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Betty Buckley, the cabaret cowgirl
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Betty Buckley, the cabaret cowgirl

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Betty Buckley has been a Texas beauty queen, a Tony Award winner, was nominated twice for the Grammy Award and shows cutting horses at her ranch in Texas. Her films include Tender Mercies and Carrie (as the gym teacher), among others. Most people will recognize her as Abby, the stepmother in the sitcom series Eight is Enough or from introducing the song "Memory" from Cats. When not at her ranch, Ms. Buckley performs concerts ranging from intimate cabarets to Carnegie Hall.

To celebrate the Seattle Men's Chorus' 30th Anniversary, Ms. Buckley will be the special guest star for their holiday concert, Santa Baby. In preparation, Ms. Buckley gave a phone interview to one of her most supportive fans.

Eric Andrews-Katz: You were born in Fort Worth, Texas, and trained yourself to sing by listening to recordings. Who were the women that inspired you?

Betty Lynn Buckley: Actually, I was born in Big Spring, Texas and my family settled in Fort Worth. I sang as a child in church, but my mother had a great collection of the female artists. I listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Della Reese.

Andrews-Katz: Your first day in New York, you auditioned for the musical 1776, originating the role of Martha Jefferson. What do you remember most from that audition?

Buckley: It was really thrilling. They kept me there for hours, teaching me the songs and reading scenes. They thought I was funny because of my thick Texas accent. I kept mispronouncing the words. It amused them and that helped me get the part.

Andrews-Katz: You were in both the hit movie Carrie and the much less successful stage musical version. What went wrong with the musical and why has it reached such legendary status?

Buckley: There was a problem with style. In the selections of the mother/daughter scenes and numbers we were doing one style of work and the rest of the show was in another style. I don't think the directors had a feeling for the Americana nature of the story, nor the right milieu of the play. Currently, they are doing a new workshop of the show so, we'll see if they get the vision they want for it.

Andrews-Katz: Signature songs can be a blessing and a curse. What experiences have you encountered with "Memory" from Cats?

Buckley: It's only been a blessing. The song is just such a beautiful piece of poetry written by Trevor Nunn. It's the only one not written by T.S. Elliot. It's such a universal piece of poetry. The character Grizabella [the Glamour Cat] is like one of my dearest friends; she continues to teach me very beautiful things about life.

Andrews-Katz: If you could choose any song what song would you want to be your signature?

Buckley: "Memory." No second thoughts.

Andrews-Katz: I'd like to thank you for all the work you've done with the Gay Men's Health Crisis. You've done extensive work for many years and helped to raise a lot of money. How did you get involved with the GMHC?

Buckley: I was doing work with "Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS" and got involved through them.

Andrews-Katz: Do you prefer a grand or more intimate concert venue, and why?

Buckley: I prefer an intimate venue when I work with a small ensemble of musicians or just with a pianist. When I work with an orchestra, I prefer a bigger venue, like Benaroya Hall - I really like Benaroya Hall.

Andrews-Katz: When you plan out a concert menu, what kind of music do you prefer to sing?

Buckley: It's not about a kind of music; it's more about the song itself. I look for songs that have beautiful lyrics, that are visually sumptuous or where the character speaks through a song, describing something that resonates from the present moment. As I continue to grow and evolve, I'm always looking for songs that speak to the immediate nature of my experience. It's like trying on clothes to see if they fit.

Andrews-Katz: You'll be singing with the Seattle Men's Chorus for their 30th year holiday celebration. What holiday magic will you be sharing with Seattle audiences?

Buckley: I'll be coming with my pianist, Kenny Werner [a 20-year collaborator]. We've done several Christmas concerts in the past and take the music that we love and improvise with those songs. We've been asked to do a few songs, so we'll pick from our favorites for the concert.

Andrews-Katz: Most people don't know that you own, ride and compete show horses. How does your cowgirl lifestyle balance your hectic show business career?

Buckley: I wish I got around to it much earlier in life. I've always loved horses and rode them when I was a kid. I put it on the back burner in favor of studying and working for show business opportunities. After 9/11, I got back to the equine sport of cutting horses. Cutting horses are bred to herd cows like border collies do with sheep. It's a very thrilling and beautiful sport to watch. Now I have four horses: two for show, and a mare with a five-month-old filly. When Bit o' Honey Boon [the filly] is three years old, she will be the 2012 futurity champion - at least, that's what I tell her. I feel like "Mama Rose" coaching her on every day.

Andrews-Katz: With awards in stage, film, television and now horse showing, what do you plan to do next?

Buckley: Right now I have a bunch of concerts coming up. There's one in Boston, where I'll be lecturing at Boston University. Then there's a concert in New Jersey; I hope to meet the New Jersey Housewives [from the TV show The Real Housewives of New Jersey]. After that, it's rehearsing in workshop for a new musical, and then to Seattle.

Andrews-Katz: What's the new musical in workshop?

Buckley: I can't talk about that yet, but maybe soon.

Betty Buckley has twice been nominated for the Drama Desk and Tony Awards (for Triumph of Love and Cats), winning the Tony in 1983 for Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. Crediting Bob Fosse's choreography in The Pajama Game as being the start of a love relationship with the theater, Ms. Buckley's career on stage has included Sunset Boulevard, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Pippin and Carrie, a musical that has achieved legendary status. Her other credits include more than eight solo CDs, lead roles in the films Carrie, Tender Mercies, Frantic and The Happening. She also played a reoccurring character on the HBO series OZ.

The Seattle Men's Chorus is celebrating its 30th year anniversary. Their first concert was June 1980 and held at the Museum of History and Industry. In 1981, Chet Forward stepped in as co-conductor with Dennis Coleman, who was known as a minister of music for a Baptist church. With Mr. Coleman at the helm, the chorus has a 15-listing discography and has had such guest stars as Harvey Fierstein, Nell Carter, Faith Prince, Lucy Lawless, Michael Feinstein, Rosemary Clooney and last year's Debbie Reynolds.

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Betty Buckley, the cabaret cowgirl
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