Interview: John McDaniel and Betty Buckley Talk Playing Provincetown in JOHN MCDANIEL'S BROADWAY SERIES

Broadway Legend Buckley Opens Series at Town Hall on June 23

By: Jun. 18, 2024
Interview: John McDaniel and Betty Buckley Talk Playing Provincetown in JOHN MCDANIEL'S BROADWAY SERIES
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Interview: John McDaniel and Betty Buckley Talk Playing Provincetown in JOHN MCDANIEL'S BROADWAY SERIES

Tony Award-winning Broadway legend Betty Buckley will headline the opening night of this year’s “John McDaniel’s Broadway Series,” at Provincetown Town Hall on June 23, and McDaniel, the Emmy- and Grammy Award-winning music director, composer, arranger, and producer wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When I was developing my wish list for performers, Betty was on the very top of it,” explained McDaniel by telephone from New York recently. “We’ve been friends for years. I got to know her when she appeared on ‘The Rosie O’Donnell Show,’ when I was Rosie’s music director. And I did a Tony Awards opener for Betty in 1998. When it came to programming this series, my instinct was to open with someone big.”

That certainly describes Buckley, who won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical playing Grizabella the Glamour Cat in the original Broadway production of “Cats,” and earned a second Tony nomination, in 1998, as Best Actress in a Musical, for “Triumph of Love.” Buckley has also starred on Broadway in the original productions of “1776,” “Pippin,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “Carrie,” and “Sunset Boulevard,” which she also did in London’s West End. A 2012 Theatre Hall of Fame inductee, Buckley received the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Songbook Association.

“Betty is one of the most iconic voices ever heard on Broadway,” says McDaniel. “I wanted to work with her again because, with her clarion voice and her considerable acting chops, she is like no one else. We’re collaborating on her set, but it’ll be all songs she wants to do.”

The Provincetown date is one in a series of concerts Buckley has been giving since emerging from a challenging 18-month period that saw the performer face multiple health challenges. In March and April, she gave concerts in Costa Mesa, California, and Erie, Pennsylvania, and in May, she did an acclaimed six-show run at Joe’s Pub in New York.

By telephone recently from Dallas, Texas, Buckley talked about how she’s feeling now, working with McDaniel, and more.

I understand you’ve dealt not only with long Covid but also with unrelated compression fractures in your back, and knee surgery, too. How are you feeling now?

I’m getting there. I had RSV for about five weeks, and then long Covid. Prior to that, an elevator door closed on me in New York, leaving me with compression fractures of my spine. And I had knee replacement at the end of October last year.

What appeals to you about working with John McDaniel?

That’s simple – John is one of the nicest guys in show business and a brilliant music director. I fell in love with him the day I met him on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.” I’ve taught classes for him at the O’Neill Theater Festival and I’m very happy to say that we’ve remained good friends over the years.

Tell me about the program you have planned for Provincetown?

John asked me to do Broadway material – songs I’ve done in shows, like “Memory” from “Cats” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from “Sunset Boulevard,” as well other showtunes, and contemporary music, too. These days, my shows are relaxed, like I’m singing in my living room. Provincetown is such a great place, too. I have a free day and I plan to walk Commercial Street, check out all the stores, art galleries, and restaurants, and just have fun.

What’s it like revisiting songs from earlier points in your career?

When I was younger, everything was a cry from the heart. I was in my 30s when I debuted “Memory,” and then I did “Sunset Boulevard” in my 40s. The performances I gave in those shows came from longing. I don’t feel that longing anymore so I have a different approach to those songs when I do them now. The songs from both those shows have great poignancy, however, and still feel relevant today.

Your animated short film “The Mayfly” – which you wrote and narrate – premiered in March at the American Documentary and Animation Festival in Palm Springs, and was screened earlier this month at the Tribeca Festival. Tell me where you got the idea for it?

In December 2019, I went to see Judy Collins in concert at Café Carlyle. Throughout the concert, there was this beautiful little golden creature flying, dancing really, over Judy’s head and I was immediately smitten. I kept thinking, “How did she get to the Carlyle?” That became the basis for my story. I looked up mayflies and learned that they’re born in water, have no mouths, and live for only three days. I imagined that she was probably born in the lake in Central Park and from hearing all that percussion of the park, it occurs to her that she can dance.

She tells her parents what she wants to do with her life, and her little family reacts not unlike mine once did. My father was very resistant to me becoming a performer. Megalyn Mayfly, which is what I named her, decides to dedicate her life to music and dance instead of doing what is expected of her, which is to breed more mayflies.

What was the development process like?

Initially, I wanted to do it as a song so I sent a seven-minute version to my conductor and collaborator Christian Jacob. He rejected it as a song, but later scored it as a movie. Sam Levine from “DC League of Super-Pets” sent me to several different animators. That helped me find a character designer, Eugene Salandra, and a director, Sue Perrotto. I still needed to raise the money for the film, though, so I sent it to Brad and Melissa Coolidge, old friends from Austin who now live in Vermont. They produce independent films and called me crying, saying they’d fund it all. I’ll never forget it. I was just ecstatic.

Has “The Mayfly” given you any ideas for future projects?

Yes, I’d like to have “The Mayfly” film picked up by streaming services and also have the story become a children’s book. I’d also like to do other stories about the creatures here in Texas. It delights me to think about these kinds of projects. I first fell in love with animation when I saw “Lady and the Tramp,” which features the music and the voice of the great Peggy Lee.

You’ve enjoyed great success as an actor in feature films like the March release “Imaginary,” and also “The Happening,” “Tender Mercies,” and “Carrie,” plus television series including "Eight Is Enough,"“Oz” and “Law & Order: SVU.” Living on a ranch outside Fort Worth, would a part in a Taylor Sheridan (“Yellowstone”) project appeal to you?

Absolutely, I’d love to play the mother of a cattle drive. He shoots not far from where I live and I have literally contemplated going to his ranch and just knocking on the door.

Before you go a-knocking, tell me what it would take to get you back to Broadway?

I’d go back to Broadway for a really good play. Musicals are pretty tough. Showing up and doing that full-tilt boogie eight shows a week is a lot. I just don’t know how I feel about that. But a play would be fun.


McDaniel – artistic director of Cabaret and Performance at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut – will accompany Buckley on the piano, as well as the other artists he is presenting including Emmy Award-winning headliner Darren Criss, July 21, also at Town Hall., and, at Post Office Cafe & Cabaret, two-time Tony nominee Kate Baldwin, June 28 and 29, Sam Gravitte, July 6, Tony winner Alice Ripley (“Next to Normal”), July 19 and 20, Nicholas Rodriguez, July 26 and 27, and Tony nominee Liz Callaway, August 30 and 31.


Photo credits: Betty Buckley photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser. Head shot of John McDaniel by Steve Ullathorne.


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