BWW Interviews: BETTY BUCKLEY
By Sherry Shameer Cohen Broadway World.com May 5, 2016
Anyone who is going to see Betty Buckley perform in concert for the first time this Saturday evening at the Ridgefield Playhouse is going to be enthralled. Not just because she has a glorious voice – she is after all, “The Voice of Broadway” – and has a fabulous repertoire of show songs, and is a wonderful actor and storyteller, but because she is such a meticulous performing artist. She has achieved the status of being legendary with an illustrious career in theatre, musical theatre, film, television, concerts and recordings (16 CDs to date). Her most recent CD, Ghostlight, was produced by the multi-Grammy award and Oscar winning producer T. Bone Burnett. She has done 10 Broadway shows including two long runs in London’s West End. She debuted the role of Martha Jefferson in Broadway’s 1776, a role she got on her first day in New York City.
Before Buckley came on the national scene as “Abby” in the TV hit, Eight is Enough, she had already appeared on Broadway in three shows and in the hit movie, Carrie. She knew that television was just part of her path as a performer. Even back then, she would fly every month from California to New York for singing lessons. There was one skeptical producer, but she never questioned herself. She knew she would be back on Broadway someday.
She continues to appear in films and television. Most recently, she completed M. Night Shyamalan’s newest film, Split, in which she co-stars with James McAvoy (release date January 2017) and on television in HBO’s Getting On and Free Form’s Pretty Little Liars), gaining another generation of fans.
Buckley still takes voice lessons regularly. She teaches her students that performers must prepare as a professional athlete to be ready when opportunities come. “Sometimes it’s necessary to campaign for a role,” she says, but some people at this point of my life know what I do.” That wasn’t always the case, and sometimes things don’t work out. She auditioned six times for the lead in The Baker’s Wife. Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music and lyrics, told Buckley that he had written the role for her, but the director ended up choosing someone else. She ended up making one of the songs, “Meadowlark,” her own with her exceptional singing voice and interpretation.
Early on, Buckley knew that it isn’t enough for a performer to have talent and good box office figures. “Sometime people have a short memory and people tend to pigeonhole you…unless they’re an enlightened director or producer.” Then there are things most audience members don’t even think about, such as sound checks with her band at each venue to try to ensure that everyone will be able to hear the music and her singing from wherever they sit – a necessity for all concert artists. Anyone who has sat in the front row of a Broadway theatre and not heard voices can appreciate this.
Buckley also leads workshops in song and monologue interpretation. She encourages performers to be observant of people everywhere, to calm their minds with meditation, and to clear their minds at the end of the day. “The tools I teach are fail proof,” she promises. She loves “seeing the potential in a younger artist and assisting mature performers,” she explains. “That’s what my teachers did for me.”
She has been a teacher of song interpretation and scene study for 42 years. After performing in Ridgefield this weekend, she will teach her 5th Annual Five Day Workshop in Denver. She then goes to LA. To begin rehearsals for Grey Gardens, directed by Michael Wilson to be presented at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in July and August. She has other concerts scheduled for the fall.
She says she has learned “so many, many things from teachers and life experiences. A former reporter in her home town of Fort Worth, Texas, she just may get down to writing all this in a memoir. “People have asked me to do that,” she admitted, and she is beginning work on ideas for a book with a collaborator in New York City.
Her real love is Cutting Horses, a sport she discovered when she was 12. It used to be part of rodeo, and she became “obsessed with the sport.” Cutting Horse is a western-style equestrian sport in which a rider and horse work as a team to demonstrate the horse’s ability to handle cattle. “I had this dream to be successful in show business so I could have a Cutting Horse…. After 9/11, I realized] I forgot to get my Cutting Horse. So I went on a quest to find my horse. At 55, I connected with one of the top trainers in the sport. I was commuting from New York. He helped me find my first horse, Purple Badger.” I was just obsessed with him.” She also decided, “I’ve got to live where my horse lives,” and sold her New York apartment 14 years ago to move back to Texas. “Now my work supports my horses,” she laughs. In addition to three horses, she has a donkey and rescue animals. “It’s a very nice life,” she says. “It’s great to go to regroup. It’s a wonderful place to look at nature.” She also loves dogs, cats, reading, working out and eating at Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth for what she considers “the best Tex-Mex food in the world.”