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Review: Storytelling Supreme Abounds As BETTY BUCKLEY Opens At CAFE CARLYLE

Review: Storytelling Supreme Abounds As BETTY BUCKLEY Opens At CAFE CARLYLE

The Tony Award recipient and fabled storyteller returns to NYC with a little romance, Buckley style.

Do you know how one gets to be a legend? It's a combination of things, the first of which is being unlike anyone else - filling a role, a place, a language that nobody else can. The other components are honesty, strength, panache, instinct, and pure survival. There are many people who possess one or more of these qualities, but to possess all of them at one time is a surefire way to land legendary status, whether in one's field of vocation, one's art form, or even one's circle of friends, for legends come in all varieties, in all worlds in this life through which we all travel.

Betty Buckley is a legend.

Last night this woman possessing (and displaying) honesty, strength, panache, instinct, survival, and a place in the history of show business that can be occupied by none other returned to the Café Carlyle for one week, the same Café Carlyle that she was playing the week before the infamous lockdown of 2020 that stopped the world in its tracks and sent her home to Texas to quarantine with her beloved animals and her mother (who has gained quite a degree of fame, herself, thanks to Betty's social media). In the year before that 2020 Carlyle engagement, Betty Buckley had been touring America with the play Hello, Dolly! and, to borrow shamelessly from that musical, today this writer can unequivocally say that it is so, so, so nice to have Betty back where she belongs.

Betty Buckley has played the largest concert halls in the world, and she has played the smallest. From center stage in venues as large as an airplane hangar, Betty Buckley can reach the people sitting in the very last row, at the very top of the arena - but in the coziness of the Café Carlyle, audience members have a unique opportunity to see one of the greatest storytellers of our age (perhaps any age) engaged in the act of connecting with people, they have a chance to have their hearts cracked open by an actor who has, themselves, cracked open their own heart. Nobody does what Betty Buckley does, and that is why she must be seen, live, in person, any and every chance that occurs in life, especially in a room so intimate as Café Carlyle's.

Her new show, Betty explains, began as a meditation on romance and the songs that have resonated on that complicated subject - one so complicated that the program went through some evolutionary growth before materializing in its current state, even still mercurial, as Ms. Buckley presents everything from wistful (a fascinatingly arranged "Hey There" from The Pajama Game) to hopeful (an understated "My Romance") to devastating (a riveting "Wolves" by Jensen McRae). Whatever the musical story that is happening, Betty Buckley is both kind enough and generous enough to offer a few words beforehand, like real-time liner notes explaining for a CD listener the purpose for the inclusion of the tune on an album. This kind of explanation is not necessary in every club act but in the case of a Betty Buckley show, the more oratory the better, for Betty Buckley is not just a musical storyteller: she is a storyteller, period. When Betty talks, it is worth listening. She is a natural raconteuse, there is always a purpose behind her chat, and always with little Easter Eggs and gems, throughout. Up they pop as the tale is told - little laughs, big laughs, wisdom, wishes, humanity, and glimpses into her heart, mind, and soul. Betty Buckley fears not being exposed, she shies away from no vulnerability, she demands honesty of herself, and she is funny, oh so funny, and all of these elements go into her reminiscences about Pippin, 1776, Promises, Promises, her early career days, her childhood dance studio days, and the experience of having moguls and producers try to turn her into a famous pop singer, when she felt more like a different, equally famous, folky jazz singer (to reveal which famous singers would spoil the story for future audiences). Although acknowledged as one of the great voices in the history of music and of theater, Betty Buckley is not content to simply stand and sing - she has come to be of service to the songwriters, to the stories, and to the audience, in every moment that she stands in that spotlight.

And what service she provides.

There is an eloquence to every choice that Betty Buckley makes during her eighty-minute program, from the raising of her tiniest finger to the eyes into which she looks during the performance. As the band plays, she may choose to lean on the piano, her hips moving in figure-eight formation, indicating that she would be fun to take dancing. As tears stream down her face, she may opt into gazing into the night air or looking directly at you, including you in this private and personal moment in time. As a flood of emotion washes across her face, it is impossible not to wonder where the actress goes in her exploration of the lyrics - this is something you don't see every day in a nightclub. Some fine folks get up on the stage and they sing, they hit the notes, they say the words; some artists do a wonderful job of immersing themselves in the composition so that their acting skills can carry the story to the audience. But Betty Buckley is like an empath who, simply by saying the words, immediately feels the emotions, and there they are - on her face, in the room, in your eyes, in your memory. When is the last time you sat in a club and saw a singer openly weep five times during their show? And when is the last time you sat in a club and saw a performer cry, simultaneously smiling, while singing a sad song? For years actors have presented "Not a Day Goes By" like it was the tragedy to end all tragedies but Betty Buckley has managed to capture, to embody, to present the concept that, even in the sadness, there is joy in this story. This is not singing - this is storytelling at its most complete and unique and individual level.

Highlights in this evening of special moments were a Pippin segment that brought Seth Rudetsky to the stage for some stories and a duet, back-to-back numbers by Bob Dylan and Jensen McRae, then Abbey Lincoln and Joni Mitchell, that pack an emotional one-two punch and that exquisite Betty Buckley musicality that the world has come to know, love and, more importantly, rely on. The entire evening had the opening night audience sighing, crying, laughing, and, even in such close quarters, finding a way to create a standing ovation for the Tony Award winner, which she deserved because the craft of storytelling was created by and for artists, for people, like Betty Buckley.

It is autumn in New York, and Betty Buckley is back on the cabaret stage. All is right with the world.

The extraordinary Betty Buckley Trio is Jamey Haddad on drums, Tony Marino on bass, and Christian Jacob on piano, acting as arranger and Musical Director.

Betty Buckley will play the Café Carlyle through October 1st, at 8:45 nightly. Information and reservations can be accessed HERE.

THIS is the Betty Buckley website.

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