DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Two-Time Tony Winner Chita Rivera Plus Betty Buckley's Signature Songs

By Andrew Gans
04 Oct 2013

Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley: Signature Songs
If Betty Buckley was looking for a new concert act to tour the country, she need look no further. Betty Buckley: Signature Songs, which the Tony-winning actress presented Sept. 30 to a sold-out crowd at Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre, was a perfect evening of song and story. The Texas native needn't change a thing: not one word, sung or spoken.

Buckley confessed early on that the title of her concert had more to do with the Off-Broadway venue — currently the home of the much-extended Horton Foote drama The Old Friends, which features a captivating performance by the Olivier Award nominee — than her own award-winning career. That said, there were several tunes associated with the versatile performer, including a thrilling "As If We Never Said Goodbye," which reminded the enthusiastic crowd why Buckley was heralded for her work as Sunset Boulevard's ill-fated Norma Desmond on both sides of the Atlantic, and a compelling medley of "Kiss Her Now" and "And I Was Beautiful," which Buckley performed in the recent London debut of Jerry Herman's Dear World and left this concertgoer wanting to hear Buckley's take on the entire score.

The evening, which kicked off with a belty, upbeat "I Can See It" and a charming "I Won't Dance," featured highlights from Buckley's most recent concert acts, the acclaimed Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway and The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway. From the former were 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 moving "Hey There," which featured a terrific arrangement by music director and pianist Christian 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 a humorous, extended medley that allowed the Broadway favorite a chance to take on the leading male roles from Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables, Carousel, The Music Man and more, all performed masterfully.

Vixens offerings included a humorous "I Know Things Now" from Into the Woods and a beautifully touching version of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" from Evita. Other highlights of Signature Songs, simply and effectively staged by Michael Wilson with lighting by Howell Binkley and sound by Terry Gabis, included a roof-raising "Over You" and a spirit-raising "Corner of the Sky."

Buckley returned for one encore, her Signature Song, Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory," which remains as haunting as ever. Her initial cat pose drew a good-natured chuckle from the audience, but by the time she implored in full, exciting voice, "Touch me, it's so easy to leave me," there couldn't have been anyone in the theatre whose soul hadn't been stirred.

A few weeks ago, after catching Buckley's performance in Foote's Old Friends, I left hoping the multi-talented actress would get to sink her teeth into a bevy of other equally complex Southern women. After Monday's concert, I have to admit I'm hoping a Broadway musical will be her next endeavor. Either way, let's keep this gifted artist in New York. Sorry, Texas, you've had her long enough.

[The concert supported The Legacy Program in honor of Horton Foote; visit signaturetheatre.org.]

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

PHOTO ARCHIVE: Betty Buckley's Stage Highlights

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Betty Buckley in Sunset Boulevard
Photo by Joan Marcus