Betty Buckley SD
Betty Buckley in San DiegoWoman of song Buckley shares an evening of musical theater in Poway
BILL FARK For the North County Times
Broadway stardom comes easily in stories such as "42nd Street." The reality is something else, according to Betty Buckley, one of the great leading ladies in American musical theater, who appears Thursday at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts.
"I've been performing since I was a small child," she said in a recent telephone interview. "My mother was a singer and dancer, and my father sang and played guitar by ear, and I started singing in church before I could read. I began studying dance when I was 3."
The Poway show marks Buckley's return to the area. She performed in San Diego a few seasons back for the KPBS Television gala benefit "Under the Quarter Moon." Besides the Poway concert, Buckley has been invited to sing the National Anthem next Wednesday at the San Diego Padres/Florida Marlins game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Although Padres officials suggested that she follow the safe path trod by past singers and lip-synch to a prerecorded tape, Buckley insisted on performing it as she always has ---- live.
Buckley's father was in the Air Force, she said, so the family traveled a lot when she was young. "But I grew up in Texas. I went to first and second grade in Morocco, then we lived in Maine. We settled in Fort Worth when I was in fifth grade.
"That's where I saw my first musical, a Broadway touring show. I was only 11 years old, but there was something so amazing and powerful about it, that I knew I wanted to do it the rest of my life."
Although she studied journalism at Texas Christian University and worked briefly as a reporter, Buckley never forgot her resolve. She performed in community theater and on local radio and television. (During that period, she worked often with David Allan Jones, who has performed in several shows at Welk Resort Theatre.)
Her big break came when she was selected to participate in the Miss Fort Worth Pageant. "Because whoever was the most talented singer was recruited. I went on to the Miss Texas Pageant. I didn't win, but the producer of the Miss America pageant was there and invited me to perform (in that pageant) the next year."
That encounter led to a contract with the International Famous Agency (now ICM). In January of 1969 Buckley moved to New York, where she was cast as Martha Jefferson in "1776." When that show closed and began a nationwide tour, Buckley moved to London to perform in "Promises, Promises."
Since then she has appeared in eight Broadway shows, two in London and another seven off-Broadway. She has also been busy in Hollywood, where she made nine films. Buckley has participated in many show business benefits and special events of recent years. These range from guest appearances on major television series to participation in the Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Her sold-out solo performances began with a concert at St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City, which was recorded and released by Rizzoli Records. She next performed at Rainbow & Stars, atop Rockefeller Center, and the first engagement that has since become a semiannual event at the legendary Village Club. Other well-received solo appearances have been the London concert, and "An Evening With Betty Buckley" at Carnegie Hall.
"I like all of it," she said. "Musical theater is the most satisfying. If a show has a good story and a good role for me, I become part of it."
One of her most memorable roles was that of Grizabella the Glamour Cat in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats," for which she won a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Musical.
"That has to be the most exciting moment of my life," she said. "But I still get a thrill from an audience's reaction. They gave me a standing ovation the first time I ever played Rose in "Gypsy," and that was pretty great."
Following that triumph with another, Buckley received acclaim for her performance in the title role of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." She was also well received in two more Andrew Lloyd Webber shows: "Song and Dance" in New York; and "Sunset Boulevard" in London, where she was nominated for an Olivier Award as Best Actress in a Musical, and New York.
Recording has been a major element in Buckley's career since she made her first album, singing "Walking in Space" for the "Hair" movie soundtrack. She has recorded five CDs for Stirling Records, and recently released "Heart to Heart" on her own KO (Knock Out) Records label.
Buckley's interests range far beyond performing. She is a teacher who has been awarded honorary doctorates of fine arts from Marymount College in Manhattan and the Boston Conservatory of Music. She also gives her time and talents to a number of humanitarian projects. She is an advocate for women's issues, child welfare and AIDS-related causes.
"I am not campaigning on this tour," she said. "This is a theatrical event. My show is me, what I do and what I love. I can't imagine not singing 'Memory' from 'Cats' or one of the songs from 'Sunset Boulevard.' I've had a wonderful life and career, and I want to share my joy."