Diva Talk: Betty Buckley Fully and Emotionally Delves Into ‘Story Songs’

By Andrew Gans
September 28, 2016

For those of us who began relishing Betty Buckley’s concert appearances nearly 30 years ago—including her numerous, roof-raising performances at The Bottom Line—it came as no surprise that her September 22-25 Joe’s Pub engagement, entitled Story Songs, was an emotionally rich experience. Buckley, recently seen in the West Coast engagement of Grey Gardens, has always been a master storyteller, whether she’s bringing to life a multifaceted character in a Broadway musical or creating mini-dramas out of songs from the worlds of Broadway, country and pop in a concert setting.

Her newest repertoire is an especially eclectic one, featuring works by composers of past and present; in fact, the gifted artist has consistently championed the work of the younger generation of musical theatre writers, and this set list boasted three tunes by Tony winner Jason Robert Brown as well as one song by Joe Iconis, penned specifically for the Broadway favorite.

The Iconis offering, entitled “Old Flame,” epitomized Buckley’s particular interpretive genius. She became the character of the song—an older, off-balanced woman, who never overcame an ill-fated love affair—before our very eyes. What was especially riveting about Buckley’s performance was how she interwove layers of comedy and pathos in one song, bringing this character to full and intricate life.

The Jason Robert Brown songs comprised the beautifully melodic “All Things in Time”; “Cassandra,” from a work in progress; and a particularly touching version of “Another Life” from the Tony-winning The Bridges of Madison County.

Other highlights of the evening included a slowed-down rendering of the little-heard, poignant “Chanson” from Stephen Schwartz’s The Baker’s Wife; a haunting version of Emmylou Harris’ “Prayer in Open D,” where Buckley’s tones were especially ravishing; a spellbinding “September Song”; and Buckley’s heartfelt, full-voiced finale, Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up.”

It should also be noted that Buckley was backed by, perhaps, her greatest quartet to date: musical director Christian Jacob on piano, Tony Marino on bass, Oz Noy on guitar and Ben Perowsky on drums. This group of musicians ably supported Buckley’s vocals, whether she was offering delicate tones or her powerful belt. The singing actress remains generous in her praise of her stage partners, allowing each to shine in solo moments. Most memorable were Noy’s beautiful opening to Harris’ “Prayer in Open D” and Jacob’s performance of the theme (which he also composed) from the current Tom Hanks film Sully.

Buckley will next appear at the Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington, NY. Don’t miss the chance to see this stellar talent shine in an intimate setting.