Mojo (Publisher) - 3/02, p.106
"...A rarefied set on the cabaret side of jazz but a must for lovers of unusual songs with a theatrical flavor."
Personnel: Betty Buckley (vocals); Kenny Werner (piano); Tony Marino (bass); James Haddad (percussion).
Producers: Betty Lynn Buckley, Kevin Duncan.
Recorded live at the Donmar Warehouse, London, England on August 31 & September 1, 2000. Includes liner notes by Betty Buckley.
STARS & THE MOON: LIVE AT THE DONMAR was nominated for the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Recorded as part of the Divas at the Donmar series at the small Donmar Theatre in London, the concert preserved on disc here, assembled from shows performed on August 31 and September 1, 2000, is an interesting mixture of material well-chosen and arranged to complement Betty Buckley's voice. The Broadway star's timbre has an astringent quality, with a breathy vibrato that adds to its penetrating, emotional effect. She works closely with arranger/pianist Kenny Werner, who provides her with instrumental support that often amounts to a duet, echoing the quality of her voice in surprising chords and even dissonance. This is particularly the case in the two performers' take on Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," which ends the formal set. It's a much-covered standard, of course, but Buckley and Werner practically write a new melody for it that forces the listener to hear it anew. Buckley does much the same thing with other familiar songs in the set, such as the old Nat "King" Cole hit "Answer Me My Love" and James Taylor's signature tune "Fire and Rain." But there is also much unfamiliar material, particularly compositions by up-and-coming theater writer Ricky Ian Gordon, who turns in a musical setting for poems by Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Emily Dickinson, though such other young writers as Jason Robert Brown and Adam Guettel are also represented. Brown's contribution, "Stars and the Moon," is a song that also has been taken up by Audra McDonald, but Buckley is closer to the right age for the character who sings it, reviewing her life with some regret. Another song that plays off her experience is "Old Friend" from I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, which she sings with special enthusiasm, but the whole set is impressive. ~ William Ruhlmann