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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency


  Betty Buckley/PH: Linda Lenzi

Some cabaret artists get by on personality. Betty Buckley definitely has one - as warm and engaging as her voice - but she's also a glorious singer who needs no gimmickry to get a song across. No wonder she managed, as a 21-year-old ex-Texas pageant queen, to snag a Broadway role (Martha Jefferson in 1969's 1776) during her very first day in New York.

You might get to hear that story - told with typical modesty - if you put in a request for "He Plays the Violin." The playlist, evolving nightly, consists of slips of paper collected from the audience and stashed in an ice bucket atop Seth Rudetsky's piano. Rudetsky, the ultimate authority on all things Great White Way (he hosts the Sirius podcast Live On Broadway), proves a skilled and subtle accompanist, as well as diehard devotee. He starts the show with arcane film clips. Did you know that it was Buckley (and not the Vietnamese girl pictured) who sang the ethereal "Walking in Space" in the 1979 movie version of Hair? Or that she provided the howl of pain for the bike-riding boy toppled by Sissy Spacek's lethal glare in Carrie?

Her stint playing Carrie's mother in the ill-received musical version in 1988 - simultaneously "the greatest flop in Broadway history" and "one of the most fun experiences" - makes for another dramatic tale. The show's bloody finale prompted vociferous boos, immediately followed by thundering applause at the curtain call.

Her impressive accomplishments notwithstanding, Buckley also readily shares her disappointments (e.g., the roles that got away), as well as embarrassing moments onstage. A graphic description of a cold she suffered during Cats (for which she won a Tony) is quickly eclipsed by a moving rendition of her signature song, "Memory."

That ice bucket may be rigged - but all to the good, because it's hard to imagine a better anthem to end on. Think what you will of the Webber oeuvre: Buckley makes of this much-abused standard a transformational experience.


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