The Two of Clubs
For the better part of eighteen years Betty Buckley has come across to many as endlessly perverse. Fans who fall in love with her from her musical theater career come to see her in cabaret rooms expecting to hear her sing in the idiom that brought her fame only to hear an hour of oftentimes eccentric jazz arrangements save for possibly two numbers at the end of her act that are done as straight-on musical theater songs. In her new show at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, Buckley finally does something she's never done before: she stops to explain to all her long-suffering theater fans just how and why chooses her material. She acknowledges the frustration she causes some of her fans, but eases the pain by saying that she tries to be mindful of their interests and therefore chooses musical theater songs - except she picks them based on their adaptability to jazz.
In her new show, therefore, you will find songs from The Great White Way like "It Might As Well Be Spring" (Rodgers/Hammerstein) and "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" (Rodgers/Hammerstein) and "One Boy" (Strouse/Adams). Buckley's refreshing candor, coupled with a remarkably relaxed and comfortable stage presence, has catapulted this show to the exalted spot in which Ms. Buckley can be said to have performed one of the best cabaret acts she has ever produced.
Buckley's patter is economical, charming and even occasionally funny. But one comes to hear Buckley sing and "They Were You" (Schmidt/Jones) from The Fantasticks is glorious, her "Quando Calienta El Sol" is a treat, and "Throw it Away (Abbey Lincoln) is deeply touching in its simplicity. One thing you don't want to throw away is the chance to see Betty Buckley at the top of her cabaret game. She performs at Feinstein's through February 24th.
Speaking of special shows, a few weeks ago Chita Rivera performed two shows on one Monday night at Birdland to benefit BC/EFA. We can't speak for the early show, but the later performance that evening was, without doubt, better than her own Broadway show, better than the terrific show she put on earlier this year at Feinstein's, and was nigh on perfect if you could ask either us or the adoring crowd who cheered her throughout what was clearly an electrifying evening of musical theater autobiography. We might add that both shows were packed and Jim Caruso, who booked Chita for the benefit, raised over $12,000 for Broadway Cares. Congrats!
Karen Oberlin's tribute to Yip Harburg at The Metropolitan Room was that rare cabaret show that employed video to show the person being honored. But don't be scared off by the word "multimedia." The clip was a touching and very helpful piece to include because it put a face and a personality to the music that followed during the rest of Oberlin's tasteful and adoring tribute to one of our great lyricists.
The patter in this kind of show can often derail the artists but not here. Oberlin was in command of the facts and created a compelling overview of Harburg's life and contribution to the Great American Songbook. Most important, though, she sang his songs with great attention to the lyrics in a clear, light and bright soprano. In all, a lovely show.
Don't get us wrong. Judy Collins is a wonderful artist and apparently put on a terrific show at the Café Carlyle. But from where we were sitting, one of us could only see her in profile throughout the entire show, and the other couldn't see her at all when she was sitting on the piano bench - which she did at some length. When paying customers come to the Café Carlyle they will rightfully expect to see the performer for whom they are dropping a considerable chunk of change. We liked pretty much everything we heard. We might have liked what we saw, had we seen it.