How Betty Buckley Sang Her Way from the Pageant Stage to Broadway | Playbill

Seth Rudetsky How Betty Buckley Sang Her Way from the Pageant Stage to Broadway

Plus, which Jonas brother has a Broadway 'Chip' on his shoulder and what childhood audition trick of Seth's really backfired.

Betty Buckley

I’m on my way to Café Carlyle to see the fabulous Betty Buckley. She’s there all week so get thee in a seat!

If you don’t know, Betty moved to NYC when she was 21 years old. She already had an agent after catching their attention on the Miss America Pageant. Despite her pageant upbringing, Betty was not a fan of that type of competition. As a matter of fact, she was a feminist and a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine. Her father, however, who was not a fan of show business at all, was a fan of pageants. He encouraged Betty to compete in the Miss Texas pageant. Shockingly, she didn’t win, losing to someone who performed a monologue from Gone With The Wind, ending it by eating a turnip. 

After the pageant, Betty was invited to sing on the Miss America broadcast. She claimed to “represent the other losers.” An agent saw her amazing singing, asked to represent her, and she moved to NYC. On her first day in New York, she auditioned for 1776, scoring the part of Martha Jefferson. In other words, she didn’t work her way up from the chorus, she began on Broadway in a leading role. Make no mistake, she definitely paid her dues! Not only did she do lots of regional theatre, especially at Casa Mañana where she was a Jet in West Side Story and Dainty June in Gypsy, but she also spent years singing in outdoor theme parks in Texas. She feels that you haven’t truly paid your dues until you’ve learned how to hit a note, have a bug fly into your mouth as you hit it, swallow it, and continue sustaining the note. Brava Buckley!

Go see her Café Carlyle where she is this entire week. Here’s one of my favorite deconstructions where I highlight her brilliant high belting coupled with pure vowels!

I also did some fun Seth Speaks interviews on SiriusXM with people like Nicolas King, who began working on Broadway as an 8-year-old. He was cast as Chip in Beauty And The Beast. His Belle was the amazing Andrea McArdle. As often happens to kids in show biz, he outgrew the part and was replaced by another Nick, Nick Jonas! Here is said Jonas brother as ye olde tea cup:

Nicolas kept working. He soon starred as the little boy in the Broadway revival of A Thousand Clowns directed by John Rando

This reminds me! When I was a kid, I was also auditioning for shows and had read in Backstage that they were doing a production of A Thousand Clowns. I used to walk around trying to memorize the script. When people would ask me why, I would say, with show-biz-know-it-all-ness, “After I audition, if it comes down to me and another kid, they’d probably want the one who already has it memorized.”

Spoiler Alert: I did audition and I wasn’t called back.

Luckily for me, I never memorized anything more than the first page.

Back to Nicholas! A Thousand Clowns was in its final week of performances on Broadway. One night after the curtain call, Nicolas changed and went to open his dressing room door only to see Hal Prince and Carol Burnett waiting for him. They told him they were working on a new show called Hollywood Arms. Carol said there was a role they were considering changing from a little girl to a little boy, and wanted him to audition. She made the change, he auditioned, and Nicolas got the part!

Now, he’s a full grown adult and he’s touring around the country in concerts of his very own. Here’s a video of him and one of my favorite male singers, Norm Lewis!

I also did a SiriusXM interview with Michael-John LaChiusa with whom I worked when our careers were just getting started. 

Back in the day, I was a rehearsal pianist for the first staged reading of Hello, Again, Marie Christine, and R Shoman, which became See What I Wanna See. When we were rehearsing Hello, Again back in 1994, I remember one of the actresses talking about an upcoming audition she had for a new Sondheim show. Yes, Donna Murphy was auditioning for Fosca in Passion during that time. That’s how long ago it was! 

Chita Rivera and I spoke of Donna at the show Chita and I did together in Worcester, MA. When Kiss Of The Spider Woman was first written, there was a workshop production of it, but instead of going out of state, the producers staged the show at Purchase College. Critics were told not to review it because it wasn’t ready for public scrutiny, but for some reason, the came and reviewed anyway. Yay? 

The truly horrific part was, it got a terrible review and killed the chances of the show being developed further at that time. Despite the rocky history, it was picked up by another producer who carried it all the way to Broadway and the Tony Awards, where it won! I'm getting ahead of myself though. While the show was being re-tooled, Kander and Ebb were looking for a new person to play the Spider Woman. Bizarrely, they didn’t ask Chita Rivera, with whom they had worked in numerous shows. Even more bizarrely, Chita never told them, “Hello! Hire me!” Instead, she took them to a downtown musical called Song Of Singapore. She wanted them to see an actress who had gotten wonderful reviews, someone who Chita thought would be perfect for the Spider Woman. It was Donna Murphy! Donna did not get the gig because, get this, the role eventually became a dance role and did go to Chita. Because everything has a dramatic way of working out in the end, Donna did get her chance to sing the title song when Chita received the Kennedy Center honor. Have a listen!

Back to Michael-John...I am obsessed with some of his songs. This is from See What I Wanna See. When I first did it, Judy Blazer played this part amazingly. Then Audra McDonald sassed it all over the place, and then it was performed Off-Broadway by the high-belting Idina Menzel! Check it out:

A note to other pianists: his music is so hard to play! Michael-John told me that he saw a production at another theatre and felt he had to tell the music director, “It’s called See What I Wanna See. Not Play What I Wanna Play.” Sass!

Speaking of Chita, Michael-John could not stop laughing at the story of Chita’s one-time name change. You see, I also had Luba Mason on my SiriusXM show. She is one the two stars of his recent show Los Otros currently playing at A.R.T here in NYC.

Luba’s full first name is Lubitza and her maiden name was Gregus. So, she’s been Lubitza Gregus, then Luba Gregus, then she got married and became Luba Mason. The name change I was obsessed with was from the 80s. She was told to change her name, and she listened. She changed it to Kim Freshwater. In a typical name change, someone retains some aspect of the person's legal name, but there is not any similarity in that one. Check out the original Playbill to Late Nite Comic. Kim Freshwater is in the Playbill! I told them the Chita story from the mid 50s when Chita wanted her name to be “less ethnic,” so she spent a period as Chita O’Hara. That didn’t last very long!

I’ve finally begun my livestream concerts again! Coming up this Sunday, I have Michael Cerveris. Yes, we’ll be singing songs from his many Broadway shows: Sweeney Todd, Fun Home, Assassins, Evita, and Tommy. We might feature a song from his career in television as the British Rocker on TV’s Fame. Watch!

Here he is in his Broadway debut!

Watch us Sunday at 5pm ET. Tickets are available at

Peace out!

Michael Cerveris and Seth Rudetsky Courtesy Seth Rudetsky
Seth Rudetsky, Chita Rivera, and James Wesley Courtesy Seth Rudetsky

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