Texas native Betty Buckley, seen in an acclaimed performance as Dolly Gallagher Levi in the national tour of the Tony-winning revival of Hello, Dolly!, won her Tony Award for her heartbreaking performance as Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, later earning another nomination for her similarly exceptional work in the musical Triumph of Love. She starred in both the London and New York productions of Sunset Boulevard, earning an Olivier nomination for her compelling take on the ill-fated silent-screen star Norma Desmond. London audiences have also enjoyed Buckley's work in Promises, Promises and Dear World, and her other Broadway credits include Carrie, Song & Dance, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1776, and Promises, Promises. A 2012 Theatre Hall of Fame inductee and the 2017 recipient of the Julie Harris Award from The Actors Fund for Artistic Achievement, Buckley's most recent screen credits include Split, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Cleaning Lady, Supergirl, The Film Crew, Preacher, Chicago Med, The Leftovers, Getting On, Pretty Little Liars, and The Happening.
The Broadway favorite—who recently released her latest solo recording, Betty Buckley Sings Stephen Sondheim, a compilation featuring 24 tracks from nine of her past releases plus two unique to this release—returns to one of her favorite Manhattan haunts, Joe's Pub, the intimate cabaret located within the Public Theater, March 18-21. Buckley will be joined on stage by fellow performers Veanne Cox, Todd Almond, James Harkness, and Claire Moore. Visit PublicTheater.org for more information.
What is your typical day like now?
A perfect day for me would be walk with my dog Lucas, work out, vocalize, ride my horses. Sing a song. If I get two of these in, it's an accomplishment.
How are you feeling about returning to the cabaret stage in NYC?
Excited to come back to the city. Thrilled to be working with MD/pianist/arranger Christian Jacob, Dan Reiser, Tony Marino, Jordan Peters, and Terry Gabis. And super excited to hear my guests Veanne Cox, Claire Moore, Todd Almond, and James Harkness sing. And joyous to get to see my pals I haven't seen in so long. A concert in NYC is like throwing a party for all my friends.
What can people expect from your return to Joe’s Pub?
Some new songs for me and some old favorites with new arrangements by Christian Jacob. We'll be recording live in hopes of releasing a new live album.
Tell me about the decision to pay tribute to Stephen Sondheim on your newest recording.
Like everyone, I loved Sondheim with all my heart. I was so bereft when I heard he had passed away. As a devotee of his work, I've recorded many of his songs. Several of those albums are no longer available. So, I called my record company executive Missi Callazzo of Palmetto Records and asked if they would be interested in releasing for streaming a compilation of Sondheim's songs that I've sung and recorded, including two concert recordings of songs that have not been released. They said yes! The recordings were remastered by Reuben Cohen at Lurssen Mastering. The new concert recordings were remixed by my engineer, Jason Wormer. The new compilation masters sound really nice. It's been an incredible journey for me reliving these songs and hearing some of my recorded journey over a period of years compiled in one place.
The arrangements were unusual when they were first released and are still very fresh takes on Sondheim's work. My incredible musicians and I were hugely influenced and inspired by Sondheim's use of dissonance. The musical palette he used is just so remarkably beautiful. I hope this new release of his music honors his memory and extraordinary contribution to all of us. There are two tracks from live concerts that have never been released before.
Can you tell me a little bit about those two songs?
The two songs from live concerts that are being released in the compilation are "Another Hundred People" and one of my all-time favorite songs, Red Riding Hood's "I Know Things Now" from Into the Woods. The kids' songs in that show are to die for.
Do you have a favorite Sondheim song? Favorite Sondheim memory?
I love all of his songs. So many favorites. Favorite Sondheim memory: There are three. After rehearsal one day for the pre-Broadway workshop of Into the Woods, we shared a cab. I asked him how he comes up with the extraordinary ideas for his songs in a show. He said it was all about his collaborators. He said [James] Lapine describes the moment to him, and he writes it. It was a lovely, simple response to my question.
Second favorite encounter: After his big birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, he came up to me at the party after the concert. He was smiling. He thanked me for my performance with the Harlem Boys Choir, and he said, "Jerome Robbins just said to me after the concert, 'That Betty Buckley is just so beautiful!'" I died.
Third favorite story: At rehearsal for the pre-Broadway Into the Woods workshop, he called me into a rehearsal studio and said, "Listen to this. I wrote this for you." He played "Stay With Me" for me. I really died right then and there. I thanked him and wept. I loved Sondheim so much. And still do. I have always felt such a longing to make him understand the love I felt for him and his music. Not sure he ever really did. I wanted to put these recordings into a compilation as my humble attempt to honor him one more time.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
We are all one humanity. Discrimination about race, color, creed, and gender has no place in the arts or in our sense of community, for that matter. We are one humanity.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past two years that you didn't already know?
I'm so blessed to live in the country with all my many animal friends. I've been super-blessed to have space and air and trees. Well, I knew that part. And I'm so grateful for my family and friends and collaborators who have inspired me to continue to create during this bewildering and challenging time. I guess I became really aware that I have some good little stories to tell. So, I guess, I better get on with it.
Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
I'm shooting another episode of Law & Order: SVU right after my Joe's Pub dates. It's been such a joy to get to work with the team at SVU. I am ever so grateful to Warren Leight for creating this recurring role of Lorraine Maxwell for me. I love them all, especially the beautiful, extraordinary Mariska Hargitay. And, at the end of March, Christian Jacob and I go to San Francisco to do four shows at Feinstein's at The Nikko. And my animated short film The Mayfly will be coming out later this spring. It is a story I wrote, and Christian scored with some beautiful, joyous music. Our animation team, headed by director Sue Perrotto, have been working away on the film for the past year and three months. The story was written right before the pandemic and recorded the following summer of 2020. When I realized it was an animated film, I set out on a quest to find our team and have met and now worked with such amazing animation artists! I can't wait for you to see it!
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I'm researching charities to support the people in the Ukraine. I would always recommend The Red Cross and also UNICEF. I'm also looking for the best ones to help the animals left in the Ukraine. This war is so tragic. All because of one mad man and his cronies. It is all just so terrible. We must all keep the faith and do what we can do.