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Betty Buckley Has Her Act Together--for Now


If luck looks for a prepared mind, then Betty Buckley will always be lucky.

"I've been very lucky," said the 38-year-old Texas native, "but my job has always been simply to prepare myself. . . . So I keep studying acting and music and singing to make myself more and more prepared for whatever the next gig is."

Her last job was in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" on Broadway. She left the show Saturday to pursue what she has always wanted to do--a concert tour.

"Leaving a Broadway show that's a big hit is hard," she said in her Chateau Marmont hotel room. "The tendency is to always opt for security, but you've got to press on."

And press on she has. With French composer Michel Colombier ("White Nights") and friend Lyle Mays, keyboardist with the Pat Metheny Group, as collaborators, she has shaped a mixture of her own works, plus "Memory" (from "Cats"), for her local concert debut (tonight and Saturday, 8 p.m. at the Beverly Theater).

The performances coincide with her first album release, a live recording of her own songs (on Rizzoli Records).

What should the audience expect? "Well," she said, "my career has been so eclectic, I wouldn't know what to expect from a person like me."

Her career sprouted from her discovery of musical theater at the age of 11. "I fell in love with music and knew I wanted to go to New York City and be in the musical theater," she said.

Never dismiss the words of a child, for 10 years later, fresh out of Texas summer stock and a stint as a reporter with the Fort Worth Press, she arrived in the Big Apple--and that very day landed the part of Martha Jefferson in "1776."

Buckley then moved from Broadway to London and the lead in "Promises, Promises."

When she returned to New York, her song-and-dance card was filled with supporting roles until Brian De Palma brought her to Hollywood and cast her as the gym teacher in "Carrie."

After seeing Buckley's performance, then-ABC liaison Brandon Tartikoff, now president of NBC, pushed for her to move into the role of Abby, the stepmom in "Eight Is Enough."

The money was great, but she missed the music of Broadway, so she flew to New York once a month for voice lessons and started writing lyrics as an outlet.

Then she tried to coax the producers of the series to let Abby sing. "They thought I was crazy. A producer accused me of having delusions of grandeur."

One lullaby opened the door and motivated Buckley, influenced by her roots in gospel and country music, to pen more lyrics with a jazz flavor, she said.

Then, "Just at the point when I had accepted that I'd be this wealthy woman that nobody knew had this musical facility--and wasn't that sad?--the show was canceled and I realized that I wasn't going to be rich, I was going to be back out on the streets looking for work."

Buckley bounced out of the show and into the lead in the L.A. staging of "I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road." It led to the role of the country singer Dixie Scott in "Tender Mercies"--her best work, she said.

The film's release coincided with her return to Broadway in "Cats,' where her portrayal of Grizabella the glamour cat won her a Tony.

"I'm curious to see what the next thing will be. People say it would take the fun out of life if you knew ahead of time what was going to happen, but I would like to know."

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