Last night, for the third consecutive year, I visited with Betty Buckley at Feinsteins The year’s show, billed as “Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway” is a collection of Ms. Buckley favorite show tunes (from film and stage) sung by male characters. She opens, aptly, with ‘Tonight’, and goes on to explain her discovery of Riff (Russ Tamblyn) at the impressionable age of 14. Having also experienced West Side Story at the age of 14, I can attest to the imprint it leaves. Add to that the discovery of both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (as Ms Buckley and I both did) and well, can real life really ever compare?
It did last night.
Whether it is her chosen repertoire, or her Feinstein alumni status, Ms. Buckley has never seemed more at home. Radiant in a silk shantung jacket, flowing silk pants, and leopard pumps devilishly peeking out from time to time, Ms Buckley communicates accessibility. As a Broadway leading lady, with few if any equals, this Texas gal exudes a warmth and approachability that defies any (rightfully earned) diva-ship. Also counter to diva-hood, is that Ms. Buckley, for all her Tony winning, has the soul of a folk singer. She is a singer (and actress) adept at navigating all range of human emotion. Her natural velvety voice can ache (reminding me of Jane Olivor) and then easily soar to heights of joy, making all the necessary stops along the way. I wonder which comes first? A delicate actress with a powerful core, or the singer? I suspect that there is no separating the two in Betty Buckley. She is so unique, that if your first exposure to a song is delivered by Ms. Buckley, it never really sounds “right” sung by anyone else (e.g., Meadowlark, Memory, score of Sunset Boulevard, etc.)
I have maintained that so many of the best songs written have been done so for male characters. So it is no coincidence that I simply loved last night’s song list. ‘I Won’t Dance,’ ‘Younger Than Springtime,’ ‘Something’s Coming,’ ‘Corner of the Sky,’ ‘More I Cannot Wish You,’ and an exquisite medley from ‘Sweeney Todd’ were just some of the selections. Her smooth, strong and subtle voice, paired with her utter ease on stage, created the most intimate experience. Making strong eye contact with the audience, she created a space that was more ‘living room’ than ‘cabaret.’ Which, truly is the mark of great cabaret. I was also struck by her very enjoyable sense of humor. I found myself thinking (please don’t hate me Ms. Buckley): “Wow, she would really be a great Miss Hannigan.”
This personal, moving, absolutely fabulous show will be playing for the month of October. It truly is not to be missed.