The BeBe Confidentials – There is more to Betty Buckley than ‘Memories’

LIVE Interview recording with IDINA MENZEL

You mention the name Betty Buckley and two things come to mind….Abby on TV dramedy Eight is Enough, and most prominently the lady who sings the hell out of “Memories” from Andrew Webber’s CATS on Broadway, the later winning her a Tony. But there is so much more to what Buckley has offered us with her talents in theater (CATS,Mysteries of Edwin Drood, Sunset Boulevard), television (Eight is Enough, Pretty Liars), film (Carrie, Tender Mercies, The Happenings),and music with fifteen solo releases over the past 43 years. At 65, Betty Buckley has no indication of slowing down either. With the album release this past summer of songs from her hit show at Feinstein’s at the Regency, Ah, Men: The Boys of Broadway, Buckley has plans to release her 16th album entitled Ghostlight later in 2013. Her television career has been revitalized with a recurring role on Pretty Liars, and she co-starred in a film release in 2011, 5 Time Champion. And, continuing as a staple in her first love, the theater, Buckley will be going to London in 2013 to star in revival of Jerry Herman’s (Hello, Dolly!, Mame, La Cage au Folles) Dear World. Though the touring of her highly acclaimed concert Ah, Men may be coming to an end in December, she has already introduced another show The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway which is sure bet to continue touring when she returns from London. While going through rehearsals and preparing for the final performances of her album supported concert, I spoke with the Betty Buckley, the next inductee in the Theater Hall of Fame.

BeBe: It’s very rare to review the works of someone that embodies everything as it pertains to entertainment.  You have a wealth of work not only in the theater, not only in television, not only in film, but you have also released 15 solo albums. How can you do all of that?

Betty Buckley:  (laughing) A working girl’s gotta keep working! It’s fun. I really enjoy it all. And, I’m thankful that I still have the opportunity.

BeBe: That’s even more amazing because you work in a profession where roles for women with meaning are not readily available as with men, yet, you’ve still been able to do work that is notable.

Betty Buckley:  Thank you. I’ve been very,very blessed.

BeBe: Being that most of us in the public grew to know you from role as Abby on Eight is Enough for four seasons prior to you going back to theater from where you started to do Andrew Webber’s CATS which earned you the Tony, do you think most were a bit surprised to learn magnitude of your theater presence?

Betty Buckley:  Yeah, actually there were people on Eight is Enough I kept asking if I could sing on the show, and they said nooooo. Oh, now she wants to sing. Then finally they let me write a couple of songs for Abby over the course of the show. I don’t think they really knew because I would fly back to New York every six-weeks for my voice lessons which one of the producers of the show thought was particularly crazy. I’ll be back on Broadway and he says ‘you’ll be lucky if you play American mothers for the rest of your life.’ We’ll see Greg (Strangis), we’ll see! I went on after I left that show to do CATS, I played a boy in The Mysteries of Edwin Drood , and then on to play a country-western alcoholic star in Tender Mercies (1983 film). I think I made him eat his words there.

 

BeBe: I bet he is doing just that. What you’ve done is so amazing because many when people (actors) get into the same roles for a long time on television in sitcoms or dramas they kind of get stuck in playing those same parts.

Betty Buckley:  Well, it’s a great job when you can get it. But my love is especially in musical theater.

BeBe: You touched upon your film work wen mentioning Tender Mercies which reminded me that you were in Carrie (she played the gym teacher). Was that your first film?

Betty Buckley:  Yes, Carrie was my first movie.

BeBe: Have you done another horror film?

Betty Buckley:  Yes, I did a (M. Night) Shyamalan ( The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, Devil ) called The Happenings (2008 film with Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel). I played a crazy lady in that who kills herself by smashing head through a window. 

BeBe: Now, 2013 hasn’t even gotten here yet and already you have  a year ahead of you that we can celebrate now.

Betty Buckley:  Well, we certainly hope so.

BeBe: Well, you have a new album coming out in 2013, I understand, eventhough you are still touring from the wonderful album you just released at the end of August, Ah, Men: The Boys of Broadway.

