Betty Buckley performance is and you are likely to get a varied list of highlights from Broadway, movies and television. Buckley, the Fort Worth, Texas native, has amassed a résumé that has made her one of the most revered performers in Broadway today.
Many people didn’t know she could sing when they fell in love with Miss Collins, the sympathetic gym teacher she played in Brian DePalma’s iconic 1976 film Carrie. Buckley hit a nerve with bullied or outcast students everywhere as she tried to help Sissy Spacek’s abused teen navigate the horrors of high school. Then, Buckley further endeared herself to TV audiences when she had the unenviable task of coming in as Abby Bradford on the popular show Eight is Enough when Diana Hyland, who played the mother, passed away suddenly in the first season. However, it is on the Broadway stage where Buckley really shines, originating the role of Grizabella in Cats, where she immortalized the song “Memories”, and entrancing audiences as the faded star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
Buckley lives on a beautiful ranch near Fort Worth where she raises cutting horses and teaches Master Classes when not touring the country. It was after 9/11 that she decided to get back to her roots and buy the ranch, which she considers a solace to her soul. A strong animal rights advocate, she shares her ranch with four horses and “lots of cats and dogs that I’ve rescued". GLBT fans have always appreciated Buckley’s strong support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS as well.
When I spoke to her by phone, she was finishing a critically acclaimed run of the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace at the Dallas Theater Center. “We’ve got a really fresh, outrageous production so I am really having a lot of fun with it" Buckley explained.
It is quite a change to go from poisoning old men to finessing Broadway ballads in Scottsdale, but Buckley loves the show she is bringing to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts tomorrow evening. “We’re doing a show called Broadway By Request. My cohort Seth Rudetsky is a brilliant comedian, pianist and he’s a radio talk show host on Sirius Radio. He’s very funny, so we’ve been doing this show for the last year and a half. It’s all the songs that I’ve originated on Broadway and sung in various Broadway shows that the majority of people across the country have requested over the years. Seth also does some of his famous (song) deconstructions. We enjoy doing it, and the audience seems to enjoy it, too.”
Why does the GLBT community love Buckley so much? “Well, I think there’s a history of the gay and lesbian community really loving Broadway “singing ladies,” and I just think in general the gay and lesbian community has good taste,” she said laughing. “I think the community likes things that are authentic and fully emotionally expressive, and I think that that’s part of the reason that divas of the musical stage are embraced by the gay community. I think that the LGBT community is more open and authentic as to who they really are, because in our society they’ve had to really claim themselves, so I think that authenticity is at essence what they’re about.”
I asked Buckley what her personal career highlights were, and she responded, “I think that the jewel of my collection is the song "Memory" from Cats that is my signature song; I feel very fortunate to even have a signature song. But also the songs from Sunset Boulevard. Those two years of my life, a year in London and a year on Broadway doing Sunset, were wonderful and a great, great experience. Playing Norma Desmond was one of the high points of my career, along with playing Grizibella (in Cats)."
Social media has brought Buckley close to her fans, which she enjoys. “I’ve been on Facebook this past year. My brother Norman made me go on Facebook and Twitter and it’s been really nice to have a direct correspondence, if you will, with my friends on Facebook. The lovely things they say about how my work has been meaningful to them through the years really means a lot in every form of how they express it. It’s been very gratifying to experience that.”
Seth Rudetsky has a huge following as well, and Buckley is a big fan. “Seth knows all things Broadway, he’s like an encyclopedia. He especially loves high belting. He’ll play a video or a recording of something and explain why it is what it is and why it’s had the impact that it has right down to the technical aspect of the singing. For one thing, it’s very astute and for another, it’s very, very funny." His “Seth’s Sassy Blog” is full of funny anecdotes about growing up loving Broadway and all of the camps, schools and experiences playing piano on Broadway shows that have filled his life.
Buckley credits Rudetsky with helping her “construct some of the best work I’ve done.” She is excited for people to hear her new recording, Bootleg: Board Mixes From the Road, which contains live performances collected from her concerts, and which contains a preview of her upcoming CD Ghostlight. She reunited with her old friend T-Bone Burnett to record the new album that will come out this Fall. “I am very, very excited about it. I just heard the final mixes at his studio in Los Angeles and it’s just gorgeous. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.