Last year, the master storyteller created mini-dramas out of songs from the worlds of Broadway, country, and pop in a September engagement entitled Story Songs. The highlight of an evening of highlights was arguably “Old Flame,” a song that composer Joe Iconis penned specifically for the star of Cats, Carrie, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Triumph of Love, and Sunset Boulevard. The Iconis offering epitomized Buckley’s particular interpretive genius. What was especially riveting about Buckley’s performance was how she interwove layers of comedy and pathos in one song, bringing the song’s character to full and intricate life.
Now, the stage and screen star returns to Joe's Pub with Story Songs #2, which Buckley says is “a new collection of music by lyricist-composers like Jason Robert Brown, Steely Dan, T Bone Burnett, Lisa Loeb, Joni Mitchell, JD Souther, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Paul Simon, and Stephen Sondheim [as well as a] couple of standards from the American Songbook.”
The ever-busy Buckley, seen on screen earlier this year in the megahit M. Night Shyamalan film Split, took some time out of her jam-packed week—which included two concerts at Long Island's Tilles Center and a benefit for Primary Stages—to answer a few questions about her upcoming weekend of concerts.
Your history with the Public Theater goes back a long way. What's it like for you to play the theatre's intimate cabaret space?
Betty Buckley: I love Joe's Pub. It's a terrific music room. I love the staff. I love the space, the high ceiling. I love the view from the stage, and the resonance of the space. It reminds me of the many years I did concerts twice a year at the Bottom Line, which was a legendary music room in NYC. Plus, I have such a history at The Public. I did readings for years there, and the original workshop and rehearsals for The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I loved Joe Papp so much. Working at The Public brings back such memories of those wonderful times. This will be my fourth year of concerts once a year at Joe's Pub.
Last year one of the standouts of your show was the premiere of “Old Flame” by Joe Iconis. Do you have a similar centerpiece for the show this season?
I love the song “Old Flame.” Such a great piece by the wonderful Joe Iconis. He's doing three new projects at the moment, so we don't have a new piece from Joe this year. We do have some beautiful music arranged by my collaborator of the past eight years, Christian Jacob, of some amazing songs, many of which I've wanted to sing for a long time. My friend, the great director Michael Wilson, is going to be working with us this week on our final choices. These are such strange times, and I've been working to find songs that allow us all to feel what we're all going through and, then, hopefully lift our spirits. I think one of the strongest songs we'll be doing is a new piece by Jason Robert Brown called “Hope.” He wrote it the morning after the election. It's a beautiful song!
And, I'm also very happy to share with you that we'll be recording our new songs live at Joe's Pub. Missi Callazzo, my record executive at Palmetto Records, my wonderful record company, will be releasing the new recording in 2018!
Can you reveal one or two other song titles and why they've become new favorites of yours?
A couple of songs are really old favorites that I've never sung in concert until now… I've always loved “Shades of Scarlet Conquering” by Ms. Joni Mitchell. I've tried to sing it several times, and could never find the right arrangement for it till now, again, thanks to Christian. I'm also excited to be singing two songs by Steely Dan. I'm a Steely Dan devotee. It is such a huge loss when Walter Becker passed away recently.
Your New York fans wait each year for your Joe’s Pub appearances. What does it mean to you to have such a devoted following?
I'm deeply appreciative of my friends and fans who come see us every year at Joe's Pub. They are the best audience ever. I wish I could take them everywhere I go! I pick songs to share with them every year that I hope will lift their hearts for a time.
You will also be seen this season in the CW series Supergirl. Can you tell a little bit about the role you'll be playing?
I'm really excited to be doing the recurring role of Patricia on Supergirl. She is the adoptive mother of Samantha, played by the lovely Odette Annable, who discovers that she is the villainess Reign. It's a great show! The team is especially wonderful. We shoot in Vancouver, which is a beautiful place. So what could be better than a job on a good show with a great team of people? It's a blessing!
What would be your dream role to return to Broadway in?
Oh, I don't know. I guess I would like to do a brand-new show. I'd like to play a wonderful part with an amazing team of collaborators that I love and respect in a great story with soaring music! Is that too much to ask?
Tony winner Betty Buckley debuts Story Songs #2 October 12–15 at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York; tickets are available here.