As theatregoers all over the country eagerly await Tony winner Betty Buckley’s take on matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in the forthcoming national tour of Hello, Dolly!, we celebrate the actor on her birthday with a look at some of her magnificent performances throughout the years.
Performances were chosen by and feature commentary from yours truly.
Whenever I sit down to listen to music, I like to close my eyes, because different voices evoke different colors in my mind. When I listen to Betty Buckley, I always see the rainbow. These audios and videos are a few of my very favorites. I hope you enjoy them.
1. “He Plays the Violin”
It's no wonder Betty Buckley landed her first Broadway role at her very first New York audition. Just listen to the beauty of her voice as she sings "He Plays the Violin" from 1776 on her first original Broadway cast recording. Years later, Buckley would record the song "Meadowlark," which features the line: "Her voice could match the angels in its glory." I'm often reminded of that Stephen Schwartz lyric when I hear Buckley sing "Violin."
2. “Old Friend”
Here is a rare clip of Buckley singing the beautiful Nancy Ford-Gretchen Cryer ballad "Old Friend” on The Mike Douglas Show. Buckley first performed the tune in I'm Getting My Act Together And Taking It on the Road, and it has thankfully been a staple of her repertoire ever since.
After gaining nationwide attention as hip stepmom Abby Bradford in the ABC series Eight Is Enough, Buckley returned to Broadway, winning a Tony for her haunting performance as the faded glamour cat Grizabella in the international hit musical Cats. Here is her award-winning rendition of "Memory" at the 1983 Tony Awards.
4. “Over You”
In 1983 film audiences were given the chance to see what theatregoers had known for years: Buckley's gifts as an actor and singer are a rarity. Here she is singing “Over You” from the award-winning film Tender Mercies on The Tonight Show, where she dazzled Johnny Carson, who told her she was "marvelous" after breathtaking performances of "Over You" and "Memory."
5. “Wind Beneath My Wings”
I'm particularly fond of Buckley's rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" that she performed in her debut New York City concert, which was subsequently released on her first solo recording, Betty Buckley. Listen to her voice soar as she sings the final refrain of "Did you ever know that you're my hero..."
6. “Writing on the Wall”
One of my very favorite Buckley recordings is her simply thrilling rendition of "Writing on the Wall" from The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which she builds to a stunning finale. I'm also fond of this Seth Rudetsky "deconstruction" of her performance.
7. “Children Will Listen”
Buckley has said she was a last-minute replacement for the Stephen Sondheim celebration at Carnegie Hall and, since she had so little time to learn the arrangement, spent a good deal of time in her dressing room praying she wouldn't be the evening's disappointment. Turns out, she was one of the highlights. I remember watching the PBS broadcast and being moved to tears by her performance of "Children Will Listen" backed by the Harlem Boys Choir. Over 25 years later, I'm equally moved.
8. “Born to Give My Love to You”
I spent a good deal of time in the ’90s catching Buckley at the now-closed Bottom Line. It was a terrific venue for the versatile singing actor, who always performed an eclectic mix of tunes from the worlds of pop, musical theatre, country, and more. Here she is singing "Born to Give My Love to You."
9. “With One Look”
In 1997 Buckley reopened the revamped London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, earning critical hosannas and an Olivier nomination for her performance as the deluded silent film star Norma Desmond. Here is her riveting rendition of "With One Look" at the Olivier Awards; hear the beautiful, ethereal tones in the opening lines of the Lloyd Webber ballad (around the 2:40 mark).
10. “As If We Never Said Goodbye”
Buckley's other showstopper in Sunset was her second-act aria, "As If We Never Said Goodbye." At her sold-out Carnegie Hall solo debut concert, she ended the first half of her program with a sensational reading of the song.
11. “And Eve Was Weak”
Toward the end of her Sunset run, Buckley offered the aforementioned Carnegie Hall concert to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. One of the most amazing nights I've ever spent in a concert hall featured Buckley playing three different roles back to back with onstage costume changes in between. The first of the three gave audiences a rare glimpse at Buckley's performance as religious zealot and mother Margaret White in Carrie. She was joined by London's Linzi Hateley for a harrowing (and belty) "And Eve Was Weak."
Buckley followed her run in Sunset Boulevard with the new musical Triumph of Love. Just as she did in Cats, she managed to stop the show nightly with her utterly moving rendition of "Serenity." Here she is performing that tune at the MAC Awards.
13. “Rose’s Turn”
Okay, one more Carnegie Hall performance: the final verse of "With One Look" into a phenomenal "Rose's Turn." Here she is, world!
BONUS: My final selection is an audio track from her terrific new live album, Hope. Revel in Buckley's haunting take on Joni Mitchell’s “Shades of Scarlett Conquering.”