Betty Buckley: Yes Ah, Men was just released at the end of August and then Ghostlight will be released sometime in 2013 which was produced by the brilliant T. Bone Burnett.

BeBe: And then, you will be in the new London revival of  Dear World which is a Jerry Herman (living with HIV for over 25 years) production. That has to be exciting.

 

Betty Buckley:  Yes, we leave for London in December. Gillian Lynne, the choreographer of CATS) is choreographing and directing. We open February 4 (2013) Charing Cross Theater of London until the end of March in hopes that this little run in a little theater a predecessor to a move to the West End. But, so much remains to be seen before that happens. 

BeBe: And then, you’re being inducted in the Theater Hall of Fame.

Betty Buckley:  Yeah, that is happening January 28 (2013). I just found out about that. I’m really thrilled. 

BeBe: And it’s way past due.

Betty Buckley:  Thank you. I hope they’ll let me fly back from London for this. It would be great to be there.

BeBe: Oh my goodness. There will be protests around the world if not (we both laugh). Look 2013 has all these wonderful blessings ahead for you , but leading up to all that you have the the Ah, Man: The Boys of Broadway you are touring in concert format representing your latest album. Now, I know these are songs that are normally performed by men. What was it about these songs that made you want to perform, particularly since they are male songs?

Betty Buckley:  These are songs I’ve always loved and have always wanted to sing but I thought this little gathering songs by men, I didn’t feel people would quite get why I was singing them. I do a show every year at Feinstein’s (at the Regency for the past 8 years. I decided last year to do this collection Ah, Men: The Boys of Broadway. Currently I’m at Feinstein’s doing The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway from roles that are the second leads, and that’s been very fun, too.

BeBe: Are there any plans do release an album form of The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway like you did with Ah, Men?

Betty Buckley:  I don’t know. We are recording it live this weekend and we will see what happens. 

BeBe: Now I know over the past couple of years you have returned back to television in some roles that have been apart of shows   (Melrose Place, Pretty Little Liars) directed by your brother (Norman Buckley). How has that been taking direction from your brother?

Betty Buckley:  He’s a great director! I’m really grateful. Through his relationship with the people at Pretty Little Liars (on Fox)he got them to come see me in concert, and they wrote me a recurring role on that show, the grandmother of Johanna and Regina (characters) who is a crazy one.

BeBe: I’ve always thought that if there is one person that they need to bring onto Glee, it should be you.

Betty Buckley: Oh gee, thanks!

BeBe: Would that be something you would do if approached with that offer?

Betty Buckley:  Of course. It’s a great show. And, I also love Smash (NBC), too.

BeBe: Maybe I should start a Facebook campaign to get you on the show.

Betty Buckley:  Actually, that’s already been done, but they don’t seem to be persuaded by it. The producers are going to do what they are going to do.

 

Betty Buckley brings her Ah, Men: The Boys of Broadway concert show to San Francisco’s Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko through November 3. For more information and tickets go to www.therrazzroom.com

Buckley’s Ah,Men show stops next at:

Nov 10: The New Jersey Performing Arts Center Newark, NJ

Nov 15-18: Smith Center Las Vegas, NV

For Betty Buckley’s 2013 schedule follow her on her website at www.bettybuckley.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BeBe Confidentials – Frenchie Davis:: Promising Debut Single Sparks Career

 

Frenchie Davis’ career has been a prime example of how to overcome controversy and fight on to achieve your dreams. What dream is that? Frenchie has always envisioned herself with a singing career as both a  performer in the theater and a recording star. One listen to that capitivating voice and it would be hard to find one person to disagree that her voice would allow her to obtain her dreams. That is if her talent was all she needed on the journey. Ten years ago during the second season of reality competition TV show American Idol, Frenchie discovered how somethings can come back to haunt you when she revealed to show producers that she had once upon a time modeled for some photos topless. Her disclosure led to her dismissal from the show while she was amongst the show’s twelve finalists round. It was American Idol that introduced the world to her soulful, powerful voice, and it was the show that introduced Frenchie to things outside of talent that could crush her dream. Despite the controversy, it was her voice’s soul and power that provided an opportunity for Davis to land a role in the Broadway cast of RENT shortly after being on American Idol. Solidifying her spot on the theater’s stage by other performances in a string of off-Broadway shows (Dreamgirls, Mahalia, Ain’t Misbehavin’), Frenchie found it not quite as easy to gain the same amount of notoriety and success in the recording industry. It was not until her appearance on The Voice reality competition TV show’s first season in 2011 that she was able to find musical direction, as she put it, that enabled her to find the perfect musical vehicle to showcase her soulful, powerful voice and varied musical interests. If her debut single Love’s Got A Hold On Me, released earlier this year in September, is any indication of what we can expect from Frenchie Davis from now into the future, her spot in the Dance Music world may become just as bright as her spot in the theater world.

