Musical theatre fans, this writer included, rejoiced last year when it was announced that Tony Award-winning actress Betty Buckley would return to the London stage in Jerry Herman's little-seen Dear World, directed and choreographed by Gillian Lynne, the woman who helped guide the multitalented Buckley to her Tony Award for her heartbreaking work as Grizabella in the original Broadway production of Cats.
Although Buckley has been busy with concert work, TV and film appearances, the release of several acclaimed CDs and the operation of a ranch bursting with animal life, it's been an unfathomable 15 years since Buckley has graced audiences with her presence in a musical theatre work on either side of the Atlantic. That situation has thankfully now been rectified.
"Gillian and I had been talking for years about doing a project together," an upbeat Buckley recently told me by phone from London during a break from rehearsals for the musical, which begins previews Feb. 4 at The Charing Cross Theatre. "We've maintained our friendship since 1982 when we did Cats together. She was a really important inspiration and role model to me. I loved her ever since I was a teenager and knew her name from the work she did with Anthony Newley [on] Roar of the Greasepaint. I think she's one of the great ladies of the musical theatre, so I was, of course, thrilled to get to work with her in Cats. And, we really had a connection, and she was such an inspiration and role model for me. We stayed in touch through the years — corresponded — and she has come to see everything I've done.
"We kept saying that we want to work together," the award-winning actress continued, "so we came up with various ideas, and then two years ago, she phoned me and said, 'We need to do Dear World together,' and I was like, 'Okay, I'm in!' People through the years have told me that I should play that part…She called our mutual British agent, Jean Diamond, who called me last December and said, 'Gillian needs you to fly to New York in February and meet with her about the show because we're going to do it.' So I met with her last February at her apartment in New York, and we had about a three-and-a-half hour meeting about the play and the musical and her vision of it. Negotiations started last February, and it all came together. We've been thinking about coming here for so long; it's amazing that we're actually here and that it's actually proceeding. It's very exciting."
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