That Texas air must be something.
Betty Buckley, the Fort Worth native who spent this past summer in Texas riding cutting horses, buying a ranch and teaching advanced acting courses at the University of Texas at Arlington, seems to have been reinvigorated by those experiences.
The Tony-winning Cats star returned to Manhattan earlier this week for her second extended engagement at Feinstein's at the Regency — she will play the plush, intimate room through Nov. 8 — with an entirely brand-new show that is supremely moving and often thrilling. During her opening-night, 65-minute set, Buckley joked that she had toyed with simply calling her show Real Pretty Songs before settling on Journey, an ode to her recent car trips (she will soon trade in her BMW for a red Ford truck) between New York City and Texas. In fact, it was during those "journeys" where Buckley listened to much of the music that comprises her current spellbinding act.
Cabaretgoers can't help being struck by the fact that Buckley does not choose her songs randomly or merely to demonstrate the power of her glorious voice; it's evident that the songs she selects resonate deeply with the actress, and that is a blessing for the listener. Many of the evening's tunes featured lyrics by the Oscar-winning husband and-wife team of Marilyn and Alan Bergman, who Buckley worked with this summer during The Power of American Popular Song symposium at the Sundance Theatre. "I realized that they shaped how I view romance — they're to blame for so many things," Buckley quipped before launching into touching versions of "Like a Lover" and a wonderful pairing of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" and "The Summer Knows," the latter two featuring music by Michel Legrand. It was another Bergman offering — "Where Do You Start?" — that was one of the evening's most stirring moments. Buckley poured her heart and voice into the Bergman/Johnny Mandel song that speaks of "all the things you thought would last — that didn't last," and there wasn't a dry eye in the room.
Other highlights of her show included Leonard Cohen's haunting "Hallelujah"; the Billie Holiday classic "Stormy Blues" that demonstrated Buckley's ability to belt the blues; Bob Seger's poignant "Till It Shines"; as well as a terrific medley of three standards: "Smile," "Blue Skies" and "Summer Wind." Buckley returned for two encores: the Bergman/Legrand "You Must Believe in Spring" and her Tony-winning rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory," which remains a show-stopper.
At Feinstein's Buckley is backed by Kenny Werner on piano, Billy Drewes on reeds, Ray Marchica on drums, Tony Marino on bass and Todd Reynolds on violin. She plays Tuesday-Saturdays at 8:30 PM with late shows on Friday and Saturday nights at 11 PM. Call (212) 339-4095. Don't miss your chance to take this sensational Journey.
Charlotte d'Amboise is, perhaps, the best dancer to have played the role of Roxie Hart in the current Tony-winning revival of Chicago, gliding across the stage of the Ambassador with ease. She's also extremely funny, sexy and one of the most likable Roxies I've encountered, and her performance of Kander and Ebb's "Roxie" solo is magnetic. I recently had the chance to chat with the easy-going d'Amboise, who has returned to the Broadway company of Chicago where she stars opposite the Velma Kelly of Reva Rice through mid-December. D'Amboise spoke about her work in such Broadway musicals as Song & Dance, Carrie, Jerome Robbins' Broadway and Chicago as well as her marriage to fellow actor Terrence Mann and their children, Josephine, age 1, and Shelby, 3 1/2 months.
Question: The first time I saw you perform was in Song & Dance, which I saw four times. What are your memories of that production?
Charlotte d'Amboise: You know that was one of the best, most fun shows I've ever done. It was just a small company, I was young, and I was just starting out. Everybody had a feature, so everybody was happy, and we were only in the second act. We didn't have to get there until later, and everyone got to show their talents. And Bernadette [Peters] was just a joy. The whole experience was really just fun. It was a great group of people. It was like the best of the best. I just remember having a great time. Peters Martins choreographed it — he was so relaxed. It was a very relaxed [atmosphere] — it was also kind of a thing where we knew it was going to run whether it got good reviews or not, so there was no pressure at that point for some reason. I remember it was just easy and fun.
Q: And you also got to work with your brother [Christopher] . . .
CD: And that, too! And also my best friend — both got hired. Denise Faye — we went to dance school together. She's been my best friend since I was 11 years old. How many people in that cast — it was like eight. She got cast, and I got cast, and then my brother got cast. It was just fantastic!
Q: I was always sorry that they didn't film the show for PBS.
CD: It was the perfect thing to film for PBS. They weren't doing that as much then. Now they do it all the time. Then, I remember, I think Sunday in the Park was one of the first. They didn't quite film things as much — I wish they had.
Q: You were also part of a musical that has one of the largest cult followings, Carrie.
CD: Oh God, yeah, I know! [Laughs.]
Q: What was it like being in that show?
