Betty Buckley

Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center, Nov. 16

On the first of a four-show run, the Broadway legend tackled with aplomb the gender-bending task of performing songs traditionally written for men. The result was fun and fluid as she engaged the audience in a master class of great American songwriting. Backed by a flawless trio, including French pianist and arranger Christian Jacob, Buckley culled from a variety of sources, beginning with “I Can See It” from The Fantasticks. It quickly became an intimate affair, as Buckley shared her connection to each song from her album, Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway. Her childhood love of Fred Astaire inspired her rendition of “I Won’t Dance” from the film Roberta. Then the times she fell in love with a song’s performance by a male co-star, as in “Venice” from Elegies and “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin. Standouts included both a West Side Story medley of “Tonight,” “The Jet Song,” and “Maria” (a version Buckley turned into an admiring, “girl power” sort of thing), and A Hymn to Her, a brilliant take on My Fair Lady’s “A Hymn to Him” with Buckley starting out as Henry Higgins and ending up as Jean Valjean. Pianist Jacob’s arrangements for standards such as “Luck Be a Lady” and “Hey There,” the latter of which seemed to channel a George Winston/Windham Hill vibe, rounded out the evening’s theme of different takes on familiar material. All in all, Buckley threw one heck of a boys’ night out. ★★★★☆

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