Betty Buckley :: Back in New York, singing Broadway

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday February 12, 2010

"Success is a job in New York," says Betty Buckley, star of stage, screen, television and recording, in her new show For the Love of Broadway!, which plays seven shows a week through the end of February at Feinstein's.

Buckley moved back to her home state of Texas six years ago and is grateful for the opportunity to return to New York with a new act. "Feinstein's has brought me back every year, which has helped me maintain a thread of continuity with New York," she told EDGE in a wide-ranging interview. "It's a very glamorous job and satisfies my need to do new material." The show offers about twenty songs from different Broadway eras, but none that she herself made famous.

For the current show, she once again collaborated with her longtime musical director, Kenny Werner, and has added Tony Marino on bass and Billy Drewes on reeds and percussion.

Show’s title from Twitter

During the show, Buckley jokes that "it is in my contract to sing Broadway tunes." It is the medium that brought her worldwide fame and a Tony ("Cats") and the show tunes are what the fans want to hear, although she has also mastered jazz and country music. In fact, the title of the current show came about through a contest on Twitter.

She includes one song written for her by John McDaniel and Eric Kornfeld, "When I Belt," which gently pokes fun of the fans who only seem to want to hear those big, glorious high notes.

Still, for that, Buckley is thankful. "When I was thirteen, I had a very specific vision about what I wanted to do, which was to live in New York and be a Broadway performer," she said. "Even at a young age and living in Texas, I knew from a young age that I was from somewhere else. I'm a New Yorker."

Asked, then, why she chose to move back to Texas, Buckley turned pensive. "Like a lot of people, after 9/11 I became unmotivated and visionless for a period of time and it really frightened me," she said. "I had always anticipated having enough money to have a cutting horse and a ranch, and I had ignored it. I wondered if I had waited too long."

"Cutting" is an equestrian event in which an athletic horse is trained to keep a single animal (such as a cow) away from its herd for a period of time. Both horse and rider are judged on their ability to do this at the sporting event.

From New York to Texas

Eventually, Buckley connected with one of the top cutting horse trainers in the country and he took her on as a student. For a time, she commuted to Texas to train with her championship horse, Purple Badger, but then realized she needed to live near her horse. She sold her New York apartment and bought the Texas ranch and her assistant moved with her to live in the guesthouse.

"It was shocking to me and my friends because I thought I would always live in New York," she said. Her manager and agent, though, were very supportive, telling her that her career could be maintained from Texas.

"For three years, Purple Badger was my soulmate," Buckley said wistfully. Her beloved horse died suddenly of an aneurysm in 2006. She still owns two show horses and dogs and cats that she rescued.

Still, she admitted she'd gladly come back to Broadway and, in fact, is in talks about two possible New York stage productions. "I'd have to find nearby stables, though, because the family is coming with me," she joked.

A master teacher for over thirty years, Buckley coaches individuals and conducts classes in Fort Worth and-as if seven shows per week were not enough-is teaching lessons while in New York.

Explaining that she became serious about teaching once she discovered meditation in her late twenties, she said, "Everything of merit that I do came from great teachers. It is my responsibility to pass that on."

As for keeping up with her own rigorous schedule, Buckley was unsentimental: "You have to accept that aging is real and no one is exempt. You've got to do what it takes to continue to do what you do."

She continues to study herself, consistently works out, and has a Pilates instructor that often travels with her. Of her Feinstein's schedule, she said, "No matter how much I prepare in advance, it's never enough. It takes so much work to get in performance condition," she said, noting that she feels her body hits its stride in the third week. "I'm constantly in a wrestling match with myself about skipping a workout or eating chocolate."

Stritch her inspiration

In the show, she mentions that she considers Elaine Stritch her guardian angel. Of Stritch, who just turned 85, Buckley said, "I'm very inspired by her. I hope I have the wherewithal, the pizzazz and the gumption to be doing what she's doing when I am her age."

Outside of the theater community, television audiences may remember Buckley as Abby Bradford in the dramedy "Eight is Enough" (1977-1981) or Suzanne Fitzgerald in HBO's "Oz" series (2001-03).

The actress also made notable film appearances in "Carrie" (1976), "Tender Mercies" (1983), "Another Woman" (1988), "Frantic" (1988) and "The Happening" (2008).

Buckley chose not to dwell on her past accomplishments during the interview, but said, "There were about seven of us making our film debut with 'Carrie' and we did feel we were working on something special, but I don't think any of us knew how much of a cult film it would become."

She went on to say, "I'm very grateful for the multi-faceted nature of my career. It really came down to decisions made along the way and one thing led to another." Shifting into teacher mode, she said, "I tell my students, 'You need to be as ready as possible to do as many things as possible.'"

After her Feinstein's gig, Buckley will return to Fort Worth for teaching and more horse shows. She will also appear in the HBO miniseries "The Pacific" in March and an episode of "Melrose Place" (her brother, Norman Buckley, is a producer) in April. She† continues to have a heavy concert and nightclub schedule and hopes to record the songs from her current show.

For now, New Yorkers and tourists can catch Betty Buckley up close and personal at Feinstein's singing those Broadway show tunes.

Go to www.feinsteinsattheregency for exact show times and to learn more about the performer.

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).