In 1985, Betty Buckley was sensational as a boy in the Rupert Holmes musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which happens to be back on Broadway at the moment in an all-new production). She was playing Alice Nutting, a famous male impersonator, and the trousers role fulfilled a long-held fantasy of being a boy on Broadway (as a kid growing up in Texas she longed to be a Jet in West Side Story).
Though she’s only ever played that one sort-of male character, Buckley has achieved other notable career heights, like her Tony for Cats and a string of memorable movie roles from the gym teacher in Carrie and a truly terrifying loner (named Mrs. Jones) in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. And her cabaret and concert career is one of the busiest and best reviewed in the country.
Well the 65-year-old Buckley is getting back to the boys in her new cabaret show and CD, Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway in which she sings more than a dozen songs originally sung by male characters in shows. (check on the CD or digital download on Amazon here)
On the phone from New York, where she’s performing yet another new cabaret show (The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway), Buckley says of the Ah, Men! show: “They’re just all songs I really love and never got a chance to sing until now.”
San Francisco audiences will experience the boyish side of Buckley when she brings Ah, Men! to the Rrazz Room this week (Oct. 30-Nov. 4). Among the songs she sings are classics like “Maria” and “Jet Song” from West Side Story and “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls and “Hey There” from The Pajama Game. There’s also an extraordinary suite from Sweeney Todd and a show-stopping re-write of “Hymn to Him” from My Fair Lady that is now “Hymn to Her” and samples tidbits of men’s songs from a vast array of Broadway shows. The latter was created by Buckley’s current musical conspirators, Eric Kornfeld and Eric Stern (also part of that triad is pianist and arranger Christian Jacob). “They’re my team now,” Buckley says. “This is the second collection they’ve done with me. I called them recently and said, ‘What’s the next one?’ We’re thinking about it.”
The coming year is a big one for Buckley. In February she’ll play the Madwoman of Chaillot in a revised version of Dear World by Jerry Herman. Buckley is an inspired piece of casting for the role. She gets to sing two of Herman’s best songs, “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Each Tomorrow Morning.” Her director/choreographer is Gillian Lynne, whom she worked with many years ago on Cats.
“Dear World is such an inspiring, touching show,” Buckley says. “It’s totally revised, completely different. Gillian is brilliant. We stayed in touch after Cats and talked about working together on different projects. Two years ago, she approached me with this, and last February it got serious. It’s thrilling to work on new material as your subconscious works to bring you to your creative awareness.”
Next year will also see the long-awaited release of Buckley’s album Ghostlight, which she made with superstar music producer and old friend T Bone Burnett.
The only drawback to Buckley being so busy is that she’s not able to spend much time on her Texas ranch, where she has a menagerie of 17 animals, including horses.
“I really haven’t seen the animals much this fall at all,” Buckley says. “I’m really concerned about leaving them when I go to London. I have to leave them in various people’s care, which is kind of traumatic. I’m taking my Shih Tzu, though. I’ll just have to tell the other animals, ‘I gotta go earn the money to pay for your grain and hay and vet bills and caretakers.’ I don’t think they get the concept.”
Though she has accomplished so much, Buckley says there’s still a great deal she’d like to do.
“I love working and collaborating with brilliant, wonderful, exciting, gifted people. So far, knock wood, that keeps happening. I’ve been so blessed. It’s really remarkable, and it’s been a wonderful journey thus far.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Betty Buckley’s Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway runs Oct. 30-Nov. 4 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$60 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit www.therrazzroom.com.