The Ballad of Betty
Barbara & Scott have a lot of good things to say about Betty Buckley's show at the Café Carlyle. Plus: Great performances in Counsellor-at-Law, Pyretown, and Hurlyburly
On Buckley's opening night at the Café Carlyle, Julie Gold was in attendance. She had never before heard Buckley sing "Good Night, New York." After the show, Gold told us, "I thought I died and went to heaven! I couldn't be more proud. That was a really vital interpretation." As she left the room, Gold -- who also wrote the Bette Midler mega-hit "From a Distance" -- could be heard saying, "I'm going to call my mother in the morning!"
Buckley's act at the Carlyle is called Smoke, and that title has nothing to do with cigarettes. Instead, think about the aftermath of a fiery love affair. Think also about how, sometimes, you can't quite grasp an emotion; it's right there in front of you but, when you reach out to touch it, it's only air. Buckley gives meaning to these images with songs like "Stardust" (Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish), "Out of this World" (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer), and "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" coupled with "Sail Away" (both by Randy Newman).
The show is well stocked with ballads that are beautifully differentiated by Buckley's sensitive acting. They are further individualized by musical director Kenny Werner's arrangements. And, just when she needs to, Buckley will suddenly erupt with uptempo numbers that hit us like a rush of caffeine. A perfect example is her driving, brassy version of "New Coat of Paint" (Tom Waits). All told, this is a sophisticated show by an artist with a unique talent that goes far beyond the clarion quality of her voice. Buckley continues at the Café Carlyle through April 9.
In the next couple of weeks and months, we're expecting big Broadway revivals of such classics as The Glass Menagerie, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Julius Caesar, and Sweet Charity, but Off-Broadway has recently produced a revival that will be tough to top. If you haven't already seen Counsellor-at-Law, do try to catch it before it closes. A huge and accomplished cast of character-types is featured in this loving production of the justly famous Elmer Rice play. Heading the company is John Rubinstein as a flawed but fascinating lawyer. He gives an exceptional, unforgettable performance in the role that John Barrymore played in the 1933 movie version. (Make a note that Rubinstein will be interviewed by our TheaterMania colleague David Finkle at the Ars Nova theater this coming Sunday, March 6, at noon. For more information, click here.)
Speaking of great Off-Broadway performances, The Keen Company's recent production of John Belluso's Pyretown featured two of them. Directed by Carl Forseman, this two-hander featured Deirdre O'Connell as a poor woman, raising three kids on her own, who befriends and falls in love with a younger man (Christopher Thornton) confined to a wheelchair. The actors gave performances of uncommon depth in a remarkably honest play that was as much about today's health care system as it was about the compromises one has to make in life.
We also want to call your attention to Josh Hamilton in David Rabe's Hurlyburly. Ethan Hawke has received most of the attention for this production, and he is very good in it; but Hamilton, cast against type, tosses off one of the most insidiously wonderful performances of the year. He is at once understated and biting, funny and scary in one of the play's most important roles. Even in an ensemble of very fine young actors, he stands out. If you don't get to experience this New Group production at the Theatre Row complex on West 42nd Street before it closes there on March 19, make a point of seeing it when it moves to 37 Arts (450 West 37th Street) beginning on April 4.