Theater News

Betty Buckley Gets It White

The Tony Award-winning star discusses her new Off-Broadway comedy White’s Lies, her memories of Promises, Promises, and reviving Carrie.

Betty Buckley
(© Tristan Fuge)
Betty Buckley
(© Tristan Fuge)

Betty Buckley has played more than a few maternal figures in her 30-plus year career, from loving stepmother Abby Bradford on TV’s Eight Is Enough to murderous Margaret White in the Broadway musical Carrie. Now, the Tony Award-winning actress is giving a superb performance as yet another kind of mother in the crowd-pleasing and funny Off-Broadway comedy White’s Lies at New World Stages. TheaterMania spoke recently with Buckley about the show, among many other subjects.

THEATERMANIA: Doing this show meant leaving your home in Texas for a long time. It’s not easy to get Betty Buckley out of Texas, is it?
BETTY BUCKLEY: No, it’s not easy because I have four horses and a donkey and a parrot and four barn cats, and three house cats, and three big dogs and a Shih Tzu. We decided to bring Madison, the Shih Tzu, with us, because she’s really a city dog — she’s kind of uppity about living in the country. I also have my German Shepherd with me because he’s a delightful dog and I’ve always fantasized about running with him in Central Park.

TM Tell us about your character in the show?
BB: I play Mrs. White, who’s the mother of Joe White, who is a very successful attorney. But he is a relentless womanizer, much to his mother’s dismay, and she’s also upset by the fact that he tells all these lies to these girls constantly. So she conspires in her own way to try and get him to get married and settle down and have a grandchild. She thought she was a good mother and she raised him right, so I think for her, that justifies her actions. It depends on your point of view, I suppose.

TM: Are you somebody who needs to have a character’s look set for you before you get started? You get to wear a lot of great outfits in this show.
BB: No, I have to work from the inside out. Still, as an actor, it’s always really important to feel really comfortable in what I’m wearing, so I can forget about it once I get on stage. I don’t want to feel like I have to be controlled by the clothes.

Rena Strober, Andrea Grano, Betty Buckley, Tuc Watkins, and Christy Carlson Romano
(© Ken Howard)
Rena Strober, Andrea Grano,
Betty Buckley, Tuc Watkins,
and Christy Carlson Romano
(© Ken Howard)

TM: Are you enjoying working with this cast?
BB: Yes. Tuc Watkins, who plays Joe, is just awesome. First of all he’s so handsome and sexy, but he’s also a wonderful actor and extremely funny. Peter Scolari, who plays Joe’s best friend, is a comic genius and he’s just delightful. And the rest of the cast — Christy Carlson Romano, Andrea Grano, Jimmy Ray Bennett, and Rena Strober — are all fantastic. It’s been really fun watching everybody else work, because it’s a farce and it’s very fast paced, and that’s been really challenging. I’m studying everyone all the time.

TM Do you not think of yourself as somebody who is natural with comedy?
BB: No, I think I am, even though I don’t think I’m primarily known for that. Anyway, my friends think I’m funny.

TM: Just three blocks from New World Stages, where you’re performing this show, is the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises. You originated the role of Fran for the London production. What do you remember most about it?
BB: I was really fortunate. I was 22 when I did that show. I had to campaign really hard to get that part; It was amazing to get to work with Burt Bacharach and Hal David and Neil Simon and Michael Bennett. We got rave reviews, and I was nominated for an Evening Standard Award and I got to sit next to Laurence Olivier. I remember one day, Dudley Moore and Robert Mitchum took me to lunch. Richard Harris sent me long-stemmed roses. Andrew Lloyd Webber told me years later that he got a standing room ticket when he was a young composer in London and he watched me from the back of the Prince of Wales Theater. It was a fantastic time to be there.

TM: Do you think the world is ready to see Carrie again? They’re talking about reviving it on Broadway next season.
BB: Why not? I loved that show; I think it just needed some tweaking. It was a stylistic problem. The director, Terry Hands, was the head of the RSC, and as gifted as he is, he didn’t really understand essential Americana enough to direct that show in the appropriate style. He really conceived it as a Jacobean drama and that was just wrong, stylistically. I think there were some things that needed to be cut and shifted, but it’s a great piece of theater.

TM: One of my personal highlights every year is coming to your annual engagement at Feinstein’s at Loews’ Regency. Were you pleased with your most recent show?
BB: I think it was one of the best shows we’ve ever done. I was so pleased that I was able to do an all-Broadway repertoire that’s familiar to people but that I also thought was artistic enough to have what I call these drop-dead beautiful musical moments that my friend Kenny Werner provides. It’s important to me that I can feel satisfied as a communicator and a singer and an artist. We’re going to start working soon on the new show for next spring. It’s going to all be songs that were originally sung by men!