BETTY is a five-piece
pop rock band fronted by Elizabeth Ziff, Alyson Palmer and Amy
Ziff (L to R above). The band’s unique sound is a blend of
tight harmonies layered over rocking guitars and a solid rhythm
section. Since 1986, BETTY has performed their memorable live show – full
of exciting, hook-laden songs, clever word play and manic energy
- in clubs, theatres and arenas all over the world. BETTY’s
national tour of their hit Off-Broadway show, BETTY RULES (directed
by Michael “Rent” Greif), their controversial new theme
song for Showtime Television’s most popular show, THE L WORD,
and their acting appearances on that program have catapulted this
deeply beloved cult band to wilder international recognition.
an unfortunate incarceration, BETTY began as an edgy a’cappella/spoken
word/techno-beat trio in Washington DC. Fierce Elizabeth (vocals,
guitar), funky Alyson (vocals, bass) and funny Amy (vocals, cello)
are the songwriters, while virtuoso guitarist Tony Salvatore and
sizzling drummer Mino Gori complete the band, now based in downtown
NYC. Activist entertainers, the band is known for fighting fiercely
for what they believe: equal rights, feminism, finding cures for
breast cancer and AIDS, Planned Parenthood, the Pro-Choice movement,
an end to sexual violence and everybody’s inalienable right
to safely dance naked in the streets. Over the years, their benefit
performances have helped raised over $25,000,000.
BETTY is known
to television viewers all over the remote - from HBO’s first
children’s educational series, “Encyclopedia” to
HBO’s first adult educational series, “Real Sex”;
from Comedy Central’s “Out On The Edge” to an
Emmy Award-winning episode of the PBS literacy program “TV411”;
from MTV to The Food Network. Frequent Flyers know BETTY from their
appearances in the major motion pictures “Life With Mikey” (Disney), “The
Out-of-Towners” (Paramount), “It’s Pat” (Touchstone)
and “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” (Miramax).
songcraft” (KALX Radio) and “spine-tingling harmonies” (Wall
Street Journal) are featured on the band’s five full-length
recordings, “Hello,BETTY!”, “Limboland”, “betty3” , “Carnival” and
cast record “BETTY RULES”; on their EPs, “Kiss
My Sticky” and “Snowbiz”; on the soundtracks
of each of their films and on an eclectic array of compilation
albums, from the gritty “Rock For Choice” to Broadway’s
legendary “Salute to Sondheim”.
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Rules': Punk-Pop Women Know the Score
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2005; Page C01
"Betty Rules" is an anomaly in the annals of loud entertainment. It's
a rock musical that levels with you. The exuberant 90-minute show recounts the
story of Betty, a feisty punk-pop-alternative-rock trio formed 20 years ago in
the basement of the Ziff family manse in ol' Virginny -- Fairfax to be exact.
And wonder of wonders, it's not all up in your face about platinum-record glory.
No, the rollout of Betty's sumptuous harmonies and raucous storytelling on
the stage of Theater J is an occasion for an invigorating showbiz confessional.
The show is a sassy reckoning, an authorized biography of the heart. Two decades
into their musical collaboration, the middle-aged members of Betty -- Amy Ziff,
Alyson Palmer and Elizabeth Ziff -- are bound to one another as only a team
can be whose fortunes are umbilically linked. All for one and one for all,
in sickness, in health and in the corrosive amount of rejection the music business
can mete out to tough-but-fragile artists.
The work is a candid distillation of the entwined and combative personalities
of the three musicians, and part of the show's allure is reveling in the unexpurgated
feminine chutzpah. You have no doubt why these women choose to sing to the
rest of the planet, and why they stay plugged into their amps long after it
becomes clear their address will never be easy street. The theater piece is
a valentine, of sorts, to an irrational imperative, to the joy of performing,
even when that joy is tempered by time and disappointment.
First produced off-Broadway, where it was directed by Michael Greif -- also
the director of a little bitty thing called "Rent" -- the musical
traveled to Chicago and now at last has come home. Like the Ziff sisters, Palmer
is from the Washington area. Betty, launched in the Washington club scene of
the 1980s, eventually moved its base to New York. The intimate Goldman Theater
in the D.C. Jewish Community Center, where Theater J is quartered, proves to
be a happy shelter for "Betty Rules." Working from the blueprint
of the New York production, director Sarah Bittenbender stages it as a kind
of therapeutic club gig.