CD: That was a little harder. Coming off of Song & Dance — [Carrie] was the first thing that was a flop that I was in. And, also it was just really hard. We went to London first and did it there. And we had Barbara Cook, who did the part [of Carrie's mother]. We just got creamed there, got horrible reviews, and then they didn't change a thing — it was the weirdest thing — except for Betty Buckley [who replaced Cook] — that was the only change. Nothing changed. And I thought, 'Oh my God!' And we all just knew we were going to get creamed. It was just one of those things that you had to go out there, do your best and just get through it.
Q: And it's a shame because parts of the score are really strong.
CD: Part of the score — the stuff with Linzi [Hateley] and Betty Buckley, the two of them, is pretty amazing, really amazing. Actually I listened to it recently — one of those tapes that are going around — and thought, 'God, God,' and boy were they brilliant, really brilliant. It gave me chills listening to it. Their stuff was really amazing, and actually the subject matter was kind of interesting — an abusive situation. . .
Q: Too bad it never got recorded.
CD: I know, and there'd been a lot of talk about it for a long time, but it never did. I'm so surprised that it didn't because I have to tell you, I went on tour with Chicago, and every city I would go to, people would come and they were all Carrie fans and never anything else. [Laughs.] A show that I did two weeks — we literally did two weeks of that show, previewed it for two weeks and opened on a weekend and closed.
Q: In what show do you think you made the transition from a dancer in the chorus to leading lady?
CD: You know, I don't know. It was always a process . . . Once I did Song & Dance — and even in Song & Dance everybody's featured — I just thought I don't want to do chorus anymore. I just want to do roles. I really made a choice that that was the only thing I would do. The next thing I did was Carrie, which was a role. The problem with that is that I could work nonstop in the chorus. You have to make the choice to stop and not take jobs, and therefore you may not work for a year. It was a decision that I made early on, and actually at one point I said I'm not even going to do musicals for awhile. Right after Jerome Robbins' Broadway I went, 'I have to stop. I want to do plays. I want to really get my acting chops up and be confident as an actress as much as I am with the rest of it.' I just didn't do musicals for a long time. I also got burnt out after Robbins'. That was such a grueling schedule and such a tough show. Also a great experience, but tough. So I stopped for maybe a couple of years. And then finally I did Damn Yankees, Lola on the road somewhere. And I went, 'Oh wow, I like doing this.' I suddenly felt at home. And then I started doing musicals again.
Q: I would think that a play doesn't show all you can do, whereas in a musical you have to use everything.
CD: You're absolutely right. The only thing is that musicals are very limited as far as roles that you can really seek your teeth into because they're very one dimensional. You really don't see that much of a character. You just see the facade, the surface of it. When you do a play, you can really get into a part, so that part of it is really fulfilling. But I do miss the singing, and I do miss the dancing. And a play will never fulfill you like [a musical] does — and the thing that's great about Chicago is that I feel like it is everything. You really can sink into a part that has a beginning, middle and end, that has interesting colors to it, at least Roxie.
Q: I loved your Roxie; I thought it was one of the funniest Roxie's I'd seen.
CD: Oh, thanks.
Q: In the 'Roxie' solo, are you given some free reign to improvise?
CD: Yeah, you know it was a process that whole thing. And thank you to [director] Walter Bobbie and [choreographer] Ann Reinking. They allowed me a lot of freedom, which is a scary thing and a great thing. What it does initially, when I first started, I was just like lost — I didn't have certain parameters. But then you start performing and you start to find it, and I was able to find stuff that other people had never found before because I was allowed that [freedom], which is the best way to work because you make it your own. And, yet you still have to stay with the script, but with that monologue you're pretty much allowed a lot of freedom. They really are clear on that. They allow the characters to do their thing, which is why I think the show has been quite successful, besides the fact that it's a great show. They let people come in and show what they can do best. Especially for Velmas, they change choreography and for Roxie, they change choreography, everything to fit the person. I dance it a little more — 'Me and My Baby' — I do leaps and jumps and other people don't as much. They bring out what people do the best.
Q: How is it combining motherhood and working?
CD: It's tough. There are some great things about it — because suddenly everything else doesn't quite matter as much as your children. But also your life is so full. I don't have a second. Oh my God, it's unbelievable. [Laughs.] It's hard, but every day is a challenge. Every day is like trying to figure it all out so you can get through it okay. [Laughs.]
Q: Does it help that your husband [Terrence Mann] is also in the business?
CD: I think it does. Some people may argue that with me. I think from day one — even being married to someone — I think it's nice being married to someone in the business for me. Because I went on tour, and he understood. I don't think a man working 9 to 5 in a job here would understand and allow me to go a year on tour. We have flexibility [in our schedules], so it helps.
Q: Have you two worked together much or would you like to more?
CD: We did Cats together. That's where we met. Then we did Jerome Robbins' — because he replaced Jason Alexander — and that's really when we got together. And we did the play The Guys. We've done that a couple times. Regional stuff we get asked to do a lot together. We do like to work together a lot. It's nice, and now with the kids, it's easier, especially if we're going to go out of town.
Q: There's talk of a movie of a Contact.
