DIVA TALK: Buckley's New Triumph

DIVA TALK: Buckley's New Triumph BETTY BUCKLEY
Sitting in the audience of the Royale Theatre, recovering from the wave of emotion that spread over the audience as Betty Buckley poured out her soul and voice in her Act I show-stopper, I realized that this is why I love the theatre. As good as TV and film can be, there is nothing like the emotional connection an actor--especially one as gifted as Buckley--can make with her (or his) audience in a live theatrical performance. And Buckley's connection has never been greater.

BETTY BUCKLEY
Sitting in the audience of the Royale Theatre, recovering from the wave of emotion that spread over the audience as Betty Buckley poured out her soul and voice in her Act I show-stopper, I realized that this is why I love the theatre. As good as TV and film can be, there is nothing like the emotional connection an actor--especially one as gifted as Buckley--can make with her (or his) audience in a live theatrical performance. And Buckley's connection has never been greater.

In fact, if you have even the smallest desire to enter the field of musical theatre as a performer or otherwise, I would suggest that you run to the Royale and observe the way Buckley delivers "Serenity" in Triumph of Love. It is easily the most moving moment in the romantic comedy as Hesione (Buckley's character) describes a life that forced her to withdraw from the passions of love and bury herself in a world of books, only now to discover her heart has awakened with new possibilities. It is a beautiful song and has thankfully been given to the woman who knows best what to do with it. Buckley's performance of the ballad is nothing less than masterful, both vocally and acting-wise. It is a carefully built performance shaded with vocal colors, which climaxes with an impassioned force that is breathtaking. The spoken line that follows the song, Buckley's admission that "You have added love to my vocabulary," is similarly heartbreaking.

Triumph also provides a rare chance to watch Buckley play comedy, something she hasn't done on Broadway in years. Not only does she have some of the best lines in the shows--including a supremely funny closing one that I won't divulge--but she delivers each with expert comic timing and also delves into some physical comedy as well. And, it seems that all the reviewers are in complete agreement about Buckley's astonishing performance. Read on. . .

Ben Brantley in The New York Times:
". . .And then, against all expectation, lightning strikes. Your emotions are stirred, you sit up in your seat and you may even discover tears in your eyes. In any case, if you're human, you'll probably find yourself delivering a silent prayer of thanksgiving for Betty Buckley, that fine musical star whose penetrating trumpet of a voice always seems directly and paradoxically linked to a fragile soul.

"What has happened is that Ms. Buckley, playing an emotionally suffocated spinster named Hesione. . .starts singing a song with the deceptive title of 'Serenity.' She is addressing a young man who has aroused feelings that once tugged "at my heart like hungry birds." The young man responsible for this awakening is really a young woman (played by Susan Egan) who is duping Hesione for her own romantic reasons, but that no longer seems like a merely comic plot contrivance. "Serenity," with a music-box lilt of a melody by Jeffrey Stock and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead, is a lovely piece of confession that recalls the melancholy, character-defining songs of Stephen Sondheim's Little Night Music.

"As delivered by Ms. Buckley with a strength that also suggests an infinite capacity to be wounded, the number sheds a disquieting light on the forced, boisterous merriment that has preceded it. The elaborate plot to ensnare Hesione may be a form of sport, but it is now clear that this sport draws blood. The moment captures the delicate blend of froth and contemplative sadness that imbues nearly everything by Marivaux. . .

". . . Ms. Buckley's character undergoes a similarly humiliating transformation. Yet somehow she not only endures, but also prevails. Even swinging the panniers of the cartoon period dresses that Catherine Zuber has designed for her, she retains a plaintive dignity. And while she earns every possible laugh, it is never at the expense of a fully developed character. . .[she is] triumphant in Triumph."

Fintan O'Toole in Daily News:
". . .All of this relentless wackiness might begin to grate, though, were it not for the wonderful Betty Buckley. Only a great performer can switch the mood of a show in a moment, turning burlesque into tragedy and then back again. Buckley belongs in that select company. Her pure, hard-edged voice cuts against the grain of Jeffrey Stock's cheery music. And in the show's one outstanding musical number--"Serenity"--she suddenly becomes, not the comic caricature she has been, but a real, lonely middle aged woman yearning for love.

