Saturday night, Jeff and I saw Betty Buckley in performance at the new Music Center at Strathmore, an amazing new venue in North Bethesda, Maryland that opened only this past February (information and photos). It’s a stunningly gorgeous building–swaths of curves and walls of rectangles, all of glass–and concert hall–full of warm woods, amazingly comfortable seats, and echoes of the same organic curves and rectangles, with the semicircular boxes seemingly extruded from the sides of the auditorium like living pods in some futuristic bioengineered structure (or, more mundanely, like balconies on the outside of a cruise ship)–with breathtaking acoustics. Even sitting as we were two rows from the back in the Grand Tier it felt and sounded as though La Buckley were singing directly and only to us. She even got a little teary herself, gushing about the site and its acoustics.
And she gave a powerful performance to match the space. In a lengthy (solidly two hours) concert that nonetheless sped by like mere minutes, she and her small band–piano, bass and drums–covered a wide range, from familiar standards to belted Broadway anthems (“With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard and “Memory” from Cats, both of which she originally had performed on stage in London and/or New York) to a wonderful selection of songs from contemporary American singer-songwriters, including Leonard Cohen, Nanci Griffith, Sarah McLachlan, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Tom Waits and Ms. Buckley’s own stated favorite, Mary-Chapin Carpenter.
I had turned to Jeff at one point and whispered “Hopefully she won’t sing “Memory,” to which he had replied that he was hoping she would. A song I normally consider overdone and overexposed, her incredible, heartfelt rendition of it as her encore for the evening nevertheless left me with chills running down my spine and tears running down my face and so grateful that she’d included it after all. The song from the performance that won her a Tony, it really was the perfect way to close the evening. At some level, she really is the embodiment of Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.
She also came across, from her descriptions of her life and childhood, as a truly warm, approachable person, and she stayed after the concert to sign CDs and greet her fans. We didn’t wait in line to shake her hand, but we did stay long enough to watch her come out and take her seat at the table, and I was struck by her smiles and humility, which felt quite genuine. On her personal website, she often even refers to herself, charmingly, as “Betty Lynn.”