And the money keeps rolling in, as the song goes, for Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose much-toured “Music of the Night” greatest-hits revue now has the brightening star of Betty Buckley lending it some new luster. Broadway’s original Grizabella and an acclaimed Norma Desmond on both sides of the Atlantic, Buckley is an incandescent performer when she throws herself into a ballad, as she does here with some of Lloyd Webber’s best, bringing this Vegas-styled production up a notch or two in the class department.
There’s glitter aplenty here: The estimable Tony Walton has put sparkly lights on bandstand and backdrop (he might have designed this setup on a cocktail napkin); and the equally estimable William Ivey Long goes for glitter, too, for the first of Buckley’s several ensembles, a red suit that looks like something Linda Evans might once have worn to a “Dynasty” Christmas party. No matter; when Buckley descends an admittedly less grand staircase than the one she rode in “Sunset Boulevard” to open the evening with that show’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” her powerhouse vocalizing sweeps all before it.
Buckley’s distinctive elocution alone marks her as a great singer – no lyricist has probably ever been as well-served – and whether she’s playing it low and plaintive, as on “Tell Me on a Sunday” from “Song and Dance,” or grand and passionate, as on pretty much everything else, from “Memory” to “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” to “With One Look,” she brings the charisma of an intelligent actress to her interpretations. (Though it’s occasionally hard to discern where characterization ends and affectation begins – must the past always be the “past,” Betty?)
The rest of the cast members are no slouches in the vocal chops department, either. Kevin R. Wright has a strong, high tenor that he uses to punch home “Gethsamane,” closing the Holy Roller section of the evening, which combines tunes from Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” and is rather a hoot. John Herrera makes a rousing Phantom, and performs elegantly on “Love Changes Everything,” one of Lloyd Webber’s lovelier tunes, from the non-megahit “Aspects of Love.”
Unfettered from the wonders of stagecraft that have made Lloyd Webber’s shows the legit versions of theme park attractions, his songs don’t always reek of distinction. The “Jellicle” song from “Cats” is irrepressibly catchy, but doesn’t have quite the oomph when performed in evening dress that it did when warbled in cat suits. And sans fog and candelabras, “The Phantom of the Opera” music doesn’t inspire paeans. Still, if Lloyd Webber detractors aren’t likely to be won over, fans will have no complaints; the production is uniformly well sung, and smoothly directed by Scott Ellis.
Fans of Buckley, on the other hand, familiar with her accomplished handling of Sondheim and Weill from her concert CDs, might hope that L.A. will be treated to an evening of song without the sparkly lights and swirl of costume changes. Betty Buckley unplugged, perhaps.