BWW Review: Betty Buckley Returns with Jazzy New Cabaret Set at OC's Segerstrom Center
It's amazing to think that it has only been just six weeks since Tony Award winning stage and screen actress Betty Buckley departed her much-lauded 13-month-long engagement starring as the title role in the recent Broadway national tour production of HELLO DOLLY. During that brief stretch of time post-Dolly Levi, Ms. Buckley had already been preparing to go back out on the road again, this time returning to her series of touring intimate one-woman concerts---no elaborate period costumes or scripted story dialogue this time, just her selection of favorite songs and her undeniable talent center stage in its purest form.
Luckily, Orange County is the first stop of her brand new show, which continues through October 19, 2019 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa, where the show serves as the 2019-2020 Season Opener for the Center's Cabaret Concert Series.
For the many who had tickets to see Ms. Buckley perform in HELLO DOLLY when the tour stopped in Costa Mesa---but missed her when she fell extremely ill during the first four nights of the week-long engagement---her return here, spry and healthy (hooray!) in the more up-close and more personal candlelit Cabaret setting of the Samueli Theater was well worth the wait.
Backed by a cool and incredibly talented jazz quartet, Ms. Buckley's welcome return to the Samueli was a stirring, often wow-inducing intimate concert filled with jazzified arrangements of familiar tunes and some rarely-performed gems, many of which can be found on two of her most recent album releases, 2017's Story Songs and 2018's Hope, along with some brand new material specially arranged by her musical director and main accompanist Christian Jacob.
The solid 90-minute set had everyone in rapt attention as Ms. Buckley---during her concert's opening night performance---sang through her lovingly curated repertoire which she described as akin to "a gallery showing of [her] latest paintings." She is definitely blessed with a powerful, dva-caliber voice which she laces with palpable emotions that she acts out with care and purpose.
Her terrific backing band---which alongside Jacob also features Trey Henry on Bass, Nir Felder on Guitar, and Dave Tull on Drums---kick started the show with a rousing jazz instrumental. As expected, the crowd was absolutely delighted once Ms. Buckley walked from a side door and planted herself center-stage.
Ms. Buckley's opening vocal was a hypnotic rearrangement of "Hey There" from the musical THE PAJAMA GAME, followed by an equally
Jazz-tinged reinvention of the title song of her most recent show HELLO DOLLY. Of course, this brought up the subject of her missing performances during the show's brief run in the O.C. She recalled feeling absolutely miserable locked away in her hotel room suffering from bronchitis, which rendered her unable to perform at Segerstrom just steps away. Like a trooper, though, she got back on stage for the Saturday and Sunday performance after the doctor cleared her to go back.
Her musical comedy work in HELLO DOLLY, though, was such a contrast to the haunting and sometimes breathtaking tunes she sang during her cabaret concert. The audience hung on to every lyric of her gorgeous renditions of "Chanson" from THE BAKER'S WIFE and, later, a soft and gentle "And So It Goes."
Ms. Buckley then introduced a stirring suite of songs that, though may not seem like they had much in common, were all songs that expressed her thoughts about the world we live in today. This block included everything from Steely Dan's "Don't Take Me Alive," to an emotionally-piercing "You've Got To Be Taught" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic SOUTH PACIFIC.
It is here where Ms. Buckley's not-so-secret political views finally made a subtle but very deliberate point about our troubling times, delivered beautifully and with artistic forethought (one quick review of her social media posts, and you've got a distinct angle on where she stands). Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown---who was the frequent go-to for material during the course of the evening---provided Ms. Buckley's one-two punch of "A Song About A Gun" which shook the soul, followed by some much needed love and light with the uplifting "Hope."
Ms. Buckley's exquisite vocal stylings are, no surprise, quite wonderful with ballads and torch songs, but she sounded equally at ease with rocking out a bit, as evidenced in her fun and sassy "I Feel Lucky" by Mary Chapin Carpenter and even a samba-flavored take on another Jason Robert Brown composition "Another Life" from his musical adaptation of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.
Brown's confessional and heartfelt "Someone to Fall Back On" followed by a triumphant, jazz-on-acid "Before the Parade Passes By" (from, yes, HELLO DOLLY) capped off the evening on a (literal) high note. The new material, she said, was something that she enjoyed because she was able to "exercise a whole other set of muscles" that were temporarily on hiatus during her run as musical theater's most infamous matchmaker outside of Anatevka.
She returned for just one encore, a beautifully endearing version of "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face" from MY FAIR LADY. As befitting such a superb concert, she was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation.
This is, of course, not Ms. Buckley's first cabaret concert at Segerstrom Center, nor will it be her last, judging from the adulation she received for this latest show. Those seeking to see a musical theater legend sing gorgeously in a very close-up, intimate setting should seek out tickets to her remaining shows this weekend---whether you've seen her before or not.
"You'll feel the room swaying," indeed.
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Photos by Joan Boal, courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Betty Buckley continues performances of her cabaret concerts through October 19, 2019 at the Samueli Theatre, located on the campus of Segerstrom Center for the Arts. SCFTA's 2019-2020 Cabaret Series continues with solo shows featuring Broadway superstars Laura Benanti, Analeigh Ashford, Patti LuPone, and Megan Hilty. For season subscriptions, tickets, or more information, visit SCFTA.org