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New York Cool - Music

Betty Buckley at Birdland
September 23rd, 2008
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella


Opposite Photo Credit:
Angela Sytko


 

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 onstage.

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 description.

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 the challenge.

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 it.

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 come November.

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.

 


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