Club Review: “Betty Buckley & Friends”

March 31, 2022 | By | 1 Comment

When Betty Buckley entered the stage for her new show at Joe’s Pub, Betty Buckley & Friends, I was brought back to the many times I had seen her at the long-lost Bottom Line (one of the finest musical venues to ever grace this city) working on material for upcoming major engagements.  She would be dressed down and have a music stand in front of her with that night’s selection of songs and ask for, and judge, audience response, occasionally doing two songs in an either/or situation after which she would keep one and toss one, based on applause.  There was an easy-going looseness to the performances that offered her the opportunity to ease into a story and bring us with her and allowed us to share with her the sense of discovery as she began to take up residence in the worlds the songs created.  

Betty Buckley (Photo: John Boal)

That laid-back, natural feel filled Joe’s Pub as well, immediately presenting itself in her opener, John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” which she has done before but this time it was in a bracing new arrangement that revealed in Buckley’s vocal a fierce abandon, coupled with a strong commitment to story. This commitment was buoyed by the brilliant accompaniment of her band, which included Tony Marino on bass, Dan Rieser on drums, and Jordan Peters on guitar. Christian Jacob provided evocative piano throughout, as well as music directed and was responsible for the stunning arrangements, and re-arrangements. 

Remembering Stephen Sondheim, she included “Not a Day Goes By,” sung as a simple declaration, foregoing the usual histrionics and anger. Jacob’s piano was hauntingly fragile in this number. One of the new additions to her repertoire was Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” for which she veered away from the inherent irony in the title in a way that highlighted a hard-won wisdom and comforting acceptance that made the line “…I wish there was something you would do or say” the heart of the song.  By way of a tribute to the recently passed Marilyn Bergman, she mentioned her long friendship with her and husband Alan leading into an absolutely stunning “Where Do You Start?” (music, Johnny Mandel).

Then she brought on the first of her titular friends, singer Claire Moore, to sing “Still Hurting” (Jason Robert Brown, The Last Five Years).  Buckley would be a tough act to follow under the best of circumstances and this was not the best of circumstances. The song choice was lacking compared to the wonderful material we had heard thus far, but the real problem was the singing. If Buckley is an oil painter delicately creating a masterpiece, then Moore is a house painter. She did what so many of today’s young legit singers do—concentrating on volume rather than phrasing.  She then backed her host on Sting’s “Fragile” but proved a distraction, making little effort to blend in with what might otherwise have been one of Buckley’s strongest vocals of the evening. The dramatic guitar work of Peters added much more to the moment, and to the story, than the second vocal.

A pairing of Anna McGarrigle’s “Heart Like a Wheel” and the Scottish folk tune “The Water is Wide” (Traditional) would, in another time and another setting, be considered art songs in both vocal and instrumental execution. The subtlety and intricacy of the arrangement (with special mention of Marino on bass) and the masterful vocal were thrilling throughout. Next was the second friend and it was night and day from the first. Veanne Cox recreated her much loved star turn in Company, “Not Getting Married Today” (Sondheim), not missing a beat musically or lyrically, and receiving hysterical laughter and a well-deserved ovation for her effort.  

Jacob, apparently, had to talk Buckley into doing “In the Still of the Night” (Cole Porter), and I am so glad he did. His noirish arrangement was spectacular and the singer became a mysterious vamp, complete with some seductive slinking around the stage. The word “chill” in the line, “…in the chill, still of the night” became the operative word for both Buckley and her musicians. She debuted a new piece that Jason Robert Brown wrote as a gift for his mother.  The song, “Love Again,” is a charming delight about an older woman in love with a younger man.  It was witty and touching and grew into a moving affirmation.  

Another Sondheim closed the show. “No More,” from Into the Woods, achieved an anthemic majesty in response to our life and times over the last couple of years.  It gained even more power than it had in the show with Buckley’s passionately defiant performance. As an encore, she chose another nod to her departed friend, Marilyn Bergman with “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” (Michel Legrand, the Bergmans) which became a moving blend of the philosophical and the romantic in her highly personal contemplation. 

Betty Buckley, at the top of her game, resoundingly bounced back from the years of COVID and political and cultural strife that we have undergone and, thankfully, she once again took us with her.  We all needed it. 

***

Presented at Joe’s Pub, March 18-21.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Loved the review I have worked with Christian Jacob and he is absolutely superb!!!

Leave a Reply