Betty Buckley celebrates Stephen Sondheim with her new album and found healing along the way

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For as long as Betty Buckley can remember, Stephen Sondheim’s work has played a key role in the soundtrack of her life. “My mother had a very large collection of musical albums, like Gypsyand I grew up listening to them and imitating the singers,” says the Tony Award-winning actress, singer and entertainer whose career has flourished on stage, screen and in concert halls around the world. .

When she was 15, Buckley played Dainty June in Gypsy at Casa Mañana, a professional theater in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. That summer she danced in their production of West Side Story. After moving to New York, she was cast as the original witch in Sondheim’s first pre-Broadway workshop.it’s in the woods. Buckley even performed at Sondheim’s birthday celebrations singing “Children Will Listen” with the Boy’s Choir of Harlem at Carnegie Hall.

“Stephen Sondheim’s songs are surprisingly relevant,” says Buckley, who got to play Mama Rose in a production of Gypsy at the Paper Mill Playhouse and since the 1990s has recorded countless Sondheim songs on her albums, including ” Stars and the Moon: Betty”, Grammy-nominated. Buckley Live at the Donmar” which she recorded in 2002.

“The signature of his great genius was his understanding of the light and dark of humanity,” she adds. “I heard someone say that through his music, his lyrics and his stories, he made us understand who we are as people. And how to find beauty in the ambivalence and opposites of the world that exist in our hearts and minds.

For many years Buckley worked with jazz pianist and arranger Kenny Werner. Both deeply inspired by Sondheim’s use of dissonance, they created several albums of jazz-influenced Sondheim songs. Buckley describes them as “sound paintings” with rich emotional colors. Sondheim himself didn’t connect with the unique arrangements until years later. “I so wanted him to like my job, like I liked his,” Buckley said.

Such a Sondheim enthusiast, Buckley, like many others, was devastated when he passed away last November. There was something immortal about him. “I was in disbelief and went through this intense grief,” Buckley shares. “I know that I am certainly not singular in this field. Yet, as silly as it sounds, it never occurred to me that Stephen Sondheim would die.

Buckley relived every personal encounter she had with Sondheim, from when she worked with him in the In the woods workshop where he went backstage in London after seeing Buckley play Norma Desmond in sunset boulevard.

Carrie Fisher once said “Take your broken heart and turn it into art”. And that’s what Buckley decided to do. She turned to her extensive repertoire of Sondheim songs she had recorded since the 1990s, many of which were no longer publicly available.

Always fearless, she managed to secure the rights to the tracks. Along with this rich collection, she added two compositions by Sondheim which Buckley sang in concert and which had never been published, including “Another Hundred People” by Company and “I Know Things Now” in which Little Red Riding Hood sang In the woods. Buckley created the epic compilation album, “Betty Buckley sings Sondheim.”

This month, “Betty Buckley Sings Sondheim,” a collection of 24 Sondheim songs, debuted on Palmetto Records. A feast of tales, Buckley takes listeners on a journey with songs like ‘Send In the Clowns’, ‘Not A Day Goes By’, ‘Finishing The Hat’, ‘Maria’, ‘I’m Still Here’ and more. right now. . “I’m really grateful that Palmetto released it,” says Buckley, who listed the songs in the chronological order in which they were first recorded. “It’s an interesting study of the evolution of a singer from her thirties until today. It shows the changes in the sound of my voice and the maturity that comes with it.

To support the album, Buckley gave concerts in New York and San Francisco. From March 18 to March 21, she will be at Joe’s Pub with the show Betty Buckley and her friends. Great artists Veanne Cox, Todd Almond, James Harkness and Claire Moore will join her on stage for selected performances. Then from March 30 to April 2, she and her musical director, Christian Jacob, will give four concerts at Feinstein is at the Nikko in San Francisco.

Looking at how she’s evolved, is there anything Buckley wishes she could say to Sondheim at this point in her life? “If I had the opportunity to talk to him again, I would say, ‘I am your devotee. I am your student. You have inspired me on levels of musicality and storytelling,” she shares. ”And I’m a good storyteller and interpreter of your work. So listen.'”

Buckley recalls what his brother Norman wrote to him after listening to “Betty Buckley Sings Sondheim” and how moved he was by the collection of songs and his artistry. “What my brother was saying was, ‘You have to own it.’ And I thought, yeah. Okay. I will.”

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