Having seen Betty in concert so many times, I absolutely love how she is constantly updating her concert repertoire while at the same time not forgetting how her fans love to hear her singing some of the songs connected to her. Usually her concerts are simply a collection of songs but lately she has had more "themed" shows. A couple of years back she did a "Broadway by Request" series of concerts where she performed songs selected by the audience mainly in chronological order to tell her life story around her Broadway career. Last Fall she premiered a new themed show "Ah Men!, the Boys of Broadway" where she sang many Broadway songs that were originally sung by men. Her concert last Friday night at BB King's in New York City featured many songs from that recent concert series.
There really weren't any bad song choices that Betty made, but some of the highlights included a rendition of "Hey There" from The Pajama Game that she turned into a story of yearning love. It is still haunting me several days later. A rousing version of "Come Back To Me" from On A Clear Day You Can See Forever had a jazzy arrangement and Betty had a great time with the songs many fun lyric rhymes.
Her take on Sweeney Todd was stellar. She performed a trio of three songs sung by the male characters in that show, combining "Not While I'm Around," "Johanna," and "My Friends" into an emotional vortex of theatrical delight. Betty commented that Sweeney was her favorite of Stephen Sondheim's shows and it is easy to see her love for this show with the emotional and passionate connection she has to the material.
She similarly provided the same treatment for three Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, combining "We Kiss in a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed" from The King and I as well as a solo performance of "Younger than Springtime" from South Pacific. Betty's delivery of all three were simple, yet extremely effective in their portrayal of the passion of lovers both young and old. "On The Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady was performed with a jazzy, driving arrangement that with Betty's delivery of the lyrics brought out the yearning and unrequited love of one person for another.
However she didn't just present Broadway songs from the past but also sang one from a show she did a few years back, "Venice" from William Finn's Elegies. Betty loves story songs and this is one of the best from the past 10 years. Telling the story of Bill Finn's boyfriend's former lover and how he dreams of having them all go to see the beauty of Venice before he dies. It is a funny, sometimes angry but extremely touching song about recognizing the passion of others and the beauty that we all strive for.
In Elegies, that song was sung by Betty's former Pippin co-star Michael Rupert. Betty ended her concert with another song she heard Rupert sing nightly in Pippin, "Corner of the Sky." Her upbeat arrangement for this song was buoyed by the joy of Stephen Schwartz's lyrics. Other songs Betty sang included one of her more contemporary favorites "I Am a Town" from Mary Chapin Carpenter. This story so effectively portrays the many facets of a rural town that anyone can easily relate to the joy and pain in the lyrics and in Betty's delivery of them. She started the concert with a rousing version of "I Can See It" from The Fantasticks.
Betty gave us two encores, first she sang "More I Cannot Wish You" from Guys and Dolls, which she delivered in a clear, simple arrangement that drove home the pure meaning of the lyrics. She followed this with "Home" from The Wiz where, about half way through the song, she started singing a later verse too early so she had to stop the song and start it over claiming it as a "senior moment" which brought roars of laughter from the audience. The trio that accompanied Betty was led by pianist Christian Jacob who also provided many of the arrangements. The only downside to the concert was that Betty didn't sing either one of the two songs that she almost always sings in her concerts - "Memory" from Cats and "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife.
Betty recently signed an agreement with the Palmetto record label and her cd she recorded last year "Ghost Light" is set to be released this Summer with a release of her "Ah Men" songs set to be released on cd sometime in the next year.
Betty has such an emotional intensity and connection to whatever material she sings and her concert last Friday night was another perfect example of her amazing abilities. I'm looking forward to her upcoming cds, especially the one featuring the selections from "Ah, Men!". Check out Betty's website for information on her upcoming concerts.
Performance clips and interview with Betty about her "Ah Men!, The Boys of Broadway" show:
Betty sings "Meadowlark"