DIVA TALK: Betty's Last B'way 'Serenity' Jan. 4

DIVA TALK: Betty's Last B'way 'Serenity' Jan. 4 BETTY BUCKLEY
Despite a letter-writing campaign to the producers of Triumph of Love, it appears, unfortunately, that the musical comedy at the Royale Theatre will play its last performance this Sunday, Jan. 4. Triumph opened to mostly rave reviews, and Buckley received unanimous praise for her role as Hesione. If you've yet to hear Buckley bring down the house with her Act I showstopper "Serenity," be sure to get yourself to the Royale Theatre sometime this weekend.

BETTY BUCKLEY
Despite a letter-writing campaign to the producers of Triumph of Love, it appears, unfortunately, that the musical comedy at the Royale Theatre will play its last performance this Sunday, Jan. 4. Triumph opened to mostly rave reviews, and Buckley received unanimous praise for her role as Hesione. If you've yet to hear Buckley bring down the house with her Act I showstopper "Serenity," be sure to get yourself to the Royale Theatre sometime this weekend.

RITA MORENO
I had the chance recently to listen to a live audio recording of Rita Moreno as Norma Desmond. Moreno stepped in for Petula Clark in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical during its London run while Clark took a four-week vacation.

Moreno probably possesses the weakest vocal instrument of any of the women who played the role, although she manages to make her sound work for the character. You never know whether she's going to hit the note or not, and it adds to Norma's frailty and every-lessening grasp on reality. Only when Moreno mangles the lyrics to "As If We Never Said Goodbye," do you begin to question whether she was prepared enough to take on such a demanding role. Her line readings, however, are quite good--a fierce power is displayed when she proclaims, "I am the greatest star of them all." Moreno also manages to sound completely mad during Norma's final descent of the mansion's grand staircase. If she's not one of the best Normas I've heard, it is nonetheless an interesting performance I still would have loved to see.

SIDE SHOW
This past Monday night I returned to catch Side Show one last time before it closes Jan. 3, 1998, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. I enjoyed both the show and the cast's wonderful performances even more on this second visit. Although one wishes the writers had delved deeper into the lives of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the show that was created is a moving tribute to anyone who is different. I actually realized that what is so heart-wrenching about the musical is not just the Hilton sisters' desire for "normalcy" but the plight of all the side show performers who have been cast aside by a society that labels them as "freaks." As moving as it is when Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley sing "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" at the end of the first act, it is only when the rest of the cast steps forward to echo the same sentiment that the show truly tugs at the audience's heartstrings.

If the lyrics (by Bill Russell) don't always rise to the level of the glorious music (by Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger), it is still one of the better scores to have emerged on Broadway in the past few seasons. From the opening "Come Look at the Freaks," there are soaring tunes throughout the musical that bring down the house. Just take a listen to the show's recently released CD, and you'll delight in the gospel-tinged "The Devil You Know," the heartwarming "Like Everyone Else" as well as "Who Will Love Me As I Am," "You Should Be Loved," "Tunnel of Love" and "I Will Never Leave You." As far as the individual performances are concerned, the standouts are, of course, Ripley and Skinner as the Hilton sisters, who manage to bring dignity and charm to these ladies. Skinner portrays the more outgoing Daisy, and she is a revelation to me -- with a smile, a sweet personality and a beautiful voice that is heartwarming. Ripley, whose performance the audience warms to throughout the evening, is able to express both her character's courage and despair while belting up a storm. And, together, the ladies offer a wonderfully acted and terrifically sung evening. Norm Lewis must also be singled out for praise, possessing perhaps the most beautiful male voice on Broadway, a baritone with one of the most creamy, rich vibratos around. When he pours out his voice on "You Should Be Loved," it is a thrilling moment.

It is a shame that Broadway is losing one of the more interesting productions to come along this decade, and for those of you who have yet to see Side Show, you might want to scramble for a ticket to one of the few remaining performances.

IN OTHER NEWS
Bernadette Peters
is off to Australia this week to perform Down Under for the first time in her career . . . Nell Carter left the tour of Annie a few days early, and "All in the Family" star Sally Struthers has replaced her in the key role of Miss Hannigan.

REMINDERS:
PATTI LuPONE
La LuPone is currently wowing audience at the Booth Theatre in the new David Mamet trilogy, The Old Neighborhood. Tickets may be ordered by calling 212-239-6200.
ANNE RUNOLFSSON
Add Jan. 8, 15 and 22 to Runolfsson's previous New York cabaret dates at Eighty Eight's in the West Village. Runolfsson is scheduled to sing at 10:30pm on each of these Wednesday nights, and reservations can be made by calling 212-924-0088. The club is at 228 West 10th Street; there is a $12 music charge plus a two-drink minimum. Runolfsson will also sing in L.A. at the famed The Cinegrill from Feb. 10-14, 1998.

That's all for now. Happy New Year, and happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com