Peek Behind the Curtain with Carole J. Bufford

Nothing keeps Carole J. Bufford down.

Less than two years after her last appearance at FST, this critically acclaimed Cabaret star returns to the stage with Vintage POP!, an all-new musical revue following the transformation of popular music over the past century. With audiences and critics heralding Bufford as “exceptional,” “outstanding,” and “a boat-load of pizzazz and charm,” is it any surprise that the show has already had its Sarasota run extended four times?

We sat down with Bufford to learn more about Vintage POP! and how she assembled this never-before-seen musical celebration at a time when live theatre was forced into an unexpected intermission.

Carole J. Bufford in Vintage POP! Photo by Matthew Holler

What does it mean to you to be performing live for the first time in almost a year?

Performing again for live audiences after a whole year off is emotionally overwhelming in the best way possible. I feel happier and more comfortable onstage than just about any other place on Earth. Not having that outlet for an entire year was very difficult, and having FST be the first place that I perform again just seems so fitting. I really love Sarasota, the audiences, and the commitment FST has to bringing Theatre and Cabaret to so many.

FST audiences have witnessed your artistry in two past Cabarets: Roar! and Come Together. What can audiences familiar with those shows expect from Vintage POP!?

You’ll definitely hear songs you know and love. There will be lots of fun stories behind the music and fresh takes on familiar tunes. I’m not interested in singing karaoke “carbon copies” of songs. When I’m making arrangements with my musical director, Ian Herman, we try to think outside the box and use the arrangements to make the audience experience the song with fresh ears and eyes!

Carole J. Bufford in Vintage POP! Photo by Matthew Holler.

Your past shows have largely focused on a decade or two – a specific moment in time. Vintage POP!, on the other hand, covers almost a full century of music. Did you approach creating this show differently at all? How did you make the very difficult decisions of which songs to include?

Oh my, the song list was so long…lots of whittling down. I broke down each decade and tried to pinpoint the story I wanted to tell. If the song couldn’t help me paint that picture, it got knocked off the list. I also wanted the bulk of the show to be very well known pop songs that have stood the test of time (though I did make sure to have a few tunes that were quite popular in their day but have not necessarily remained on everyone’s musical playlists). I think that it’s fun to discover new songs!

What’s your favorite song in the show to sing and why?

Ooh! That’s hard… I’d say it’s a toss-up between “St. Louis Blues” and “It’s A Good Day.”

“St. Louis Blues” is just down and dirty and so much fun to just dig in and sing. “It’s A Good Day” just makes you so joyful. Even if I’m feeling a little blue, my mood completely does a turnaround after singing this Peggy Lee/Dave Barbour tune.

Carole J. Bufford in Vintage POP! Photo by Matthew Holler.

Were there any specific challenges in developing this cabaret?

Yes. Making musical arrangements via Zoom is hard, and I don’t recommend it. We got the job done, but my goodness…it was not easy!

This has been a rather difficult time for people in the performing arts. But you really rose to meet the moment with Vintage POP!. Did you discover anything about yourself and your art while working on it? Do you think there is anything audiences can learn from it as well?

This entire show is about dealing with transition and change. There’s a line in the show, that’s something my parents always told me: “Leave things better than when you arrived.” It always made sense to me, but it felt further clarified while creating this show.

We have all lived (and continue to live) through a collective tumultuous experience, so audiences can take whatever they need from this show. If that’s simply an escape and a chance to relish in live music once again, fantastic – that’s enough for me! If they are craving a deeper dive, then I’d say to take note of how, even as styles change aurally throughout the years, great popular music is still the same at its core, rooted in basic human emotion. That’s why we can all connect to it, no matter what walk of life we come from. 

Due to popular demand, Vintage POP! has already been extended three times and is now playing in FST’s Keating Theatre from March 24 – May 16, 2021. For tickets or more information, click here.