BWW Interviews: Tony Winner Betty Buckley Talks Upcoming OC Cabaret

Tony Award-winning stage and screen star Betty Buckley---who has been called "The Voice of Broadway"---will be headlining a series of concerts as part of Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Cabaret Series from May 16 - 18 at the Samueli Theater.

Called Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway, the show will feature the living legend giving her own inimitable spin on classic Broadway tunes that have traditionally been written for male characters (the show also has a companion CD with a similar title). Buckley will be accompanied on stage by John McDaniel, the Grammy and two-time Emmy winner who spent six years as the affable bandleader on Rosie O'Donnell's original hit syndicated daytime talk show.

On Broadway, Buckley appeared in 1776 (her Broadway debut), PIPPIN, SONG AND DANCE, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD and CARRIE. Her Tony win, of course, was for her memorable performance as Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber's international hit musical CATS. She received a second Tony nomination in TRIUMPH OF LOVE and an Olivier nomination for her portrayal of Norma Desmond in Webber's SUNSET BOULEVARD. TV audiences, though, know her best of all for playing Abby Bradford in the hit dramadey Eight Is Enough. And on top of her film, television, concert, and stage work, this busy "cowgirl" has 15 pressed CDs, along the way earning her two Grammy nominations. Her next album, the T Bone Burnett-produced Ghostlight will be released in 2014.

Before she took her male-centric cabaret concert to Orange County, the 2012 Theater Hall of Fame inductee fielded questions from BroadwayWorld's Michael Lawrence Quintos.

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BWW: Good morning, Ms. Buckley! What an honor it is to speak with you, especially today on Mother's Day since the world knows you for being one of TV's Best Moms!

Ms. Buckley: Ha ha, thank you.

So, can you tell me a little bit more about your upcoming cabaret show this week at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa?

Yes, it's a show I'm calling Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway, and it contains some of my favorite men's songs from the Broadway songbook---songs that were written for men to sing in Broadway shows that I've been wanting to sing for a while. So I just decided to put together an evening of all men's songs. Some of these songs are known for being really beautiful, but some are really very funny, too. [The songs] are also off of my new album which was released last August by Palmetto Records.

What finally inspired you to do this kind of show?

Well, like I said, I've wanted to sings these songs for a long time and I've tried to sneak them into my [concert] repertoire from time to time [in the past] and people have said, "oh, no, you can't do that! It's written for a man!" But in truth, I first had the idea when I was in THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD, where I was playing a male impersonator in the British musical. So I was playing a woman playing a young man playing an older man. So that's when the idea first came because I had done all this research and discovered that there were these women who were impersonators and were very famous doing these British musicals. Their voices weren't right for the Opera or Operatas, so they thought, well, let's just put trousers on them to play the young boys in these musicals. It was pretty scandalous at the time in Britain, but they got away with it. I really love them.


Awesome! How interesting! Now, in terms of being someone who has consistently done both fully-staged musicals and more intimate, one-woman cabarets, do you prefer doing one more over the other?

Well, I try not to think like that. You know, we're really conditioned in our culture to always think in terms of comparisons... you know, "I like this better than that." I think that very foolish thinking because things don't compare; they are their own thing. And so I love doing concert work and I love being in musical theater as well. And... I love doing television... I love doing film. But, of course, there's nothing quite like standing on a stage and singing with brilliant musicians---in any form of that. But I try not to think comparatively.

I understand. Now among your many appearances on TV, I was so stoked to see you return as Hanna's Grandmother on Pretty Little Liars this season...

Yes, my first appearance was two seasons ago and then I came back again last year. It was fun.

And we got to hear you sing the National Anthem! Will we get to see more appearances of you in the show next season?

I don't know... they say so, but then, I don't know. It's just kind of however they decide to write Hanna's grandmother Regina into the script. So, we'll see...

Great! One thing I noticed is that you are quite active on social media, particularly on Twitter. Do you think it's a tool reluctant actors should embrace just as much as you have?

