Tuesday, November 6, 2012

cabaret review BETTY BUCKLEY, McCarter Theatre, Oct. 21

To say I'm a huge Betty Buckley fan is an understatement.  I've seen Betty perform on Broadway, London and in concert dozens of times over the past 20 or so years and while her concerts have always included various personal stories and themed elements Betty has never really given a "theme" to her concerts until just a few years ago. 

Starting with her "Broadway By Request" concerts that she performed at Feinstein's at The Regency here in New York and then in various cities across the U.S., she followed that show with another well received themed concert entitled "Ah Men, the Boys of Broadway."  In this concert, Betty performs musical songs that were all performed by male characters in the various shows they come from.   And while Betty performed a few selections from this show in her cabaret show at B.B. Kings last Spring (review here) she also performed the entire concert last Winter in L.A. and also brought the show to the McCarter Theatre two weeks ago.   She will be performing this same concert at the NJPAC Chase Room this coming Saturday.   The concert also received a studio recording that was released a few months ago.

As is always Betty's style, she puts her own stamp on each song in this collection.  And with many inspired arrangements by pianist Christian Jacob combined with the personal stories Betty tells about her connection to many of the songs, it elevates the entire set to a lovely confection of musical material.   Looking back at the songs Betty performs in this show I realized that there is only one song, "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeney Todd that Betty ever performed in concert before.  This is saying a lot about Betty since her concerts in the past, like many other performers, were always a combination of about 90% material she'd performed before with some new songs that she just recently added to her repertoire.

While there are many upbeat songs in the evening including "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" from Guys and Dolls and "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin, it is the addition of the lovely ballads like "Maria" from West Side Story, "Venice" from Elegies and "More I Cannot Wish You" from Guys and Dolls that cement Betty's style with the theme of the show.  The trio of songs from Sweeney Todd is a lovely grouping of three very different songs that all have passion in common with each other that also adds a nice dramatic element to the concert.

The songs in this concert also include two that have amazing arrangements, that she also performed at her B.B. King's concert last Spring that I previously wrote about.  Those songs are "Hey There" from The Pajama Game and "Come Back To Me" from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.  The arrangement for "Hey There" is one of my favorites as it turns the song into a statement of longing with a dreamy underscore.

And while I have enjoyed listening to the studio recording of this concert it is Betty's stories that she tells in the concert version of the show that make the material have even more of a connection to her past.   The story she told about how she wanted to be a member of the "Jets" from West Side Story when she was young and how she would often be dancing the Jerome Robbins choreography from the show in the driveway on a Sunday morning only to be interrupted by her father who would say "Betty Lynn, get in the car now, the Jets are going to church" was especially humorous.  It also provided the perfect introduction to Betty's take on "The Jet Song" from that show.

She also has some interesting stories about her appearance as the "male impersonator" character who plays the lead role in The Mystery of Edwin Drood in the original Broadway run of that show and the research that she did to prepare for the part.  The research gave her insight into this group of women who played male parts in early British Musical Hall shows and the strength and cleverness they had in finding parts that fit their voices, which just happened to be the male ones.  This story perfectly leads into the original song written specifically for Betty called "A Hymn to Him" which is a take off of the song from My Fair Lady that shows what Betty would be able to do if she played the male parts in various shows.  The song also includes some very funny lyrics like "They do write strong women, I've played them both" as well as give us Betty's takes on Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, Harold Hill from The Music Man and Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.  It is a truly inspired song and while Betty recorded the song on the cd of the show, the addition of the personal story that leads in to the song and the audience reaction to it make it even better live than on the cd.

My only downsides to the concert at McCarter have to do with the fact that Betty performed this show on a Sunday during the middle of her month long Feinstein's run.  While she was in fine voice there were a few moments when her voice was a little strained. And her McCarter concert only included piano accompaniment by Jacob and not Betty's usual quartet of bass, drums, reeds and piano, which with only a piano provides a slightly less full sound than her usual concerts.  Also, while Betty sang the songs from the show in the exact order they appear on the cd, she didn't perform "Song on the Sand" from La Cage aux Folles and I'm not sure why she didn't perform that song when she sang every other one.

Still, in mind any Betty Buckley concert is a good one as long as Betty keeps delivering and her voice still excels.  We are going back to see Betty at NJPAC this Saturday and Betty's success with this show inspired her latest show "The Other Woman, The Vixens Of Broadway" which offers her take on various female musical songs that she's never performed and that she also debuted at Feinstein's at the Regency last month.

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