Betty Buckley
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
Betty Buckley
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
One thing you can always expect from Betty Buckley is musical diversity; and the Tony Award-winning singer once again delivers the goods in her highly entertaining new show Then and Now, which began a three-week engagement on Tuesday night at Feinstein's at the Loews Regency. Drawn largely from her two recently released CDs 1967 and Quintessence -- recorded 40 years apart -- the show, directed by Richard-Jay Alexander, effortlessly traverses a half-century of music, from theater songs to movie themes to pop standards, without the pesky detours into contemporary fare (Lyle Lovett, Rufus Wainwright) that have dismayed fans at some of her recent outings.

What you don't always get from Buckley -- especially on her opening nights -- is a complete ease on the stage. But Tuesday's show found her the most relaxed and playful I've ever seen in 15 years -- despite the absence of her longtime musical collaborator Kenny Werner (he'll return next week) and the presence of a couple of never-before performed songs.

There was particular giddiness in the selections from 1967, which was recorded (and unreleased) when Buckley was a teenager in Fort Worth, Texas. It's evidence of a budding star with a voice so big and pure that she literally could -- and did -- sing anything. For the show, she recreated a bouncy "One Boy" (from Bye Bye Birdie); a jaunty, big band-take on "They Cant Take That Away from Me"; and a full-voiced "Quando Calienta El Sol," that proves Buckley really could have given Eydie Gorme a run for her money had she been born a few years earlier. Best of all was a gorgeous, deeply felt "They Were You" (from The Fantasticks) that makes it a bit sad that the singer is, as she noted, well past the age of playing Luisa.

Quintessence, which was released officially this week, continues Buckley's lifelong interest in jazz by re-jiggering popular songs in that idiom. As she admitted in her patter, it's an experiment that's not always successful. On the plus side was a really lovely take on the Sergio Mendes-Alan and Marilyn Bergman tune "So Many Stars." But what Buckley half-jokingly called Werner's "Pimp My Ride" version of "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" simply baffles, as it accomplishes little other than stripping most of Richard Rodgers' melody and the emotion of Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics from this great show tune.

Highlighting the remainder of the 13-song set were a couple of decidedly intricate arrangements of the pop classics "Blackbird" and "You've Got a Friend;" a surprisingly quiet and extremely effective rendition of Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away," and, as a most appropriate encore, a sensational jazz-tinged "Get Here." Indeed, get yourself to Feinstein's to see this wonderful artist doing what only she can.