A Texas girl, Tony Award winning actress and Grammy nominated singer Betty Buckley may have a little more of the notorious New York gumption than the typical out-of-towner. Though her mother was a singer and dancer, her father didn’t encourage a life on the stage, and the prolific performer initially balked at pursuing a career in entertainment. Fast forward to today, as Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway, Buckley’s latest acclaimed production, comes to Bay Street Theatre.
Buckley realized her love for the stage and her unique voice at an early age. “I had a huge voice for a kid,” says Buckley. She wowed fans in her community and competed in the pageant circuit. Buckley eventually moved to New York in 1969 and landed the role of Martha Jefferson in 1776 on her first day in town.
“I had an agent who signed me as a junior in college, though I was hesitant to commit (because of my father’s disapproval),” explains Buckley.
From there, Broadway aficionados quickly followed the lead of Buckley’s hometown fans, as the Texas native took the New York theatre scene by storm. Heralded as “The Voice of Broadway” by New York Magazine, Buckley has been in such shows as Pippin, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Carrie: The Musical. She joined the cast of Cats in October, 1982, as she played the role of Grizabella. Her performance earned her the 1983 Tony Award for featured actress in a musical.
Buckley has since made a name for herself as a prolific theater and screen actress and as a musician. In the days leading up to her Bay Street performance, Buckley was in California filming the hit ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars.
“To me, screen acting is harder than theatre because you don’t have as much rehearsal—there’s a lot of pressure,” says Buckley. “Both are fun and challenging, but the process is more relaxed in theatre.”
Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway, Buckley’s latest foray into the theater world, will feature Buckley singing classic Broadway songs with a twist—all of the numbers were originally written for men. “It’s really beautiful,” says Buckley. “And it’s funny and lighthearted.”
The show gives a female context to the songs, and the selections were influenced by a series of musical numbers and characters that Buckley feels like she could play. “Of all of them, I think I would have made a good Sweeney Todd,” laughs Buckley. In addition to a medley of three songs from Sweeney Todd, the show includes “Maria” from West Side Story, “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls and “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin.
“What girl doesn’t want a man to sing a song like “Maria” to them?” asks Buckley, whose rendition of the classic West Side Story lyrics portrays a girl hoping for that kind of love. (The song opens with the lyrics: “The most beautiful sound I ever heard; Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria”)
Ah Men! was originally performed at Feinstein’s in New York, and it gives Buckley the opportunity to pay tribute to the historical tradition of female actresses playing men. The show ran to acclaimed reviews in the city, and Buckley is now taking it on tour. A new CD of the show will be released on August 28.
A sort of victim of her own success, Buckley only laments that her busy schedule won’t allow her to spend more time on the East End. This will be Buckley’s third performance at Bay Street Theatre. “I love this town—it’s gorgeous,” she says of Sag Harbor.
But, Buckley has another connection to the East End. As Buckley tells the story, she once saved a young Rufus Wainwright—who now has a house in Montauk—from drowning in a pool. While starring in the television show Eight Is Enough, Buckley was staying in a nearby hotel. “There was a little kid in the pool and he was floundering and his parents had their backs turned so I leapt in and saved him!” said Buckley on an ABC news segment.
“It’s like one of the best moments in life that I actually saved the life of young Rufus for him to come into the world and do all this great music,” said Buckley.
Thankfully, East Enders will also be able to experience Buckley’s great music, as she gives theatergoers a taste of her talents on Saturday.
Betty Buckley will be at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor on August 4 at 8 p.m. Visit www.baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500.