CD: Yes, there is talk of that. There was talk, and then it got lost, and now there's talk again. I don't know if I'll do that, probably not, because I think they'll get stars for the leads. And I replaced Karen Ziemba in that, and I'm sure they'll get Karen if they're not going to use a [Hollywood] star.
Q: Have you done much TV or film work? How do you find that compared to doing theatre?
CD: Yeah, I've done 'Law & Order,' a couple movies. [It's] not as fulfilling. You know, fulfilling in the sense that you get recognition and you make money, and that's it. But I find it frustrating and never as fun as I want it to be. I think, 'Ooh, I got the part,' and then I'm there, and I'm like, 'Get me out of here.' It's really not fulfilling, and it's something I don't feel like I have a handle on yet because I don't do it enough because it is very different from stage, very different, I don't care what anybody says. [Laughs.] It's not where I'm most comfortable, where I'm trained.
Q: Do you have any dream roles in the theatre?
CD: Charity, not even a question about that. I've always wanted to do that role.
Q: Last question: When people hear the name Charlotte d'Amboise, what would you like them to think.
CD: I would like them to think 'what a talent!' instead of 'what a loser!' [Laughs.]
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Avenue Q's Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Listen to My Heart's Alix Korey and Mamma Mia!'s Karen Mason are just some of the performers lending their talents to the upcoming Making Miracles! benefit. The Nov. 17 concert for Miracle House will feature new songs by some of the theatre and cabaret world's most exciting composers performed by equally stellar artists. Those scheduled to perform include the aforementioned D'Abruzzo, Korey and Mason as well as Manna Allen, Tom Andersen, Terry Burrell, George Dvorsky, Maree Johnson, Jeffrey Khaner, Eddie Korbich, Heather MacRae, Phillip Officer and Colleen Whelihan. Among the contributing composers and lyricists are Leslie Becker, Patrick Dwyer, David Friedman (who will also perform), Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, Sean Hartley and Jihwan Kim, Ron Kaehler, David Krane, Brian Lasser, Bruce MacRae, Ben Moore, Robert Lindsey Nassif, Michael Ogborn and Richard Pearson Thomas. John Znidarsic directs and hosts the event, which is scheduled for 7:30 PM at the new Manhattan nightclub Branch. Cocktails — beginning at 6 PM — will precede the concert, which is being produced by Stephen Alfiere. Hairspray Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are the evening's honorary committee hosts. Tickets for the evening range from $40-$1,000 and are available by calling (212) 989-7790, ext. 12 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Branch is located in New York City at 226 East 54th Street. . . . An opera based on Lewis Carroll's classic fairy tale "Alice in Wonderland" is currently being written for Wicked star Kristin Chenoweth. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Opera confirmed that the company will premiere the new opera in 2006. Chenoweth, who just opened in Stephen Schwartz's Wicked, will star in the title role. The opera will feature music by Unsuk Chin and a libretto by award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang. . . . Melba Moore will headline Other Voices VII, the annual joint benefit concert for Shotgun Productions and the Organization for Autism Research. The Nov. 10 evening begins at 6 PM with cocktails, followed by dinner at 7 PM and the one-hour entertainment at 8 PM. Radio personality Christine Nagy (Z-100 FM's "Z Morning Zoo") will host the concert, which will feature Moore and her jazz band as well as performers from last season's Off-Broadway productions of Zanna, Don't! and The Chaos Theories. Tickets for the benefit are priced $150-$3,500 and are available by calling (212) 689 2322. Other Voices VII will be held at Caroline's on Broadway, located in Manhattan at 1639 Broadway at 50th Street. . . . Three-time Tony nominee Judy Kuhn will return to the intimate stage of Joe's Pub Mondays in November. The star of such musicals as Les Misérables, Chess and She Loves Me, Kuhn will perform her acclaimed concert act — Finding Home — which she debuted at Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. Kuhn will offer 7 PM shows on Mondays, Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24, where she is expected to perform Joni Mitchell's "All I Want" and "Let the Wind Carry Me"; Tom Waits' "I Don't Want to Grow Up"; Kurt Weill's "Susan's Dream"; and Harold Arlen's "Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." Kuhn will be accompanied by a trio led by her musical director and arranger, Jeffrey Klitz. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street, between East 4th Street and Astor Place. Tickets — priced at $25 — are available at the Public Theater's box office, on-line at www.telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200. Those interested in having dinner at Joe's Pub prior to the show should call (212) 539 8778.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Through Nov. 8 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 22 at the Dominican University in River Forest, IL
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Nov. 8 with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Hartford, CT
Nov. 10 in The Three Leading Ladies of Broadway in Washington, DC
Dec. 13 in Arlington, VA
Jan. 17, 2004 in Asheville, NC
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Nov. 1 in Mostly Sondheim at the Ferst Center in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 22 in Mostly Sondheim Revisited at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Nov. 29 in Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Theatre in Peeksill, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Nov. 1 at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, NH ("Matters of the Heart")
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Karen Mason in Concert:
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!