Texas native Betty Buckley, recently seen in an acclaimed performance as Dolly Gallagher Levi in the national tour of the Tony-winning revival of Hello, Dolly!, won her Tony Award for her heartbreaking performance as Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, later earning another nomination for her similarly exceptional work in the new musical Triumph of Love. She starred in both the London and New York productions of Sunset Boulevard, earning an Olivier nomination for her compelling take on the ill-fated silent-screen star Norma Desmond. London audiences have also enjoyed Buckley's work in Promises, Promises and Dear World, and her other Broadway credits include Carrie, Song & Dance, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1776, and Promises, Promises. Buckley is a 2012 Theatre Hall of Fame inductee and the 2017 recipient of the Julie Harris Award from The Actors Fund for Artistic Achievement.
As Broadway remains temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, it seemed like a great time to look back at the career of this stellar artist. Enjoy these show-stopping performances while much of the country is asked to #StayatHome.
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“Old Friend” from I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road
Here is a rare clip of Buckley singing the beautiful Nancy Ford-Gretchen Cryer ballad "Old Friend” on The Mike Douglas Show. Buckley first performed the tune in I'm Getting My Act Together And Taking It on the Road, and it has thankfully been a staple of her repertoire ever since.
“Memory” from Cats
After gaining nationwide attention as hip stepmom Abby Bradford in the ABC series Eight Is Enough, Buckley returned to Broadway in 1982, winning a Tony for her haunting performance as the faded glamour cat Grizabella in the international hit musical Cats. Here is her award-winning rendition of "Memory" at the 1983 Tony Awards.
“Over You” from Tender Mercies
In 1983 film audiences were given the chance to see what theatregoers had known for years: Buckley's gifts as an actor and singer are a rarity. Here she is singing “Over You” from the film Tender Mercies on The Tonight Show, where she dazzled Johnny Carson, who told her she was "marvelous" after breathtaking performances of "Over You" and "Memory."
"O Come, All Ye Faithful"
Introduced by the late Peter Allen, Buckley sang the traditional Christmas song at Rockefeller Center in 1987. The video is grainy, but the vocals are tremendous—the power of her belt, the sheer beauty of her head tones, a rainbow of colors.
“Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods
Buckley has said she was a last-minute replacement for the 1992 Stephen Sondheim celebration at Carnegie Hall and, since she had so little time to learn the arrangement, spent a good deal of time in her dressing room praying she wouldn't be the evening's disappointment. Turns out, she was one of the highlights. It's difficult not to be moved to tears by her performance of "Children Will Listen" backed by the Harlem Boys Choir.
“Boulder to Birmingham”
In the ’90s Buckley was a welcome fixture at the Bottom Line, offering sold-out concerts several weekends a year. It was a terrific venue for the versatile singing actor, who has always performed an eclectic mix of tunes from the worlds of pop, musical theatre, country, and more. Here she is singing Emmylou Harris' "Boulder to Birmingham" (at the 12:05 minute mark).
“With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard
In 1997 Buckley reopened the revamped London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, earning critical hosannas and an Olivier nomination for her performance as the deluded silent film star Norma Desmond. Here is her riveting rendition of "With One Look" at the Olivier Awards; hear the beautiful, ethereal tones in the opening lines of the Lloyd Webber ballad (around the 2:40 mark).
“As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard
Buckley's other showstopper in Sunset was her second-act aria, "As If We Never Said Goodbye." At her sold-out Carnegie Hall solo debut concert, she ended the first half of her program with a sensational reading of the song.
“And Eve Was Weak” from Carrie
Toward the end of her Sunset run, Buckley offered the aforementioned Carnegie Hall concert to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This amazing night featured Buckley playing three different roles back to back with onstage costume changes in between. The first of the three gave audiences a rare glimpse at Buckley's performance as religious zealot and mother Margaret White in Carrie. She was joined by co-star Linzi Hateley for a harrowing (and belty) "And Eve Was Weak."
“Meadowlark” from The Baker's Wife
After triumphing in both the London and Broadway productions of Sunset Boulevard, Buckley returned to London for a series of sold-out concerts at the Donwar Warehouse, where she included one of her signature tunes, Stephen Schwartz's soaring "Meadowlark," which demonstrates Buckley's storytelling prowess.
“Serenity” from Triumph of Love
Buckley followed her run in Sunset Boulevard with the new musical Triumph of Love. Just as she did in Cats, she managed to stop the show nightly with her utterly moving rendition of "Serenity." Here she is performing that tune on The Rosie O'Donnell Show.
“Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy
OK, one more Carnegie Hall performance: the final verse of "With One Look" into a phenomenal "Rose's Turn." Here she is, world!
This Joe Iconis offering, filmed at the composer's American Songbook concert in February 2020, epitomizes Buckley’s particular interpretive genius. She becomes the character of the song, an older, off-balanced woman, who never overcame an ill-fated love affair. What is especially riveting about Buckley’s performance is how she weaves layers of comedy and pathos in one song, bringing this character to full and intricate life.