Betty Buckley’s Broadway

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. BBetty Buckley is a consummate performer, a marvel whether experienced in a role on stage, in concert, or in recording. Betty Buckley’s Broadway, her newest release from Sterling Records, is a compilation of songs performed from 1969 to 1998, arranged chronologically. While most of the performances are from Broadway shows, a few are from regional or off-Broadway productions, and two of Buckley’s Broadway appearances are unaccounted for. There is nothing from Pippin in which she replaced Jill Clayburgh as "Catherine" in the mid-’70s, nor Triumph of Love in which she starred a couple of years ago.

Even more annoying is the lack of any liner notes whatsoever. Those of us enamored with Buckley’s oeuvre would have delighted in a brief biographical sketch providing background for these songs. In addition to her Broadway career, Betty Lynn has appeared in nonmusical roles on stage, in films and on television. She replaced Diana Hyland as Abby in the television sitcom "Eight is Enough" and appears as the country singer Dixie Scott in Tender Mercies and as Harrison Ford’s kidnapped wife in Roman Polanski’s Frantic.

The album opens with Buckley’s 1969 Broadway debut as Martha Jefferson in Sherman Edwards’ 1776. Her youthful voice (she was 22) is sweet and clear on "He Plays The Violin," but lacks the richness and depth that she developed as she matured. "Old Friend" from the 1980 off-Broadway I’m Putting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road by Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer (Buckley replaced Cryer) is a track from the 1994 studio recording With One Look.

Cats , for which she won a Tony, is likely the show with which Buckley is most associated. I had dismissed the overexposed "Memory" until I heard her perform it in concert at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco a few years ago. Her searing rendition of the Grizabella’s late night number gave me goose bumps.

I first encountered Buckley in The Mystery of Edwin Drood on my most memorable Christmas day. Cross-dressed as Edwin, she starred with George Rose and Cleo Laine in Rupert Holme’s 1985 inventive version of the never-completed Dickens’ tale. From that original Broadway cast recording are "Perfect Strangers," a lovely duet with Patti Cohenour, and the stirring "The Writing on the Wall." In 1986 Buckley took over the role of Emma, created by Bernadette Peters in the Americanized version of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Don Black’s Song and Dance. "Unexpected Song" and "Tell Me on a Sunday" are from Children Will Listen (1993) and The London Concert (1995) respectively.

On May 12, 1988 Buckley starred in the ill-fated Carrie, as Carrie’s mother. Coincidentally Buckley had played the gym teacher in the 1976 film version of the Stephen King novel. The musical’s reputation as the most unique disaster in Broadway history provided the title for Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops. Even if the show only lasted five performances, Buckley’s "When There’s No One" is a beautifully overwrought paean to a misguided mother’s love.

Buckley’s brilliant acting ability is also aptly evidenced in her dark interpretation of "Pirate Jenny," representing her performance in Threepenny Opera at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1992. Her Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 1998 was another powerful portrayal. Wringing all the narcissistic agony from the subtext of Sondheim’s lyrics, she increased the intensity until it became unbearable. When she finally exploded in "Rose’s Turn," the released pent-up sexual energy was palpable. The cut from An Evening at Carnegie Hall makes one wish the entire performance had been recorded.

With four tracks, Sunset Boulevard is the most represented show on this 14-track compilation. As Norma Desmond in London and on Broadway, Buckley is considered to be the best interpreter of the Andrew Lloyd Weber version of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece. In addition to "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye," (an anguished interpretation from the Carnegie Hall concert as opposed to the more wistful version from With One Look) this album includes the first commercial release of "Surrender" and "New Ways to Dream," previously only available on a four-song CD sold at the Minskoff Theater during Buckley’s run in 1995.

Whether as an introduction to a proficient performer, or a handy collection of most of Buckley’s show tunes, this album by one of Broadway’s best, is most welcome.

– Jim Van Buskirk