Backed by a drummer (Mino Gori) and electric guitarist (Tony Salvatore), the
women intersperse numbers from their songbook with a chronology of Betty's
ups and downs. The group apparently confounded record executives. Its eclectic
style has roots in everything from hard rock to musical theater. Though Betty
has recorded several albums, the trio by its own account has been more interested
in making the music it wanted than filling a niche dictated by industry mandarins.
In the anarchic style of a Beatles movie, "Betty Rules" skips along
from song to fantasy sequence and back again. The idea here is of three misfits
who can't live with or without one another. A series of funny scenes in the
office of their shrink -- being a girl group, the girls go in for group sessions
-- has them trying regression therapy. In one past life, all three find themselves
tied to a stake with a smoky smell in the air. The time is the 1600s and the
place is Salem, Mass. Though the odor sets off in one of their band a craving
for a little weed, it's clear they'll all be burning soon enough.
As witchy as the women can be to one another, what's gleaned over the course
of the production is that the members of "Betty Rules" are both rockers
and, at heart, good girls. The show is reminiscent of a cult-hit TV program
of the 1970s, "Rock Follies," about a fictional British girl group,
the Little Ladies. In the tradition of the rockumentary, the band members come
across as lovably idiosyncratic. Amy Ziff, with her bugged-out eyes and blond
dreadlocks, is the zany extrovert. Her sister, Elizabeth, a proud, tattooed
lesbian, is crankier, more foulmouthed. Palmer is the group's sexy amazon,
the anguished diplomat between the sparring sisters.
The group's music flows rather easily out of the vignettes, and some of the
best numbers, such as "Jungle Jane," "It Girl" and "Kissing
You," are dynamically and moodily melodic. A couple of times, Betty trots
out its harmonies a cappella, in short, silky interludes.
At some other times, the group's actory exertions, the need Team Betty exhibits
to win your affection, feel a little overdone. It's at those moments you're
reminded that the women are musicians first.
But there's also an admirable reluctance here to cloak Betty in the ill-fitting
wardrobe of mythology. Betty's trajectory does not resemble that of a rocket
launch. It's more like the oscillating line on a cardiogram. "We were
broke then. We're broke now," one of the women laments toward the end
of the show. One of the pleasures of "Betty Rules" is being reminded
that even in a culture of winner-take-all, staying true to oneself is a thrilling
May 24, 2004
BETTY RULES BETTY
The off-Broadway musical “BETTY RULES” (which just opened in Chicago)
is the autobiographical tale of a 17-year-old unsigned girl band from New York.
The alterna-rock show, directed by “Rent’s” Michael Greif,
is performed by original BETTY members Alyson Palmer and Amy and Elizabeth
Ziff. Now the soundtrack is out, which, like the show, follows BETTY through
dingy venues, lame boyfriends, drug addiction and hysterical group-therapy
sessions. There’s even a brush with a major-label exec: “You think
someone else should write our songs? You clueless creep with comb-over hair,
say what you want, we just don’t care.” Edgy performances, catchy
pop-punk melodies and sweet-‘n’-sour lyrics paint a vivid picture
of life just under the radar.
band sets 'Rules'
By Jayne Blanchard
" Betty Rules" throws a bright estrogen halo
over Theater J.
This girl-powered tribute to 20 years of harmony, discord and uncategorizable
independent music — is the rock band Betty a cappella rock, spoken
word, techno or an amalgam of all three? — will re-energize Washingtonians
who remember the lively punk/new wave musical scene of the 1980s.
It also stands on its own as an evening of funny, pun-filled songs and frank
insights into what it's like to be a girl band on the road.
The trio — Alyson Palmer, Amy Ziff and Elizabeth Ziff — began collaborating
in 2000 with Michael Greif, director of "Rent," on an autobiographical
theatrical piece with music that would be part memoir, part showcase filled
with two decades of Betty's idiosyncratically gorgeous harmonies and compositions.
(Think the Andrews Sisters on Red Bull, or the Go-Gos after taking in a marathon
performance of "The Vagina Monologues" at the Michigan Womyn Festival.)
The show was a hit, running off-Broadway for seven months before embarking
on a tour.
Now, for a month, Betty is back where it all began. The Ziff sisters jammed
in their father's basement in Fairfax and note during a segment in this funky-beat,
grin-inducing show that their dad would flick the lights on and off when it
was time to stop.
The Ziff sisters found bass player Alyson Palmer after putting out a call to
the newly relocated WHFS-FM, the District's once-mighty alternative rock station,
which moved to Baltimore last month.
