Betty Buckley follows “Broadway by Request,” her successful show-biz infused nightclub act of last season, with the equally enjoyable but more musically satisfying “For the Love of Broadway!” No insider’s anecdotes, little folksy chat; Buckley is here to do what she does best, mining the Broadway songbook as she goes along.
Buckley jokes that last year’s pleased patrons warned they wouldn’t come back unless she returned with a bag of show tunes. That’s something of an exaggeration with a kernel of truth.
The singer has made her career in the Broadway world, but her music of choice is a style of progressive jazz she developed over the years with collaborator Kenny Werner. The pair’s deconstructions are intriguing, but an evening’s worth might be too longhair for the Park Avenue crowd. “I think a girl should sing what she wants,” protests Buckley. But show tunes it is.
Out of compromise comes an especially happy medium. Working with arranger/pianist Werner (noticeably absent from last year’s act) and musical consultant John McDaniel, Buckley has strung together 80 minutes of mostly show tunes, performed in a style that falls midway between piano bar and jazz club.
Buckley takes hold of songs like Maury Yeston’s “Simple” and “Be on Your Own,” reminding us just what makes her such an effective musical-theater performer. (She asked Rob Marshall why he cut those songs, her favorites, from his film adaptation of “Nine” — he didn’t explain it, she says.)
She gives us “I Never Know When to Say When” as a tribute to Elaine Stritch, her “guardian angel.” Stritch’s torch-like version of this song from the failed 1958 musical, “Goldilocks,” is iconic among theater fans. But Buckley brings it a new immediacy. She also scores with items as diverse as “Come to Me, Bend to Me” (from Lerner & Loewe’s “Brigadoon”) and a wrenching rendition of Jacques Brel’s “If You Go Away.”
Song choices hit many bases, ranging from Lopez and Marx’s “Avenue Q” to Maltby and Shire’s “Closer Than Ever,” with an especially fine job on “I’ve Been Here Before.”
The jazz/Broadway divide is addressed in “When I Belt,” a very funny piece of special material by McDaniel and lyricist Eric Kornfeld.
Buckley and Werner bring over their self-described quintessential jazz style for a medley of the Moross-Latouche “Lazy Afternoon” and the Kern-Gershwin “Long Ago and Far Away,” another high spot of the act. The singer’s voice is not in the finest condition, but her performance more than makes up for it. She is especially well supported by Werner and their longtime sidemen, Billy Drewes (on percussion and occasional reeds) and Tony Marino (on bass).
The act is in for four weeks at Feinstein’s, with special treats promised for Valentine’s weekend.