Betty Buckley

Betty BuckleyNow that the interminably long Broadway run of Cats has finally ended (and not a moment too soon), it's understandable that singer-actress-teacher-Texas native Betty Buckley would be content to rest on her laurels as the woman who made "Memory" famous.

Not so fast.

Buckley, whose 30-plus-year career includes an early stint as Martha Jefferson in the Broadway version of 1776, is touring in support of her latest album, Heart to Heart, a veritable smorgasbord of show-tune goodness.

Buckley's road to the Great White Way was by no means direct. After receiving a degree in journalism at Texas Christian University, Buckley toured with the USO before her 1969 gig as Mrs. Jefferson. She spent the next five years dividing her time between London and the Big Apple before landing a role as the (somewhat) kindly gym teacher in the 1976 Stephen King film Carrie. (Buckley would later portray the psycho mother in the Broadway version of that same story.)

In 1977 Buckley took a side trip to the small screen, starring alongside apple-cheeked Dick Van Patten and skinny hipster Willie Aames in her role as Abby Bradford on the television series Eight Is Enough.

But it was Andrew Lloyd Webber and his creepily metaphysical Cats that eventually guaranteed Buckley's meal ticket. Tapped to portray Grizabella, Buckley so outshone previous stars in the role that she scored the 1983 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Buckley's solo albums show her more experimental side. Betty Buckley (1987) featured several of her own compositions, while Children Will Listen (1993) saw her return to more traditional show-tune territory. With One Look (1994) threw fans a curve ball, featuring covers of Hank Williams and Joni Mitchell, among others. Heart to Heart was released earlier this year.

So what's the motivation for someone who has spent her entire career performing in front of kazillions of people? For Buckley, it's clear: One should pursue one's dreams out of love for the craft rather than out of the desire to get famous. "It's about doing that work," she has said, "because you want to share with the community what you have learned about life."

You have to wonder, though, how much enlightenment a performer expects her audience to get from cheeky Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes.

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Melanie Anderson