September 23rd, 2008
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Near the beginning of Betty Buckley’s
first-ever Birdland concert on Tuesday, September
23d, a strange buzzing sound could be heard coming
from her microphone as she began to speak. Ms. Buckley
broke for a moment and addressed the issue asking
her sound person to please adjust it. Moments later
the mic shut off altogether only to come back on,
a few seconds later, with the hissing sound still
audible. Ms. Buckley either didn’t notice
or decided it no longer mattered. She was about
to sing again; something she obviously pours her
heart and soul into. Anyone on the lookout for the
alleged notoriously temperamental diva, would be
sadly disappointed. What we got, instead, was a
gracious and astonishing artist singing her heart
out for ninety minutes.
Betty Buckley has one of the great
voices of our time and is one of the greatest Broadway
performers of the modern musical era, although she
has never had a show truly cater to her talents—which
is a bloody shame. Carrie the Musical came
close, but the camp elements tossed that runaway
train off its lunatic tracks before anyone was able
to appreciate the magic Ms. Buckley had created
Today, she lives in Texas, takes
on an occasional film role (most recently, giving
the only memorable supporting performance in Shyamalan’s
much-maligned movie, The Happening), but
is quite happy gathering her jazz quartet and taking
to the stage of a local club to croon some tunes.
On this first full day of Fall
we are warned early in the performance that she
will not be singing any show tunes. “Don’t
get your anxiety up,” she playfully warns.
The evening’s playlist consists of some of
her favorite jazz songs, standards and a few new
ditties she’s discovered.
What soon becomes obvious is how
much she adores the songs she is singing and how
passionate she is about sharing them with her audience.
Whether it’s the opening “On the 4th
of July” or a moving rendition of “How
Deep is the Ocean” or a gorgeous version of
“Autumn Leaves” or an evocative take
on the standard, “Skylark, ” Ms. Buckley
lets the song envelop her so fully she appears transported.
This may sound pretentious but to watch her and
listen to her is an experience beyond non-ostentatious
She showed some insights into
her growing up, paying tribute to great Antonio
Carlos Jobim (“Dindi” nicely arranged
with “How Insensitive” off her new CD,
Quintessence), as one of her favorite artists.
Later in the set, she brought the house down with
a rousing take on “Since I Fell for You, ”
which was her favorite when she was in high school.
She also took on Brenda Russell’s “Get
Here” and masterfully proved she was up for
A major audience highlight was
her jazzicized version of “You Can’t
Take That Away From Me,” a great song that
has been done to death of late. She re-invigorated
One of the two moments that had
me ridiculously giddy was the magical blending of
“When October Goes” with the Henry Mancini/Leslie
Bricusse gem “Two for the Road” from
the 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert
Finney. This has become one of her concert staples
and can be found on the CD and DVD, Betty Buckley:
Stars and the Moon (Live at the Donmar). The
moment was simply extraordinary since it played
as if she sang it for the very first time.
I also went a bit nuts when she
took on Bob Dylan’s 60s anthem, “The
Times They Are-a-Changing,” and imbued it
a relevance that one can only hope is prophetic
Dressed completely in black and
looking pretty damn good--although vanity doesn’t
appear to be one of her issues--Ms. Buckley had
no need for backup singers, a good thing since a
pure voice like hers should be heard without distraction/distortion.
Somewhere in the first quarter
of the set, that mic problem was adjusted, I think.
No, I’m certain it was. But it didn’t
matter; Betty Buckley had completely enchanted her
audience. Nothing else mattered.
Betty Buckley's Quintessence
is available at Amazon.com.