BeBe: First congratulations on your wonderful new single Love’s Got A Hold On Me which is moving up the charts and doing well in the clubs , but one of things I realized after looking over your career with all the accolades you’ve received on your Broadway and other stage works over the past 9 years, that this is your first single. With your stage success and notoriety, did you think it would take this long for you to release a debut single?

Frenchie Davis: You know actually I had at some point giving up on having a recoding career. I had been working so much doing theater and stage work, the recording career avenues didn’t seem as open and didn’t seem as realistic as a goal after ten years. Me deciding to go on The Voice kind of changed all of that.

BeBe: The music video for Love’s Got A hold On Me is off the hook. I love the whole Mad Max inspired theme in the video that Chan Andre and Brian Freedman (Britney, X Factor) directed. Did the theme come from you or Chan and Brian?

Frenchie Davis:  It kind of evolved. Once we picked the shooting location, and once Chan and Brian decided, you know what we’re going to shoot in the Mojave Desert and then the girl in wardrobe just starting bringing in this amazing stuff and it just evolved into this sort of Mad Max thing. And, we went with it. 

BeBe:  And the dancers are just so wonderful.

Frenchie Davis:  They are amazing! I was able to get some of the best dancers who are working right now. Two of the guys who are dancing in the video just finished doing Madonna’s Super Bowl performance right before we started shooting the video. Then I had some of Beyonce’s dancers, some of Britney’s dancers, some of GaGa’s dancers. Just seeing the caliber of people who showed up. Those boys were professional. They were there at 5 o’clock in the morning (getting) ready to work in the desert. Seeing the caliber of who showed up really gave me a push and made me say ‘Wow, look of the caliber of people who believe in me.’  

BeBe:  And that’s real important as you know, particularly with you coming from the theater. In the theater you always get that kind of family environment with everyone pushing and supporting you. But, most times you don’t hear of that in the recording industry because there is so much competing going on out there. So, sometimes the camaraderie and support you get from your fellow entertainers get unrecognized. 

Frenchie Davis: Exactly! And, I think I connected with my dancers. Maybe it was because of my theater background. But, I think it was that mutual respect we had for one another that I have for all dancers. Being in theater you have to act, dance, sing. I’m not like a dancer but I have to go to dance classes in New York just like any other theater girl. Because of that, I became friends with a lot of dancers. So, I have a strong connection with the dance community. And, it was great to bring  that camaraderie and energy to the video.

BeBe:  Well, you got to shake a hip or two every now and again.

Frenchie Davis: Oh, you know! (with a little laughter)

BeBe: Love’s Got A Hold On Me is apart of an upcoming EP Just Frenchie. When will that be released?

Frenchie Davis:  After the New Year.

BeBe: Also, the song Love’s Got A Hold On Me was written by Janice Robinson, who we all remember from her Dreamer days.

Frenchie Davis:  Oh, Janice is such a diva and such a good friend. I met her when I was still doing my Broadway stuff, and we never lost touch. She’s been writing away. She had just finished a song for Deborah Cox, and she called me and said ‘girl, I wrote this song, you know I’ve been writing a lot lately, for Deborah Cox. I think t;s going to be her next single. But I wrote this other song, and jut kept thinking of you when I was writing it. I just know nobody’s going to be ale to sing it like you.The chorus is really high, and I want some oomph on those high notes.’ So, I said, okay, let’s do it. I went to New York when I was on The Voice Tour and she played the song for me, and I loved it. And, we recorded it.

