Betty Buckley
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Betty Buckley
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Since Betty Buckley was battling an upper respiratory infection on her opening night at Feinstein's at the Regency, the title of her new show, Betty Buckley: Singin' For My Supper, had a different meaning. It suggested that her supper should have consisted of chicken soup in her room.

But being the Tony Award-winning, theater-bred star that she is, the show went on. And whether it was the medication kicking in or the adrenaline of performing, about halfway through the show, the vocal prowess so associated with Buckley finally started to kick in as well.

Her material is an elegant mix of show tunes, pop standards, and cutting-edge songs, all of them filtered through the jazz prism of Buckley's award-winning musical director/arranger, Kenny Werner. As a result, very few songs offer her audience the safety net of familiarity -- even if they think they know the number.

Nowhere was that more evident than in her rendition of the James Taylor classic "Fire and Rain." If you love that song just as Taylor recorded it; well, steel yourself for something completely different. If it's just another song that you have no special affection for, then you may well find yourself mesmerized by the tune's new jazz-infused virtuoso spin.

Buckley, who is always keeping up with what's new, is currently championing the work of composer Ricky Ian Gordon. She performs two of his songs -- "Once I Was" and "Sycamore Trees" -- and Gordon is one lucky composer to have someone like Buckley putting her stamp on these two lovely, albeit eccentric songs.

The audience is luckier still that she embraces the work of musical theater's past masters. For example, she brings an aching romanticism to Irving Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful" coupled with "I Got Lost in His Arms" (both from Annie Get Your Gun).

As she so often does -- with a canny understanding of her audience -- Buckley drives toward the finale of her act with standards done in a more traditional musical theater style. Using that trumpet of a voice, she thrills the crowd with "It Might as Well Be Spring," and then puts a cap on the night when she passionately sings "With a Song in My Heart" (both with music by Richard Rodgers).

But the moment when Buckley most takes command of the evening is when she defiantly declares "Move On." It's this song (from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George) that defines her both musically and spiritually. Betty Buckley is that rare artist who is never satisfied to stand on her laurels and is always ready to tackle the challenges ahead.