Betty Buckley: Hope

Betty Buckley


Joe’s Pub, NYC, June 5, 2018

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley smiles a lot.  Who knew?

There seems to be a preconceived notion that Buckley has an aloof, almost Grande Dame, deameanor. Playing roles with a similar dynamic—notably the moody Grizabella in Cats—could attribute to some of this perception. Or, perhaps, it’s her now infamous eccentricities (true or not) that add to the persona that most come to expect.

Yet, instantly, Buckley dispels that assumption. Instead, she is earthy and warm, almost recalling an insightful aunt who’s lived through some serious stuff. And, most of all, Buckley is full of sunny wisdom.

Last October she debuted her Story Songs #2 show at Joe’s Pub and, eight months later, she’s back at the fabled downtown hot spot to push its live album recording, Hope. While she expertly storytells each song, the content seems to be divided into two categories: wish and woe.  

On one end, Buckley explores devastation and heartbreak with a color range larger than the Crayola 64-count crayon box. The journey of “Chanson” (Stephen Schwartz), wavering between forlorn and bewildered, comes alive with her understated commitment to each lyric and phrase. Similarly, the metaphors and details of both “Shades of Scarlet Conquering” (Joni Mitchell) and “Falling in Love” (Lisa Loeb) may prove esoteric to listeners. But Buckley—full of theatrical flair—infuses the poetic nature with an easygoing reality, rich in accessibility.   

In fact, there is an economic use of gesture from Buckley in many of these pieces. She stands. She sits. And when not directly engaging with the audience, she moves little except for an expressive arm wave or finger point. This focuses the lyrical gravitas of these text-hefty songs.

Plainly, she never works for it. 

And the repertoire that explores hope only adds to the tenderness of Buckley’s dynamic. “I Feel Lucky” (Mary Chapin Carpenter/Don Schlitz) is a fun and rollicking country tune, putting her Texas roots on display. Yet her homespun humor and cheery optimism also surprisingly reveal an underlying need for change.

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This is, of course, underlined in the bittersweet title song, “Hope” (Jason Robert Brown). Responding to the upset of the 2016 election, she eases into a theme of optimism with sage-like mastery.

But she is at her most vibrant when she plays hope and heartbreak simultaneously. In “Quiet” (Paul Simon), she searches for contentment amidst disenfranchisement and rejection.  Dripping with vulnerability, she somehow manages to keep the tone light and positive. And, finally, she wraps up her last phrase with a smile that says it all. Yes, there is always hope.

The expert band should be commended for the eclectic aural aesthetics: Dan Reiser on drums, Troy Marino on bass, Ox Noy on guitars. and music director Christian Jacob. And, certainly, Betty Buckley cements herself as a treasure whose storytelling abilities are unparalleled.

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Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.