BeBe: It didn’t surprise me upon discovering that she was the writer behind Love’s Got A Hold On Me, because if there is anybody out there that I would compare you to, Janice (Robinson) would be that person. I thought, now that’s a perfect fit. Your styles and vocal ranges are very, very similar.

Frenchie Davis:  Ooh, Wow!

BeBe: Now, of course we remember your appearance in the final 12 (she finished 5th) of the Season 2 of American Idol (AI), and all the controversy surrounding your dismissal (for disclosing she took topless photos). But, the outcome of that kind of paralleled the outcome of the controversy Vanessa Williams went through when she was asked to give up her Miss America title because of nude photos. What I mean is that you were able to hold your head up high and overcome all of that and go on to have a very successful theater career with RENT on Broadway (four years), Dreamgirls (touring company), Mahalia!, and Ain’t Misbehavin’ (with Season 2 American Idol winner Ruben Studdard). So, I ask, with the success you realized in theater after such controversy on a reality competition show designed to find the next big recording artist, did you think your feet would stay planted in the theater world?

Frenchie Davis:  I always knew I would end up in the theater.  My major in college (Howard) was musical theater. The theater was how I fell in love with the whole art of performing. The theater is where I fell in love with being on stage. So, I always knew I’d end up there. Before American Idol my theater career had already started. I had done a production of Little Shop of Horrors over in Germany, and Jesus Christ Superstar. I always knew that would be my foundation, and I would be perfectly content on doing that if the recording thing didn’t work out. 

BeBe:  But, the recording career was always the dream?

Frenchie Davis: Absolutely, yeah. If just to get my talent our there beyond Broadway audiences.

BeBe:  That’s one thing that recording careers do. You get an instantaneous exposure to so many people at once, as opposed to having multiple shows in theater for people to see your performances.

Frenchie Davis: Exactly.

BeBe:  Frenchie, after all the theater success you were experiencing what was the decision process in you deciding to put yourself through all of that reality competition show stuff again to do The Voice?

Frenchie Davis:  That wasn’t something that I had planned. It wasn’t that I could foresee. I was doing what I do, singing for my gay boys at a club in West Hollywood, and there was a woman in the audience who turned out to be a casting director for a new show NBC was working on called The Voice.  So, she approached me after my performance and gave me her whole schpeil. She told me she though the show could be good for me because it was totally different from Idol. They were recruiting singers who kind of already had a following to audition for the show. She explained that the whole premise of the show was working singers. That was the direction not only wit the contestants but the judges as well. She told me to think about it, and of course my initial reaction was I don’t want to relive a competition style reality TV show. But, I’m a very spiritual person and believe you never know when the Universe will present an opportunity to you. You’ve just got to walk the path that is laid in front of you sometimes. This trip was somehow going to lead to something wonderful. I think I soul searched about it for about a month before deciding I’m going to go audition. Maybe I won’t make it, but if I make it, then I’m going for it. That’s what I did.

BeBe:  Going through the process on The Voice which like you said was a different format then AI, and looking at the  process The Voice vesus the process of AI, which one do you really feel you got the most out of? I don’t mean the success to your career, but what did you walk away in knowing what you needed to do to progress your career and so forth?

Frenchie Davis: Definitely The Voice. I think my experience from The Voice really helped me find focus and direction as far as, what direction I was going musically. Because one of the challenges I faced being a theater performer who had been on American Idol was that I loved so many different kinds of music. I have a soulful voice and love r&b and soul, but I also love rock, I love dance music, there so many other genres that I love to sing. My challenge was how do I mere all of that into a musical direction that works for me. It goes back to what you said about Janice Robinson being a perfect fit for me because Janice used to open up for Tina Turner back in the day. So, Janice has got that edge, that rock, all of the same influences that I have. If you were to ask me who my favorite performers are, off the top of my head, I’d say Aretha, Whitney, Sylvester, Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones. I think you see and hear all of those people when you watch me on stage or listen to me sing. 

