West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 20 | October 17 - 23, 2007

Songstress and actress Betty Buckley will make her very first appearance at Town Hall as part of the third annual Broadway Cabaret Festival this Saturday.

A voice as fine as crystal

By Jerry Tallmer

When somebody up there was handing out voices, he (she?) gave Betty Lynn Buckley of Fort Worth, Texas, one that could shatter crystal. Hell, it was crystal, and still is — crystal laced with sensibility, heart, laughter, sorrow, gaiety, loneliness, warm intelligence, and, above all, extraordinary power.

He (she) also gave her beauty.

When Betty Lynn was 18, in 1966, she was the Miss Fort Worth of the Miss Texas pageant. The next year, 1967, when she was 19, an electronic engineer named T. Bone Burnett put her in front of a microphone to cut a demo disk of 11 variegated songs, among them the Gershwins’ “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and the wistful “One Boy” from “Bye Bye Birdie,” music by Charles Strouse, words by Lee Adams.

The demo disk went nowhere. There were only two copies of it that Betty Buckley ever knew about. “I gave one to my boyfriend of the time, I don’t know where he is today, and one,” she says, “to Rodger Hess, an agent who got to be a big Broadway producer. I call that record my first album I never had.”

That album is now, this week, 40 years later, to be released as a CD by Playbill Records and Sony BMG under the heading “Betty Buckley, 1967,” in conjunction with the first appearance ever at Town Hall — 8 p.m. this Saturday, October 20 — of Betty Buckley, international star of “Triumph of Love,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Song & Dance,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” “Pippin,” “Carrie,” “1776,” and of course the “Cats” in which her performance as Grizabella won her a Tony Award in 1983. 

“I’ll sing a couple of songs from that 1967 album,” she said this week by phone from her ranch an hour away from Fort Worth, “and some from ‘Quintessence,’ a second album coming out from Playbill Records on Valentine’s Day 2008. There’ll be a quartet with me at Town Hall: Tony Marino, my longtime bass player, Anthony Pinciotti on drums, Billy Drews on reeds, Clifford Carter at the piano.”

Three years ago, when she was at the Café Carlyle, she’d told this journalist the story of her trauma, age 7, when another little girl got to sing “Blues in the Night” and she, Betty Lynn, hadn’t. So, Ms. Buckley, are you going to sing “Blues in the Night” at Town Hall?

“I will if you want me to.”

Are you going to wear silver? (Silver and crystal, crystal and silver.)

“I don’t know what I’m going to wear yet. Probably black, like I always do. But since you mention silver, I’m going to consider it.”

It was Andrew Gans, a senior editor at Playbill (and a sometime singer of songs himself), who — as he was watching and listening to a 1998 Bravo documentary, “Betty Buckley: In Performance and in Person,” caught just enough of her “One Boy,” the “Bye Bye Birdie” song she’d done on the 1967 demo, to set him on fire.

“I had always loved her singing,” Gans says. “A beautiful voice, and beautifully interpretive. Amazing. So when I heard that snippet from “One Boy,” I mentioned to her that she should release it. But nothing happened” — until, more recently, Gans suggested to Playbill president Philip S. Birsh that their new records division, run by Birsh himself and Richard J. Alexander, might well consider bringing back, or bringing out, that long-lost 1967 demo. The Playbill president did some listening to early Buckley and became a total enthusiast.

Betty Buckley and her assistant, Cathy Brighenti, share that Texas ranch with five dogs, four cats, an African gray parrot, and two horses. Ms. Buckley’s mother, Betty Bob Diltz Buckley, recently was dragged up on stage by her daughter to take a bow at a Fort Worth Symphony concert. Betty herself has just finished being shot, by camera, in the upcoming M. Night Shyamalan science-spooky movie, “The Happening.” She plays a woman named Mrs. Jones.

“I’m not supposed to tell you what she does. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement.”

So they’d shoot you if you told me?

“Yes, and if I told you they’d shoot you too.”

The liner notes of the “Betty Buckley, 1967” CD are by Playbill’s Gans. His 1100 words there are pretty damn affirmative, but none attain quite the heat of his reaction to that fragment he once caught on the wing of 19-year-old Betty Buckley sailing into “Bye Bye Birdie.”

It was, says Andrew Gans, “a voice filled with all the joy of what was to be.”

And still is. That’s the amazing thing.

AN EVENING WITH BETTY BUCKLEY. Saturday, October 20, at Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street (between 6th Ave. and Broadway), 212-307-4100, ticketmaster.com.

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