I saw that Betty Buckley was doing a concert at Town Hall on 10/11/07, and tix were only $20, how could I pass it up? For those of you who don’t know who Betty Buckley is, she’s a Tony-winning actress and singer who’s perhaps best known for having played Abby Bradford, the stepmom on *Eight is Enough*. She won a Tony for playing Grizabella in the original Broadway cast of *Cats*, which makes her signature song “Memory”. Ugh.
Which is why I HAD to go. Back in 1998, Rosie O’Donnell was host of the Tony Awards. The show opened with her doing a number about how she wants to be a diva. Patti Lupone appeared singing a minute from “Don’t cry for me, Argentina”, showing inches of cleavage and seeming a little embarrassed. Most memorably, Jennifer Holliday sang a minute from “And I am telling you I’m not going” from *Dreamgirls*. This performance is an utter terror of eyes bugging out of the head, the jaw moving back and forth like a horse, cawing like a crow (four times!), and gasping for breath like a Hoover with a clog. And her singing is just as scary. I taped this and shared it with Karen Miller on her visit to Madison in 2002, just before I moved to NYC. She was aghast and amazed, and we’ve since shown this bit at nearly every gathering of our group for the last five years. My friend Jim Campbell transferred it to DVD, because I was afraid the tape would one day dissolve, after so much use, and so much rewinding over the eight priceless seconds at the end of Ms. Holliday’s performance.
ANYWAY, Betty Buckley is the last diva to sing, and she does a minute from “Memory”, wearing a black gown and feather boa, trying to sing and arrange her hair at the same time, and makes some strange choices when it comes to vowels. The last line of the song is , “Look, a new day has begun”, and her sound on the “oo” on “new” could kill small game at fifty feet. A solo concert by her at Town Hall sounded very promising.
Here's that whole number from the Tonys:
First off, on my way up the stairs to the balcony the woman ahead of me made me think, “Does an old woman in a white fringed shawl made of an acrylic fiber have the right to walk with such assured elegance?” And the answer is an emphatic Yes!
Karen Miller has been my date for many TDF events, and we always comment on how our seats are in what we call The TDF Ghetto. True, they’re far away from the stage, but more importantly they’re populated by pain-in-the-ass old New Yorkers. They invariably crack me up.
Here’s the scene. There are five empty seats in the row ahead of me. An old couple walks up to the seats:
HIM: Are these our seats?
HER: I don’t know.
HIM: It looks like our seats.
HER: OK, let’s sit down.
HIM: But wait, is this number 38?
HIM: But it might be 36.
HER: Why do you say that.
HIM: On this armrest it says 38, on this one it says 36.
HER: So which one is it?
HIM: How the hell am I supposed to know!
ME: Excuse me, I think I can help.
HER: Yes. The seat you’re standing in front of is seat 36.
HIM: How do you know that.
ME: This seat, the seat on the aisle is seat 40.
HIM: [snide] No, it’s not, it’s seat 42.
ME: Uh, no, it’s not.
HIM: Yes it is, it says right there, “42”.
ME: Uh, no - - on this armrest it says “40”, and on the other it says…D. It’s row D.
HER: So where the hell are we sitting?
ME: You can sit wherever you want.
NEW WOMAN: Excuse me, these are our seats.
HIM: Oh, are they?
NEW WOMAN: Yes, they are.
HIM: How can you be so sure?
NEW WOMAN: Well, we have seats 38 and 40, and these are those seats.
HIM: Well, what the hell seats do we have?
HER: Give me your ticket. Give it to me. Give it to me NOW.
HIM: OK, OK, don’t get excited…
HER: [heavy sigh] We’re in 30 and 32.
HER: Look, right here! 30 and 32!
HIM: [squinting] That’s a 2? I was sure that was an 8.
NEW WOMAN: Would you mind if we sat down?
HIM: Yeah, yeah, we’re sitting down already.
Her band (piano, drums, bass, and saxophone) came onstage and played a brief new agey piece that had a circa 1985 Windham Hill aura about it. Not a good sign. She came out and the crowd went wild. I didn’t know her first song, and she spent the instrumental break dancing in a way that reminded me of one of my aunts dancing at a wedding - - heart-warming, but not the sort of thing you want to be seen outside the family circle. I thought we were in for a doozy of an evening.
But then she sang “Stardust”:
And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart…
And I was covered with chills and dissolved in tears! I could not have been more surprised, or more moved. It was a perfect performance of that song, which is really one of the most just plain gorgeous songs around.
She did some other songs, including James Taylor’s “Fire and rain”, which could have been another leaky moment for yours truly, because it’s one of the most heart-breaking songs around - - but the arrangement was too goofy (she did a number of ballads with overinventive arrangements, reimagining songs that are better off left as they are) and she made too much out of it. The other highlight of the first half (and only other high point of the show, if I can dash ahead a bit) was “It might as well be spring”, which she did at a brisk tempo, full of verve.
She ended the first half with “With one look”, her first act show-stopping number from *Sunset Boulevard*. Now, all I know of this show is from having listened to the Glenn Close recording once, but that was enough to tell me that I didn’t need to listen to it again. The final phrase of the song sounded familiar to me, it reminded me of something else - - I searched my brain during the intermission and realized it was note for note the same as the final phrase of a Downy paper towel commercial, “The quilted quicker-picker-upper!” I don’t know which came first, but either Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music is so dreadful that it could easily be stolen for a paper towel ditty and no one would notice, or he stole it from the paper towel ditty. I don’t know which is worse, but I think it’s hard proof that he’s a charlatan. But our Betty, who genuinely seems to believe in his music, gave it her all and made it an exciting moment. Brava to her.