Many of the local places mentioned in "Betty Rules" are gone: the
recently-departed WHFS, DC Space, the original 9:30 Club on F Street NW, the
Bayou, the Crazy Horse saloon in Georgetown. Yet Betty has survived 20 years
together, even indulging in "band group therapy," a hilarious bit
in the show in which the three fuss and feud, each clamoring to take turns
with the "talking stick" — a familiar staple to those in group
therapy, who pass the stick around to obtain permission to speak.
The two Misses Ziff and Miss Palmer have plenty to say. Since its beginning
in 1985, Betty has defied predictable musical genres, remaining true to its
distinctive, daredevilish style. The group never conformed to the stereotype
of girl-bandom — or any kind of pop-music rules, for that matter.
Betty was always a quirky hybrid of snaky rock beats, exquisite harmonies and
smart-alecky lyrics that dealt with procrastination, infidelity, ticking biological
clocks, food issues and male groupies. The women proudly used the F-word (feminism)
as well as the L-word before it became fashionable.
Though it never became the flavor of the month, Betty has always had a cult
following, and the group's music has shown up on HBO, Comedy Central, the Food
Network, MTV, Nickelodeon and numerous commercials. In one scene, titled "Betty
Pays the Bills," the group sings zealously about the food court at Tyson's
"Betty Rules," directed at Theater J by Sarah Bittenbender, takes audiences
through the land mines and triumphs of being a female rock band during the new-wave
1980s all the way up through the hip-hop era.
"I can't believe I spent all these years sleeping my way to the middle," cracks
Amy Ziff, the wisecracking, flamboyant clown of the group. She's the one with
all the crazy voices and the manic energy, while her sister Elizabeth is more
the cool, edgy guitar chick, tense and intense. In the middle — literally
and figuratively — is Miss Palmer, possessing supermodel height and playing
her bass with laid-back glee.
Betty has two men in the band, drummer and percussionist Mino Gori and guitarist
Tony Salvatore, who preside over the show on a platform at the back of the
set. The men provide meaty beats and guitar riffs, but the women are front
and center, the way it should be.
March 11, 2005
BETTY does rule,
in case there's any doubt about the title of the autobiographical
vehicle the D.C.-born trio has ridden back to its birthplace for
a 20th-anniversary engagement. BETTY is Alyson Palmer and the Ziff
sisters, Amy and Bitsy (now calling herself Elizabeth), possessors
of the tightest harmonies this side of the Roches and the funniest
act this side of....well, let's just call it the funniest.
BETTY RULES is subtitled "The Exception to the Musical," but it fits
pretty neatly into the off-Broadway genre previously inhabited by Hedwig and
the Angry Inch. Like that plot-driven rock concert, BETTY Rules chronicles
a musical rise to fame, in this case, from humble beginnings in the Ziff family's
Fairfax, Va., garage. "I only know one chord, but we wrote a song around
it," says Elizabeth at the outset of Alyson's audition to join their sisterly
girl group. Then they start blending voices in the ethereal harmonies that
tend to make instant fans of anyone who hears them. Though the story proceeds
chronologically from the 9:30 club to HBO and off-Broadway, it does take a
few side trips--through past-life regressions, and visits with boyfriends,
children, and a rock-group analyst--always returning to the road they've traveled
as a trio.
Palmer is the group's designated Amazon, tending to occupy stage center (or
perhaps making the center follow her around). She claims to be 6-foot-2 and
looks at least a head taller than that when she's belting out a song, but she
has a deftly delicate way with a lyric. Of the Ziff sisters, Elizabeth claims
the title of exhibitionist (which she proves early on by flashing the crowd
out front) and seems the team's social conscience, bouncing at her microphone
with enough energy to power the band to the moon and beyond. Amy, meanwhile,
lets the audience come to her during an airy, Mae West-ian offhandedness, only
to explode zanily in the sketches and in between. Her coked-to-the-gills riffs
are priceless, her boozy rants breathtaking. Providing backup from high atop
a scarlet staircase are the capable Tony Salvatore on guitar and Mino Gori
Though BETTY has a loyal fan base hereabouts, on opening night the band mingled
oddly with the older, more staid Theater J audience. But the show the group
has assembled around it's still-rising career arc is entertaining enough to
make believers of first-timers, and by curtain call the crowd was pretty unified
in its cheers. As I say, the D.C. theater scene will be a bit less bright when
'BETTY Rules' closes up shop next month.
