In 1961, Judy Garland gave a now legendary concert at Carnegie Hall, captured on a two-record set that has never gone out of print. Though countless acts have followed at Carnegie Hall, the torch of talent and showmanship remained firmly in Garland’s grip until June 10, when Broadway diva Betty Buckley gave her debut concert at the famed hall to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Known to many from the hit ’70s TV series Eight is Enough, Buckley is a 30-year veteran of musical theater. Her list of Broadway leads includes 1776, Pippin, Cats (for which she won a Tony Award), Song and Dance, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and, most recently, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
Many of the songs she chose for her BC/EFA benefit concert were culled from her career, including “Unexpected Song,” “As If We Never Said Good-Bye” and “Memory.” In addition, the audience got to see what she’s done outside of New York City with some of musical theater’s most coveted roles. Buckley’s version of “Rose’s Turn” makes you forget the Mama Roses who’ve gone before her, from Merman to Midler.
Part Jolson and part Joni Mitchell, Buckley makes a show tune sound hip, so her choice of “Seasons of Love” from Rent, the widely-acclaimed Hair of the ’90s, was a perfect fit. It’s also a great statement to people who are HIV positive. Perhaps the greatest triumph of Buckley’s concert was the clarity of her focus: Rather than make the evening about Betty Buckley, star, she reminded the sellout crowd that her concert was first and foremost an affirmation of caring, compassion and respect for PWAs. Hence her final encore, the rarely sung “My House” from Leonard Bernstein’s Peter Pan. The modern melody belies the simplicity of Wendy’s message: “Only build my house with love.”
The secret to Buckley’s gift doesn’t lie in the prismatic angles of her beautiful face or the seemingly limitless ability to sing all kinds of music. Bigger than any of that, bigger even than Carnegie Hall, is her heart. From the early days of the epidemic, Buckley has raised her voice in song to raise funds for AIDS organizations. Her Carnegie Hall debut raised more than $100,000 for BC/EFA. And that’s only the beginning: The recording of the concert will be released by Sterling Records, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting BC/EFA. Make room next to your Judy at Carnegie Hall CD; Betty Buckley: An Evening at Carnegie Hall is sure to become an instant classic.