We've seen and heard Betty Buckley perform in a variety of clubs, concert halls, and theaters -- but we have never seen her so relaxed, so buoyant, so thoroughly happy to be singing as she seems to be right now in her show Deep in the Heart at Feinstein's at the Regency. Loose and informal within the structure of her act, Buckley clearly likes the places where her music takes her. She states early on in the show that the events of 9/11/01 forced her to think about the songs she should be choosing to perform. As a result, she has returned to her musical roots to rediscover the joy and beauty that drew her to singing in the first place.
Buckley is a complicated performer, so her journey to the past has nothing to do with singing the songs of her youth. Rather, she offers songs that embrace the essence of her youthful musical passions. There is a decided country twang to her show but this ain't the Grand Ol' Opry; it is, however, utterly grand. Buckley delivers a heart-stopping song called "Too Many Memories (for One Heart to Hold)" by her band's guitarist, Stephen Bruton. Her acting here is as subtle as an Anthony Hopkins performance in a Merchant/Ivory production. But Buckley can also go for the emotional jugular: Her rendition of "No Pride At All" (Jesse Winchester) brought tears to the eyes of both of these critics, one of whom never cries at cabaret shows. It's an emotionally piercing song, given an aching yet understated performance by Buckley that creates lightning when her voice meets up with a wailing violin (exquisitely played by Todd Reynolds).
Among the more familiar songs in the show is "Stars and the Moon" by Jason Robert Brown; here, Buckley's quicksilver acting choices make you listen with wonder even though the number is overdone in cabaret. A more fascinating choice on her part is "Honest Emotion" (Michael McDonald/John Goodwin/Charles Frichtel), a song that seems to really speak to her both musically and lyrically.
It's interesting that Buckley eschews musical theater numbers until the very end of the show. Saying that she loves to sing songs written for roles in which she'd never be cast, she launches into a combination of "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady. When she lets loose with that Broadway belt -- oh, the towering feeling! It's what the audience has been waiting for all night; at the performance we attended, it led to the only standing ovation we have witnessed in a cabaret room all year.
Betty Buckley continues at Feinstein's at the Regency thru November 9; for more information, click here.
[More reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com. For information on the First Annual Nightlife Awards, to be co-presented by Scott Siegel in January at The Town Hall, click here]