Betty Buckley at The Smith Center: “Ah Men – the Boys of Broadway”

 Betty Buckley made her Smith Center debut Thursday in Las Vegas with her fabulous show Ah Men – the Boys of Broadway.

Singing songs originally sung by male characters in the Broadway canon, she proves that when it comes to singing men’s songs – as the “tom boy” Annie Oakley would say – “anything you can do, I can do better.”

Buckley doesn’t pretend to BE men while performing these songs. She merely takes the songs and claims them for her own. And in doing so, she brings to bear the essence of the songs.

I’ll preface this post by saying I’ve admired Betty Buckley’s work for a long, long time. From CATS, to DROOD, to TRIUMPH OF LOVE, to SUNSET BOULEVARD, to GYPSY, to Carnegie Hall – I was there, and I appreciate the talent that is Betty Buckley.

Here are a few of my thoughts seeing this legend again live:

• With Buckley, you never get the sense that the song is there to be sung. It’s there to be lived. A song is never a vocalise, it’s a moment in time.

• Her magnificent voice is untouched by age, demonstrating the range and power that’s been a hallmark of her career. At one point in performance, she pulls the microphone feet away from her mouth, filling the 300+ theater with her voice unaided by amplification. Few performers are equally famous for both the big and the intimate moments. Buckley is of that rare breed.

• Taking the stage with bright, almost athletic power, she launches into “I Can See It” from THE FANTASTICKS with enviable ease. By the middle of the song she’s singing “I can hear it; sirens singing.” And with that it’s clear she is our siren and we, the audience, are spellbound.

• One of the evening’s highlights (and this is a show with nothing but highlights), is her interpretation of “Hey There” from THE PAJAMA GAME. Set to a gorgeous, almost hypnotic rolling motif by music director Christian Jacob, Buckley at the same time questions & consoles her inner self in musical gorgeousness.

• If you have to pick THE showstopper of the night, it is the one piece of “specialty” material written for the evening: “A Hymn to Her,” a clever rewrite by Eric Stern and Eric Kornfeld of “A Hymn to Him,” Henry Higgins’s from “My Fair Lady.” Invoking the voices of great male roles throughout Broadway, Buckley makes clear, in hysterical fashion, that men are put on notice – I. Can. Do. This.  And she does.

• As she begins GUYS AND DOLLS’s “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” she notes that it is a perfect song for Las Vegas. And it is.

• Buckley shares one song from her newest show, The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway. “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” was gorgeous in it’s vulnerability and musicality.

• In a medley of three songs from “Sweeney Todd,” each written for a different male character, Buckley sang each in character. “Not While I’m Around” is delivered with earnest purity and truth; “Johanna” becomes an anthem of nearly unbridled desire; her chilling rendition of “My Friends,” in which Sweeney affectionately sings to his razors, makes it apparent that Buckley could easily be a most dangerous Sweeney Todd.

• While some artists retain the spotlight all evening, Buckley is generous to highlight her musical collaborators throughout the night. Ample credit is due to pianist, arranger & musical director Christian Jacob of the Tierney Sutton Band, drummer Matt Betton and bassist Peter Barshay, who provide superb support and sensitive musicianship throughout the evening.

• Many, many more great moments to speak of: “Come Back To Me” – love me some Burton Lane; WEST SIDE STORY’s “Maria” –  a master class in intimacy; “Corner of the Sky” from PIPPIN – brought the evening full circle with full voiced vocals and optimistic ideals.

If you don’t have the opportunity to see Betty Buckley live, you can enjoy this suite of songs on her CD of the same name. Check it out on Amazon.