BeBe:  What a diverse group it is that you just named.

Frenchie Davis:  In competition mode, I really wanted to be able to sing soulful songs, I really wanted to belt out Something Like You by Adele, something soulful so I’d really get to belt it out. And, Christina Aguilera was like, Fenchie everybody knows you can already belt it out, so why do the expected? We had a big back and forth over that, and Christina kept giving me dance songs. A lot of people don’t know but we don’t even get to choose our audition song. The producers chose I Kissed A Girl (Katy Perry) as my audition song. And then Christina chose When Love Takes Over (Kelly Rowland) and Like A Prayer (Madonna). Eventhough hoe were not the soulful songs I envisioned myself singing on the show, every song I did charted in the top 3 on the Dance Charts on iTunes. So, it helped me realize that maybe Christina is on to something (for me). Maybe there is something to this dance music thing. And then I started thing about all of the artists whom I love…..Sylvester is definitely one of my idols, and he had that soulful voice, but he did songs that made you want to dance.

BeBe:  Yes, he had a strong gospel background.

Frenchie Davis:  So I said to myself what if I find a way to do that? Bring my love for soulful singing and my love for dance music, and be able to incorporate all those other things. Once I decided I was going to do dance music, it opened this whole other door of possibilities for me as far as musical direction. So, artistically, I got the most out of my experience on The Voice. And I think it’s great because maybe there is a chubby girl out there who wants to be a Pop Star and she is going oh, they are going to only let me sing r&b. She’ll see my video and dance cross of my music, and say no, I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to put myself in a box. 

BeBe:  I know earlier in the year you disclosed that you were bisexual, so, when you are on stage now performing before a predominately gay crowd versus performing before the same group before you came out as bisexual has your approach to performing and doing songs changed because of a sense of freedom the disclosure may have given you?

Frenchie Davis:  Well, I feel like my gay fans already knew (of my sexuality). My partner has been tagged in my relationship status on my Facebook page for two years, and she is clearly a woman. I’ve performed at so many Prides. I’ve performed at New Year’s HRC events. I’ve performed at a bunch of GLAAD events. My family and friends certainly knew. It was never something I went out of the way to hide. In a lot of ways, I don’t feel any different. I do recognize there is a difference being out amongst family and friends and allowing people to scrutinize into your personal life. I do recognize there is a difference between the two. I will say that when I’m doing interviews now I don’t have to worry about being backed into a corner and give an ambiguous answer about who I am or about my life. I just don’t want to have to talk in code. I’m comfortable. I’m happy. I’m loved and supported. And women, particularly in this business, need to know that the key to success is being happy, and being true to yourself. Period. The stage lights will go dim, and audiences go home. And when that happens, you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be okay with what you see and who you see.

BeBe:  Over your professional journey of the last 10 years with you doing what you love, you have come upon some points along the way that would have caused many to give up. But, you have continued to pursue your dreams. What has kept you going, and chipping away at that wall of success?

Frenchie Davis:  I think it has been my spiritual belief. And I’m just a very stubborn Taurus woman. And telling me I can’t do something is like dangling that red flag in front of a bull. It’s just going to make me more determined. And I just believe nobody, nobody has the right to cock block your destiny. And, they only do it if you let them. The best thing s to keep positive people around you. I have my sister, my mother and my partner, three very strong women who keep it real with me, and who sometimes believe in me even when I don’t. They don’t take any of my bullshit, and will call me out on it.

Frenchie Davis makes a special performance of her debut single Love’s Got A Hold On Me on October 31 at the FreakOut Halloween Bash in San Francisco at Beatbox, 9pm. Www.BeatBoxSF.com

 

For more information on other Frenchie performances visit her website www.FrenchieDavis.org

 

Upcoming performance dates:

 

11/17/12 Aid & Comfort Gala Buffalo Thunder Resort  Sante Fe, NM

12/02/12 Fundraiser Langston Hughes Theater New York, NY

02/28/13  Frenchie Davis Concert McCallom Theater Palm Springs,CA

Frenchie Davis’ “Love’s Got A Hold On Me” Music Video