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January 3, 2003
BETTY RULES - They're
hot (if not Maxim material); they harmonize (take that, TLC); they
play guitar, bass, cello, and tambourine; and they've been doing
it for around 15 years. Still, you've probably never heard of Betty,
so get acquainted with this trio of fab femmes at midtown Manhattan's
Zipper Theatre. As you guzzle wine in cushy car seats, Alyson Palmer,
Amy Ziff, and Elizabeth Ziff embark on a riotous, rockin' autobiographical
journey chronicling Betty's basement beginnings, bathroom breaks,
even therapy sessions. Lots of therapy sessions. Plus, they provide
their own soundtrack, flush with addictive pop-rock-alterna tunes
like "It Girl" and "Jungle Jane." Peppy recorded
interludes by the Go-Gos and Spice Girls inject a note of irony into
the evening: Mainstream success may have eluded Betty, but the band
plays on. Forget Destiny's Child. These are the real survivors.
embraces new stages of life
May 7, 2004
BY MARY HOULIHAN
Alyson Palmer, the statuesque bass player for the pop-rock band BETTY, recently
became a mother. Along with that new responsibility came the long-avoided
but now inevitable cell phone. Those are two big changes for the woman
who wrote the anthem "Put It Off," one of the highlights of "BETTY
RULES," the rock musical written by Palmer and twin sisters Elizabeth
and Amy Ziff.
" Yes," admits Palmer, with a laugh, "a lot of the things we talk
about avoiding because of our rock 'n' roll lifestyle have come to pass. The
key is to adapt to the changes. We're basically doing the same things but they're
much richer experiences since the baby came along."
No, these life changes aren't going to slow down Palmer or the Ziffs, who together
are the band BETTY. Seven-month-old Ruby will simply join the rock 'n' roll
life while the New York-based trio performs the musical for a six-week run
at the Lakeshore Theater.
Since 1986, the band has built a substantial cult following, which only grew
larger when "BETTY RULES" opened Off-Broadway to great reviews in
the fall of 2002. It was a well-deserved moment in the spotlight for a band
that has toiled in the underground rock scene for nearly 20 years. The show
chronicles the musical journey of these outrageously colorful women in a frenetic
sensory assault that balances a rock message with the best structural elements
of musical theater.
Writing "BETTY RULES" opened up new avenues of expression for the
women, whose rock tunes have a feminist bent. In the mid-'80s, they had become
friends with Broadway director Michael Greif ("Rent") when he asked
them to compose music and perform in a staging of Caryl Churchill's "Cloud
Nine." Later, they went to him with an idea for a wacky screenplay about
mysteriously disappearing pop stars and BETTY's role in filling in the widening
" They had ideas that reminded me of 'Help' and 'A Hard Day's Night,' " said
Greif, referring to the quasi-autobiographical movies starring the Beatles. "I
encouraged them to get more personal. To theatricalize their version of how they
formed the band and how they've managed to stay together for so many years."
Palmer remembers wondering: Who would want to hear about that? But it turned
out to be a serendipitous suggestion, as the women discovered they really did
have a story to tell.
" We realized our story could resonate for any group of people who come
together and try to achieve a goal," said Palmer. "It's a piece about
how hard that is and how you modify your version of success along that journey."
The result is an eclectic new-wave vaudeville show, part musical and part rock
concert, that creates a patchwork story of the band's history. With their edgy
and intelligent material, the trio have always come across better onstage than
on their recordings. Their outrageously colorful rock shows always have been
part vaudeville, so the move to a staged show was a natural for the group,
" They've always had stories and their own point of view to go along with
their songs," he said. "It's very appropriate material for a concert/storytelling
setting which is basically what this is. There is something immediate and wonderful
about them playing these versions of themselves."
Existing on the fringe of the music world has a long list of challenges that
never seem to go away, but Palmer admits she's known no other sort of existence.
While BETTY is not currently signed to a label and is going the independent-release
route, the band members, all self-described "rabid radical feminists," continue
to back a list of causes they are passionate about, including equal rights,
the pro-choice movement and cures for AIDS and breast cancer.
" It's challenging but also loads of fun, and we meet the most incredible
people," said Palmer. "And to use our talents to raise money for causes
we believe in is very rewarding."
Over the years, BETTY has played a handful of shows at local clubs, including
the now-defunct Lounge Ax, as well as Park West and even that bastion of frat-boy
annoyance, the Cubby Bear. Palmer offers a knowing laugh when asked about the
show at the Wrigleyville venue.
