It's hardly disputable that Betty Buckley is indeed "The Voice of Broadway," according to New York Magazine, as well as to most hearing human beings. Beyond that descriptive nickname, she is just as indisputably the voice of a more southerly locale.
Under the auspices of the Brilliant Lectures, West Texas-born Buckley brings those lauded pipes and her solo show, "The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway" to Wortham Theatre on Friday, January 10, for a one-shot performance.
"It's a series of songs that are sung by the second leads in a Broadway shows," Buckley describes "Vixens". "Like, 'When You're Good to Mama' that's sung by Big Mama Morton in Chicago; 'I Cain't Say No,' sung by Ado Annie in Oklahoma. 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy', which was Mary Martin's first showstopper; 'Another Hundred People' from Company; and 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall' from Evita."
She'll also sing "Memory', from Cats, which won her a Tony award in 1982. Of course. Calm down.
Buckley has conquered all kinds of worlds beyond her original Fort Worth-area roots, way beyond her turn as the mother in the 1970s-era television series Eight is Enough, a soapier, more dramatic version of The Brady Bunch. She also waxed sympathetic as a doomed gym teacher, also sans singing, in the original film version of Carrie.
Last year saw her in New York, playing drunk in fellow Texan Horton Foote's music-less, off-Broadway play, The Old Friends (which she says is rumored to be Houston-bound.) The New York Times called her performance "a precise and clear-eyed study in the arrogance of the entitled rich."
Earlier in the year, she spent three and a half months in London for the British premiere of Jerry Herman's Dear World.
But it's not all spotlights and curtain calls for Buckley. Like a good Texas daughter who loves her mama, she still does "the little things" like attending Christmas Eve church services with her family, where she sings holiday carols just like any other parishioner.
Imagine that Tony-winning voice harmonizing with the congregation, without egocentrically muscling her way to the pulpit to belt out a solo.
"I like it when they ask me, but no one has asked me this year," she admits, laughing. "I was like, 'Drat!'"
At 66, Buckley is just as content, if not more so, to roam her Texas ranch on horseback, not infrequently happening upon a stray animal she inevitably rescues and adopts.
Here in her own words are five more reasons why it's evident Buckley still has her feet firmly planted on Lone Star soil.
She doesn't 'kiss and tell' about that drunken character in The Old Friends. "(The character is) an amalgam of about five different ladies that I've observed--two, that I grew up with: a Fort Worth socialite, and a Houston socialite. I was at a party recently with one of them. I told her, 'I wish you'd seen that, because the best parts of her are based on you.' But her alcoholism, her way of operating, is not based on any of my friends."
She loves her home state, even though some 'old friends' don't. "When I first moved (to her ranch), I had all kinds of visions of a constant stream of my friends flying into DFW to come and visit my place. One or two of them did, and then one promptly moved back into the city into a hotel (because) 'it was just too quiet.' I have discovered through the years that Texas is a taste. Either you have that taste or you don't."
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Pets? Eight isn't enough. "I have a German Shepherd dog that I found on the side of a highway that's just the best dog ever. His name is Ben. And I've got a beautiful little sheltie named Maggie. And then I have two Shih Tzus that are quite beautiful. And then I have three barn cats and two house cats, one of which was a barn cat who decided she needed to be a house cat. And I have four horses--two show horses and two mares. I haven't shown my horses for a couple of years because of my work schedule."
She acts her age. "A few years ago...I wanted to play Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun... (and) play rodeo arenas and large arenas, influenced by the Cirque du Soleil projects. I wanted to recreate a real Wild West show that Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickok did, then have the musical be the circumstances of the event of the Wild West show. To me, this would be the perfect fantasy--to go on the road, and sing and work, but with my horses."
She talks like a true Southern Lady. At the end of our interview, she calls me "ma'am."
Brilliant Lectures presents Betty Buckley in "The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway". Friday, January 10, 7:30 p.m. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas Avenue. For information call 832-487-7041 or visit brilliantlectures.org. $72.50 to $125.