Onstage and online, Broadway legend Betty Buckley is electrifying.
If you’ve ever seen her perform on Broadway – perhaps in the original cast of Cats or as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard — or in concert halls large or small, you know just how electrifying she can be. Very few singer/actors connect to material the way she does.
But Buckley, at age 63, has embraced social media in a big way. On the advice of her brother, Norman, a television director, she got hooked up. Now she Tweets daily (@BettyBuckley) and posts on Facebook with regularity to her nearly 5,000 friends. To find a name for her latest concert, she asked her online followers for suggestions. The winner would receive two tickets to the show.
Buckley brings that show, called For the Love of Broadway, to the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko May 3 through 8.
On the phone from her ranch in Texas, Buckley says the new show’s title is but one of the advantages to being, as they say, wired.
“I had to learn how not to be so fixated by it,” she says. “When I was in San Francisco about a year ago, doing shows at Yoshi’s, all these Twitter and Facebook fans came, which was really a blast. It’s nice when people like my work and support. It’s nice to be in touch with them to see how they feel.”
The new show, which features music direction by John McDaniel, includes songs Buckley has loved but never had the opportunity to perform. She sometimes refers to them as “my shower songs – songs I sing in the shower but never really knew all the words to.”
Audiences members can expect songs from Avenue Q, South Pacific, The Pajama Game and Nine among others. That should please the show-music fans, of which Buckley has thousands.
But Buckley, a Texas native, has eclectic taste in music and is as likely to sing a country tune as a show tune. Her last album, Bootlegs: Boardmixes from the Road, featured eight live tracks including a new song from Michael McDonald, some country tunes and Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” a sneak preview of her forthcoming album, Ghostlight.
The new album is produced by T-Bone Burnett, the Grammy- and Oscar-winner behind such albums as the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand. Buckley and Burnett have known each other since high school in Fort Worth. Their mothers were friends, and at age 19, Buckley recorded her first album in Burnett’s recording studio (that album has since been re-mastered and released as Betty Buckley 1967).
Buckley recently heard the final remixes for the album, which should be out in November. “It’s the most wonderful recording I’ve ever done,” she says. “T-Bone is a genius. Some of the songs from For the Love of Broadway were cornerstones of that recording, but they’re done very differently than I do them in the cabaret setting. T-Bone calls the songs ‘my airs.’ He says, ‘I’m so in love with this recording of your beautiful airs.’ I’m so thrilled I can’t even tell you. This album is probably the truest to who I am than anything I’ve done.”
[bonus video: Betty Buckley performs “Meadowlark”]
If you listen to Buckley singing “He Plays the Violin” from 1776, which she recorded in 1969, and then listen to the live recordings from Bootlegs you hear the same singer but a very different voice.
“My voice is definitely different than when I was younger,” Buckley says. “I kinda like it. It’s richer and has more dark colors than when I was younger. As a kid I had this clarion mezzo-soprano voice. But I had some wonderful voice teachers – Paul Gavert, Joan Lader – who have helped me quite a lot. Paul really taught me to sing with a long line, with one vowel becoming the next vowel, how one thought becomes the next thought. It’s a brilliant way to approach singing. I’m so grateful I was able to learn from him. That’s how I could sing “Memory” night after night in Cats.”
As a singer’s voice changes over time, Buckley says, she is certain of one thing: a singer will always have a voice if she takes care of herself. “The voice follows who you are,” she says. “The instrument of my voice has deepened, gotten richer over time because I’ve grown as a person, changed as a person.”
Buckley has been teaching voice herself for nearly 40 years, but she credits Gavert with having a vision of her that was greater than she could have for herself.
“He was able to impart that vision to me and hold it in space with me in this long process until I could step into the potential he felt I had,” Buckley explains. “It took quite a while. That was such a gift to me when I look back. It’s so deeply touching that he would do that. I’ve always felt it was my responsibility to pass that on. I’m grateful to have an innate gift, but everything good I’ve learned to do I’ve learned from other people.”
Buckley had participated in a workshop performance of the new musical Tales of the City, which will be running at American Conservatory Theater shortly after her run at the Rrazz Room. She was rumored to be cast in the role of Mrs. Madrigal in the world-premiere production, but that didn’t work out.
This fall she’ll be back on the New York cabaret scene with a new show. Who knows? She may even ask her online followers to come up with another title. If she does, get to thinking: she says she’ll likely be doing men’s songs from Broadway shows.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Betty Buckley’s For the Love of Broadway runs May 3-8 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$55 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit www.therrazzroom.com.