" Chicago is open-hearted in ways that other urban areas aren't," she
said, diplomatically. "It seems no matter where you perform in this city,
it's always a different experience. And that's good for a band with an underground
The Chicago dates for "BETTY RULES" are the first since the run at
New York's Zipper Theatre. Palmer says they conducted a poll of their fan base
through their Internet site (www.bettyrules.com) and got a great response from
" One of the reasons we wanted to bring the musical here is that Chicago
is such a lively music town," said Palmer. "In the past, we've always
gotten a great response here. It's a sort of petri dish for us where we can continue
to grow and build on our fan base. So we figured as long as it's not winter,
let's take the show to Chicago."
YORK TIMES 10-16-2002
REVIEW | 'BETTY RULES'
Women of Rock With a Tale to Tell
By BRUCE WEBER
Like a lot
of rock bands, the female trio BETTY has had its disappointments
on the road to stardom. What with shortsighted record company executives,
the rigors of low-budget touring, the humiliations of opening for
bigger-name bands, not to mention the internal rivalries and personal
crises that arise with long association and not-so-good times,
BETTY has nearly come apart more than once evidently as
recently as last year since it was formed in a suburban
basement in Fairfax, Va., in 1985.
Still, out of dedication to the music and to one another, the three women Alyson
Palmer and the sisters Amy and Elizabeth Ziff have persevered long enough
to tell their story onstage, which they are now doing with driving energy,
blunt self-deprecation and lovely three-part harmony at the Zipper Theater.
The show, titled modestly without an exclamation point, "BETTY Rules," is
an odd grab bag of cabaret act, stand-up and sketch comedy, roadhouse rock
and Broadway savvy. And even though the narrative may be familiar, the education
of these young women has a a refreshingly uncynical conclusion. Their roller
coaster ride takes them back largely to where they started: that is, in love
with the music and with the rewards of playing it in public. In the end they're
innocent again, which isn't exactly the tradition of rock 'n' roll, though
it is of musical theater.
The music of BETTY has always been a curiosity, a cross between strident rock
and show music. One strength of the band is its song writing, which, on one
hand, can attach inventively dissonant melodies and stinging lyrics about the
lives of women to pounding rhythms, and on the other, make a feminine plaint
into a sad or yearning ballad that reflects on life's eternal disappointments
and could easily be scored for a Broadway orchestra and Melissa Errico or Donna
Murphy. It's music as thoughtful as it is fun.
But the band's signature is its singing; no one of the three women is a great
soloist, but their voices meld sensationally. Their harmonies are sprightly
and, well, gorgeous, with an oddly nostalgic feel. BETTY's sound is more reminiscent
of the Andrews Sisters than, say, the Go-Go's.
The show consists of a number of quick-hitting scenes, some witty, some sincere,
played under projected supertitles like "BETTY on the Road" or "BETTY
Pays the Bills," and punctuated by songs for which Ms. Palmer sometimes
plays bass, Elizabeth Ziff rhythm guitar and Amy Ziff electric cello. (They
are accompanied by a drummer, Colin Brooks, and another guitarist, Tony Salvatore.
Most of the scenes are directly connected to the band's history, explaining
how they first got together, how certain songs grew out of real events, how
they met their lovers, how they nearly disintegrated in an explosion of tempers
onstage. There is a bout of depression, a pregnancy and an abortion, the deaths
of their mothers, perpetual money woes.
Sounds grim, doesn't it? But as directed by Michael Greif ("Rent"),
the show has a generally light tone, pleasingly angled in the ain't-life-a-hoot
direction, perhaps a function of the band's unusual visage. Ms. Palmer, a striking
black woman, is a full head taller than the Ziff sisters, who are both light-skinned
and blonde. They appear to have great fun with the Mutt and Jeffs odd-trio
effect, and their great chemistry onstage gives the show a good-natured glow.
A few quibbles. The script could use some polishing and pruning. (Even at only
90 minutes, the material feels a bit stretched.) And because one of the most
appealing things about the show is that the women don't seem to take themselves
too seriously, the eulogy that they perform for their mothers to the aching
ballad "Broken," however poignant, feels like a jarring interruption.
Finally, the three are not particularly deft actors, though mostly they're
playing themselves, for which they are perfectly cast. And Amy Ziff, at least,
is a remarkable caricaturist. In the course of the show she does the yokel
clerk at a Kentucky convenience store and a flight attendant who seems to be
In perhaps the show's funniest sequence, she plays herself as a coke-sniffing
travel agent 17 years ago. It's a marvelous depiction, fraught with if-I-could-go-back
nostalgia and if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now self-mockery.
The subtext of this scene, as of all of "Betty Rules," is that however
robustly these women give in to the outlaw spirit of rock 'n' roll, they're
good girls at heart.