Let’s start at the end, shall we?

After entertaining a sold-out crowd at SubCulture in downtown Manhattan for nearly ninety minutes, Jason Robert Brown and Betty Buckley teased us with an introduction to their encore by detailing a story of how (after a twenty-year friendship) their mutual love affair with Leonard Bernstein’s score to West Side Story has bonded them. They have long dreamed of putting their teamed egos to good use and perform all of it, leaving the door open for the final sounds and images of their concert to feature Brown’s Maria and Buckley’s Anita belting out “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love.” At first, it was comical with a growl that came out of Buckley and Brown trilling his “r” while singing “orrrrrr so you said.” But then, the beauty took over and with it the melancholy richness of Bernstein’s music. What at first was funny, grew sad. Art triumphs in the end… which is what this concert was all about.

Betty Buckley has been a star of the Broadway stage for fifty years now. And I’m one of the few that can say I saw her before critics and audiences anointed her as such. I was in the audience at the final Saturday matinee preview performance of the musical 1776, before its Sunday night opening on March 16, 1969. I was twelve years old, and Ms. Buckley a mere decade older than I, had just recently gotten off a bus from Fort Worth, Texas to hopefully begin a career in musicals. 1776 was not only her first job in New York, it was her first audition… on her first day in the city! The story is legendary—then again, so is she. And on that Saturday afternoon I was dazzled by her gorgeous vibrato in her solo “He Plays the Violin,” leaving me a fan forever. Over the years, her singing and acting have crossed all genres: television (Eight is Enough), film (Carrie, Tender Mercies), Grammy nominations and, of course, Broadway musicals (Cats—her single Tony Award—and The Mystery of Edwin Drood).

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