TX:Produced for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by Kevin Duncan. Reviewed June 10, 1996. Betty Buckley has been reclaiming Broadway for nearly a year now, since taking over the role of Norma Desmond last summer from Glenn Close. Though she owns the best pipes in the musical theater and is a gifted actress as well, it wasn’t long ago that the Tony Award winner from “Cats” couldn’t get a top-billed job. Whatever has changed, Buckley’s fans — and they are legion — turned out in force for her Carnegie Hall concert, a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS that featured an electrifying reunion with Linzi Hateley, her co-star from the ill-fated 1988 musical adaptation of “Carrie,” and the concert debut of “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.”
The concert was recorded for her label, Sterling Records, which has done very well by Buckley on three previous occasions. At Carnegie, the group Buckley records with, led by arranger/pianist Kenny Werner, was smoothly integrated into musical director Paul Gemignani’s American Theater Orchestra. An instrumental, “Betty’s Heart,” provided the singer’s entrance with the New Age-style wash of sound that is a (mostly unfortunate) hallmark of her albums. This time, it was pumped up into an uncomfortable mix of big band and Windham Hill, with a dash of Ireland in the mix.
A medley of “Almost Like Being in Love” from “Brigadoon” and “The King and I’s””Hello Young Lovers” drifted off in an unfocused blur of orchestral ebbing and flowing, overamplification and super-echoic effects. A bizarre arrangement of “Some Enchanted Evening” followed, in which the minor-key underscoring was constantly at odds with the melody.
Yet Buckley soon took control of matters, settling down with a beautiful reading of Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When,” and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s resonant pop ballad “Come On, Come On.”
The second half of the concert was almost purely theater music, and built to a sensational climax. It launched with Leonard Bernstein’s “Dance at the Gym” music from “West Side Story,” and segued to a blessedly unfettered rendition of “Something’s Coming.” Buckley went for an amusing interlude at the expense of Jerome Robbins: As she and a septet of dancers began the “Jets’ Song,” a”lawyer” busted up the action, claiming they couldn’t do anything suggesting Robbins’ dances from the show. Donning “Betty and the Jets” jackets, the company mangled both the “Jets’ Song” and the Elton John number.
Buckley then introduced Hateley, who sang the title song from “Carrie,” followed by “Eve Was Weak,” their harrowing mother-daughter duet from the flop, an exploration of child abuse and religious fanaticism that drove the crowd wild with enthusiasm. Barely missing a beat, Buckley followed with “With One Look,” from “Sunset Boulevard,” and — speaking of child abuse and fanaticism –“Rose’s Turn,” from “Gypsy.”
The rousing, gospel-inflected “Seasons of Love” ought to have been a soaring cap to the evening. Instead, the act two opener from “Rent” was oddly muted in the arrangement and never really took off. But never mind the quibbles. This was a generous and mostly sensational concert, and it’s almost certainly going to make for a great recording.