wanted to come by.' She came in. I'll never forget it. She had a green cape on. With a flourish, she opened her cape and underneath was a bottle of champagne. And she said, 'The part is yours!'
"I had a piece of paper in my hands. I threw it up, and it hit the ceiling. I burst into tears. And so did my mother. I couldn't believe it. This very important role--that everybody wanted--was mine!"
" . . .
My first performance on Broadway as Norma reminded me of my first performance as Evita in London. It was so similar. The audiences went absolutely mad--stomping their feet and shouting. And it went on and on and on and on and on.
"I remember going up to my dressing room [on opening night in London]. I got up two flights, and the company manager grabbed me, and said, 'You must come back.' He pulled me down the stairs. And I remember walking back onto the stage--and this was unheard of. London audiences don't usually behave like that. In the show, people shout, 'Evita! Evita! Evita! [The audience] were all shouting my name. I'll never forget it! It was the most, most memorable time in my life. Nothing will ever top that!"
". . .Half of me can't wait to see [the film], and half of me doesn't want to go at all. . .Maybe I'll watch it alone--like Norma!" (Laughs)

Florence Lacey (currently playing Fantine in Les Miserables)
". . .The most thrilling moment that Evita gave me" occurred opening night at the Zurich Opera House. "It was the first time I'd ever been in Europe, and the audience went so crazy! I was called back for seven curtain calls. They wouldn't let me leave the stage.
"Probably the Europeans have a little easier time accepting an opera in its original language than we do. I think if someone came here and sang a musical theatre piece in Italian, we wouldn't respond quite the same as the Italians responded to Evita in English.
". . .I had to justify her, and find her reason for the way she behaved. I love the woman very much. She was a liberated woman in a time and place where that was absolutely horrifying to be. She was an extremely strong woman in her opinions and her angers. And I think she was trying to do the best she could for herself--always first--but also for a group of people she felt her country was letting down. She thrived on her celebrity. She believed her own celebrity in a way that was very typical of a girl who grew up reading movie magazines."
". . .I'm really, really excited to see [the movie]. There's so much to work with. It was a beautiful time in history, and fashion, and so forth. And Madonna has the right combination of things, the right aggressiveness, and the right lower class and upper class--all mixed together--just right for the role. And, as far as I'm concerned, Antonio Banderas steals the recording."

Patti LuPone (currently portraying another diva, Maria Callas, in Master Class)
". . .
It's a role that assaults you. It is a threatening, no-holds-barred role. And to the play the role well, you manipulate an audience. I rang laughs out of the first act and I had them in tears in the second act, but at my curtain call they still didn't know how they felt."
". . .Hal's [Prince, director of Evita] production was to die for. That's the thing that pissed me off about the reviews. The reviews said nothing about the fact that this was a modern opera and it was innovative. They only said, 'How dare you put the life of Evita Peron on the stage.'"
"It's [the film] not going to be the musical or the score. You know, the minute they change the key in the score, it's no longer what was written and it's compromise. I don't think Madonna's singing in those keys. There's not many people who can sing in the keys that Andrew writes, period. But they got the sexiest man in Hollywood and the Princess of Pop. And strangely I have to say I think it's going to be fabulous. It could just be fantastic. It's not going to be the show that we thought was an innovative, modern opera placed on Broadway, but it can easily be two hours of a fantastic music video. . ."

And, one last bit of Evita news. According to Monday's Daily Variety, after expanding from two theatres to twenty-two screens last weekend, Evita took in "an astounding" $1.1 million or $50,000 per situation. ALBUM OF THE WEEK: KAREN MASON's Better Days

On her second album for Zevely Records, Karen Mason who recently left her position as standby for Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard to Maureen Moore presents a collection of songs by the late composer Brian Lasser. Mason met Lasser in Chicago in 1972, and the two enjoyed a strong musical partnership that lasted until Lasser's death in 1992; in fact, the album is Mason's tribute to Lasser.
Lasser's music is the perfect vehicle to showcase Mason's strong, supple voice, one that jumps from a tender caress of a note to a shattering Broadway belt. The majority of the songs on Better Days are torch songs, which Mason ignites with her dramatic interpretations. Highlights include "Hold Me," "I Haven't Got Time" and the title track.

**A few reminders:
January 18: HBO 9pm, Bette Midler in Concert
January 19: Bernadette Peters and Laurie Beechman perform at the Presidential Inauguration
January 29: Patti LuPone concludes her critically acclaimed run in the Broadway production of Master Class.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

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