Betty Buckley when the Songs End, There Are Always Tales to Tell


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Betty Buckley taught a master class in what it is like to be a Broadway diva at Feinsteins at Loews Regency on Tuesday evening. And yes, it is hard work.

This deep-dish autobiographical show, Broadway by Request, which began a one-month run at the club, portrays the job as strenuous, brutally competitive labor in which every triumph is countered with rejection, disappointment and self-doubt. Nerves of steel are recommended.

As Ms. Buckley reaches into a silver bucket, plucks out random selections scrawled by audience members on slips of paper, and sings whatever is there, every show promises to be different from the one before. Seth Rudetsky, a garrulous theater wag and font of backstage trivia, serves as her comic foil as well as her accompanist.

Because Ms. Buckley spent as much time on Tuesday reminiscing about her Broadway career, which began 40 years ago with the musical 1776, as she did singing, this opening-night show was a cultists trove of insider theater lore in which she dropped the names of agents, directors, producers and fellow performers. Although her singing was as dramatically focused as ever (Whoever You Are, I Love You from Promises Promises, and Memory from Cats were high points), there was not enough of it.

Ms. Buckley was unafraid to tell embarrassing stories about herself. She recalled sending a stack of her albums to Stephen Sondheim, who, when she asked him later what he thought of them, told her bluntly that he didnt like the liberties she and her regular pianist and arranger, Kenny Werner, had taken with his songs. As though chastened, she and Mr. Rudetsky performed No One Is Alone and Send in the Clowns, the two Sondheim songs in Tuesdays set, exactly as written.

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