DIVA TALK: Karen Akers Chats about Stephen Sondheim; Ah Men! for Betty Buckley

By Andrew Gans
07 Oct 2011

Betty Buckley
photo by Myriam Santos

In her 40-year Broadway career, Tony winner Betty Buckley has demonstrated time and again that she can play any female role in the musical theatre canon: Whether she is portraying the mother of a young girl with telekinetic powers, an aging glamour cat or a faded silent-screen star, she does so with her astonishing gifts as an actress and a singer. That mix of vocal prowess and deeply felt emotional availability was also on display earlier this week in her new show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway, where Buckley proved that she would be equally adept at playing just about every major male role in the musical theatre.

Accompanied by Christian Jacob on piano, Peter Barshay on bass and Anthony Pinciotti on drums, the Tony-winning Cats star scored with tunes from Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Pippin, South Pacific and La Cage aux Folles that were delivered with equal parts strength and tenderness.

Highlights of the evening included a beautiful rendition of "Maria" from West Side Story; a touching reading of "Venice" from William Finn's Elegies that once again confirmed Buckley's superior skills as a singing actress and one of the great storytellers of her time; a rhythmic and belty version of the Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner standard "Come Back to Me"; a moving "Hey There," which featured a terrific arrangement by music director Jacob; a suite of songs from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd -- "Not While I'm Around," "Johanna" and "My Friends" — that Buckley built to a ferocious intensity; and an infectious version of the Pippin anthem, "Corner of the Sky."

Another high point of the generous set was a humorous, extended medley, arranged by Eric Stern and Eric Kornfeld, that allowed the Olivier-nominated actress a chance to take on the leading male roles from Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables, Carousel, The Music Man and more, and she did so masterfully.

More than anything, the evening let the gifted artist reminisce about the great movie musicals that influenced her as a youngster in Fort Worth, TX. Topping her list was the award-winning film of West Side Story, explaining she often performed the film's iconic opening in her family's driveway, only to have her dad jokingly exclaim, "Betty Lynn, the Jets are going to church now!" Buckley also described her admiration for the work of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire; in fact, when she needs a bit of motivation, Buckley admitted that she often watches clips of the late Astaire on YouTube. Funnily enough, when this writer needs some inspiration, he tends to view clips of Buckley on YouTube.

Buckley will play the posh cabaret through Oct. 29. Let's hope Broadway is her next destination. I would say Ah Men! to that.

[Feinstein's is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. For ticket reservations and club information, call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com.]

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