I don't know if they should or shouldn't, it's up to them. It was my brother who actually got me to do it. I think my brother is the King of Social Media---he's a television director in Hollywood and is very successful. A couple of years ago he just told me, "Hey, you really need to do this!" And so I said okay, and so first I tried Twitter. Then a couple of weeks later he said, "Okay, now you need to be on Facebook!" [Laughs]

And what a great way to interact with your fans!

It is a lot of fun.

Now, along with your decades of work in TV and film, many of our readers here on BWW, of course, know you best from your work in musical theater. I mean, I can honestly say from personal experience that your legacy has inspired so many young girls and boys to pick up a hairbrush and belt out a showtune. Tell me, growing up did you yourself have idols that inspired you to pursue this career?

Yes, I loved Judy Garland and I love Barbra Streisand. I love Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, and Sarah Vaughan. And I love Barbara Harris, a wonderful Broadway and musical theater actress... and Gwen Verdon... those are some of my heroes.

Great! Was there a point in your childhood when you thought... yeah, this is for me. This is what I want to do.

Oh, yes. When I saw my first musical---which was THE PAJAMA GAME---when I was 11 years old. I just had this epiphany watching Bob Fosse's choreography in "Steam Heat." These two guys who had worked with Fosse recreated the show for our regional theater Casa Manana. And later that was the first number I did in my Junior High Talent Show. Those same two guys [who had worked with Fosse] decided to settle in Fort Worth and become dance teachers here; and so my mother took me to [learn from] them. I had sung in my church choir but these guys became my mentors. So I had discovered at 11 that I had this unique voice. By the time I was about 13---having been consistently performing after that---I had a clear vision of what I was going to do and what my career and environment was going to be when I grew up and how I would affect people. Yeah, I had a pretty good vision that I was going to be on Broadway.

That's amazing! Along those same lines, do you have any specific advice for young people today who themselves have had this vision of their future and want to pursue a similar career in musical theater?

Just study hard and learn as much as you can. I think that you don't have to hit your stride when you're in your 20's. You have plenty of time to grow. But the best, most important thing is to seek the best teachers, and to also get a well-rounded education---not just musical theater studies. Just going to theater school is not enough. Just majoring in musical theater is not enough. You can do that, but you should also study psychology... sociology... world history... and have some sense of the world and your place in it and how you can best serve. Otherwise, you're not going to become a relevant artist. You need to have something to say. And to find what you want to say, you have to learn as much as you possibly can about the world around you, and how you can do something to serve others, I think. And beyond that, you know, is to... practice, and practice, and practice!

If you want to be in show business, you need to make choices based on your love for your craft---and not just because you want to be famous, by any means. There's a whole drive, I think, in our culture about being famous, and that's not a reason to do it. Even if you do achieve fame, it's momentary and it comes and it goes---and it's cyclical. One has to commit to what is a difficult path in show business, I think, because you love the art of it so much. You have to love the craft.

Great advice. Are these principles emphasized in your scene-study and master classes?

Oh, yes, absolutely.

So besides your concert tours, TV appearances, and master classes, what other projects can we look forward to in the very near future?

I'm coming to New York in mid-July to do THE OLD FRIENDS by Horton Foote, directed by Michael Wilson, and is also starring Lois Smith and HAllie Foote at the Signature Theatre. It'll be running through October. We start previews August 20 and it opens September 12. It's the world premiere of Foote's play.

Follow Betty Buckley on Twitter: @BettyBuckley
Follow Contributing Editor Michael Lawrence Quintos on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos of Betty Buckley by Myriam Santos. Courtesy of SCFTA.

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"Ah, Men! The Boy of Broadway" is the season finalé of Segerstrom Center for the Arts' 2012-2013 Cabaret Series, performing May 16-18. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.SCFTA.org.

Ms. Buckley's touring master classes and workshops include upcoming stops in the following cities:

Los Angeles, CA: June 28 - July 2 // Tickets via info@collaborationfactory.com
Fort Worth, TX: June 5 - July 18 // Tickets via m@marjoriehayes.com
Denver, CO: July 8 - 12 // Tickets via becky@bettybuckleyworkshops.com


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