A slightly out-of-breath Betty Buckley joins me on the top floor of Her Majesty's Theatre, where the cast of Dear World are rehearsing...
Hello! Good to see you - I take it Gillian [Gillian Lynne] is working you hard?
Yes, she is, but I love it, and I love her - she's great.
You've known each other for years, haven't you?
Yes, I met her in 1982, in Cats, and she was a real source of inspiration to me, she is one of my role models. I adore her, I just love watching her work. I feel so privileged to be here and to get to work with her again. She's really extraordinary. I knew who she was since I was 14 years old because of her work at Stop The World - to me, she's one of the great artists of musical theatre. So I was thrilled to get to work with her in Cats, she was amazing, and we've stayed in touch all these years, she's come to see things I've done. I really think Cats, learning how to play Grizabella and sing 'Memory' was the doorway into my potential as an artist. After I did that, I knew how to work, because of working with Gillian, Trevor Nunn and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
We stayed in touch - we've written to each other over the years to try to think of something we could together. Then two years ago she wrote [to] me and she said, "We're going to do Dear World - I think that would be great." For years, people have told me I should play this part. In fact, years ago people sent me the original libretto, so I knew of it, but I thought the show had problems, but then when Gillian told me her vision of it I was really excited, because she has figured out how to solve what some of the basic issues are. She's such a poet of musical theatre.
She's bringing a real magic to the show - there's magic inherent within the show, but she's really mined it. It was before its time, and it was over-produced in the initial production, because it's a much more ethereal show, which people didn't expect from Jerry Herman because of Mame and Hello, Dolly! They were expecting this razzmatazz show and they tried to bring that quality to what is basically a very ethereal, poetic piece - it's a fairy tale, really.
Did you have any doubts about accepting the part?
I had no doubts about working with her, and so I was in it, I was committed from the moment she said she wanted to do it. Of course, negotiations in showbusiness are always so arduous - it's quite a big thing to leave my ranch, I live on a ranch, my assistant lives in the guest house and I live in the main house, and between us we have 17 animals - I have four horses and a donkey, barn cats and house cats, she has two house cats, we have three dogs - so to leave them for this length of time... I go on the road all the time for concerts, but the most I've left is for a month. That's always hard. I have wonderful caretakers but it's really hard to leave them. Initially she was going to bring her cat and I was going to bring my little shih tszu, but then we decided it would be too hard on them. Hopefully the show will be successful and extend, and if it does, she'll go back and bring them over later.
Gillian sounded quite optimistic about that. [Our exclusive interview with Gillian Lynne follows later this week!]
Yes, I'm very optimistic. She's put together this amazing team. It's a stunning production. I'm so excited.
I've been following you chatting to your castmates on Twitter - you seem to all be getting on well!
There's a few of us on Twitter! Becky [Rebecca Lock] is fantastic, she's so funny! I don't know how I'm going to keep a straight face. She is one of the funniest people I have ever been on stage with. It's just hilarious, what she's doing. I have to be a straight man in those scenes, but I just watch her and start laughing!
It's an awesome team. It's difficult, there's so much to learn, and of course Gillian's choreography is very intricate. I was sick on the first day of rehearsal, I got this horrible cough, so I missed a rehearsal then went back too soon, and finally I was just down for the count - I went to the doctor and she sent me home to bed. I came back and was like, "I have to catch up! I have to catch up!"