Some performers are content, and why not, to stay in the comfortable niche that they have carved for themselves; Betty Buckley is not one of them. In fact, she is the antithesis--an ever-changing artist whose talent and, to borrow a phrase from Tim Rice, star quality seem to grow with each endeavor. This month alone, Buckley can be seen in the abortion rights film Critical Choices for the Showtime network, in the period TV program "Remember WENN" on AMC, and now onstage in the touring revue, Music of the Night. Buckley's most-recent Broadway appearance in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard transformed the show and its lead character, Norma Desmond, from Glenn Close's oddly sung, gargoyle-like creature into a vulnerable, humanly tragic figure who simultaneously sent chills down your spine and touched your heart. And, Buckley has now equally transformed the tour of Music of the Night, an evening of Andrew Lloyd Webber music that has heretofore starred Melissa Manchester, Ann Crumb and others. Last spring, I had the chance to catch the tour starring Les Miz's Colm Wilkinson, and the evening was, despite Wilkinson's powerful singing, bland. Somehow, Buckley has managed to do the impossible--she injects her utterly unique voice and dramatic sensibility so intensely in her work that she elevates even those numbers of which she is not a part.
After an overture from the onstage orchestra, Buckley greeted the audience with her second-act aria from Sunset Boulevard, "As If We Never Said Goodbye."Sunset devotees will be interested to know that Buckley ends the song on a higher note on "we taught the world new ways to dream," which fits the concert setting well.
Buckley, dressed to the nines in a red skirt and jacket with an Eva Peronish coif, then segued, appropriately enough, into a sultry version of Evita's "Buenos Aires," making each and every lyric count. Soon after, she began a subtle, immensely felt rendition of that show's anthem, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." The sequence also gave BB the chance to sing parts of "Rainbow Tour," "A New Argentina" and the "Ride on my train, oh my people" section from "Oh What a Circus." It was a thrill to hear Buckley's powerful voice soar through some of the Evita passages, making it only more frustrating that BB never played the role onstage--her intensity and vocal prowess would have made her a perfect Eva.
Later, BB, ensconced in a white outfit, delivered a simple, plaintive reading of "Tell Me on a Sunday" from Song & Dance, building slowly to the song's climactic plea, "Don't run off in the pouring rain, don't call me as they call your plane, take the hurt out of all the pain. . ."
The first half (which also included a dance sequence from Cats, Requiem's "Pie Jesu" and a few songs from Jesus Christ Superstar) concluded with a suite of songs--John Herrera's "Love Changes Everything," Jill Paton's "Unexpected Song" and Buckley's torchy "I Don't Know How To Love Him." The three songs merged together at times, creating a theatrically intense moment that climaxed with all three performers singing the final lines of "Love Changes Everything."
During the second half, Buckley had the chance to perform a beautiful, lyric version of "All I Ask of You" from The Phantom of the Opera as well as her haunting rendition of "Memory," which in this theatrical setting brought one back to her run in Cats at the Winter Garden Theatre. It's always amazing how fresh an interpretation Buckley can deliver for a song she has sung hundreds of times. Just watch her facial expressions as she sings the Trevor Nunn lyric.
The evening concluded with a suite of songs from Sunset Boulevard, including the title song; an interesting staging of "Let's Have Lunch," featuring the chorus members seated across the stage; and the men of the chorus introducing Buckley with parts of "Greatest Star." Buckley made her last entrance of the evening dressed in a flowing gown that suggested a silent screen star. She then delivered an impassioned "With One Look" that brought a roar of approval from the audience after she insisted, "This time I'm staying for good. I'll be back where I was born to be. With one look, I'll be me."
Kudos also to John Herrera's passionate, unmasked "Music of the Night" and to D. Michael Heath's powerful, high-voltage "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar. One quibble--why have chorus members sing a somewhat tacky rendition of "You Made Me Think You Were in Love," a song that Buckley sang far better in Song and Dance. Oh well, I guess Buckley can't sing everything. I take that back--she can.
That's all for now. Happy holidays and happy diva-watching!--
By Andrew Gans
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