With a lesser actress, the effect would be jarring. It is, instead, startling and moving. And it provides the essential grip on emotional realities that stops the gaudy balloon of the plot from floating away into mere insignificance."

Linda Winer in Newsday:
"Buckley is priceless as the spinster lured back to romantic feelings again. Her dark, silvery vibrato -- usually used for more solemn occasions -- finds a startling place where sadness and hilarity meet in a show stopper called 'Serenity.'"

David Patrick Stearns in USA Today:
"Buckley delivers an unforgettably soulful characterization as she realizes how one-dimensional her life has been." Clive Barnes in New York Post:
". . .Buckley (adorably prissy but in full voice) and a commandingly priggish F. Murray Abraham have never been better. Both are so convincingly moving that at times they threaten to capsize the comic boat."

Buckley also graces the cover of this week's In Theatre Magazine as well as being the subject of an interview in the Oct. 24 issue of Back Stage. In the latter, Buckley was interviewed by writer Simi Horowitz, and what follows are some of BB's choice quotes:

€ about her character in Triumph of Love, Hesione:
"She has been very hurt in life and escapes into the sanctuary of the mind. But she's bursting with unrequited passion and she's ready to fall in love with anyone."

€ about the many roles she has played:
"I believe most artists have certain themes in their work that reflect the lessons they've learned in life. My roles may look dissimilar, but there's a Karma connecting them. All the characters I've played are strong, passionate, expressive women who, for cultural reasons, have been forced to be less than who they are. . .It's wonderful to be able to represent these issues because they have personal meaning to me. I was raised with the notion that a woman's place was in the home. If she had a career at all, it was to enhance her husband's image. In addition, my father viewed actresses--and that what I always wanted to be--as close to prostitutes. As a result, my sense of self as a gifted young person and a woman were shamed. I don't believe my journey is atypical in a patriarchal society."


And, of course, you can catch Buckley, F. Murray Abraham and Susan Egan nightly at the Royale Theatre in Triumph of Love by calling 212 239-6200 or 1-800-432-7250. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the box office of the Royale.


OTHER NEWS . . .
The Tony-winning Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga, will make a rare concert appearance in San Francisco on Nov. 1 at the Nob Hill Masonic Center. . . Bette Midler, that divine diva, will be the subject of a two-part interview on ABC-TV's morning talk show "The View." Midler will first join the four-women group on Monday, Oct. 27 and will again return on Thursday, Oct. 30 for an interview with Barbara Walters. . .Speaking of "The View," the new talk show will salute Broadway with a special Halloween show on Friday, Oct. 30. The Broadway bonanza will include performances from Beauty and the Beast, Jekyll and Hyde and The Life. Deborah Gibson and Linda Blair will also make appearances, and the co-hosts themselves will be dressed as familiar Broadway characters: Meredith Vieira will be in full Cats regalia; Star Jones will don one of Anna's classic outfits from The King and I; Debbie Matenopoulos will salute the style of the fifties as Sandy from Grease! ; and Joy Behar will be dressed as a Titanic survivor! It should be an exciting show, so set your VCRs!

REMINDERS:

JUDI CONNELLI, one of Australia's premiere theatre and cabaret stars, will return to the U.S. for two concerts at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall on Oct. 30 and 31 (212-246-7800).
FLORENCE LACEY continues her world tour of Evita, now starring at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin from Oct. 15 through Nov. 23.
PATTI LuPONE Tickets for The Old Neighborhood, the new David Mamet play that will bring LuPone back to Broadway, are now on sale through Tele-charge (212-239-6200). Previews will begin on Nov. 11 at the Booth Theatre (222 West 45th Street) with an opening night scheduled for Nov. 19.
LILIANE MONTEVECCHI will join forces with another legendary French star, Jean Pierre Cassel, for an exciting evening of cabaret on Saturday, Nov. 8 at 7pm and 9:30 pm. The two performers will be part of the 92nd St. Y's annual "Cabaret in Concert" series, held in the Kaufman Auditorium at 1395 Lexington Avenue. Tickets range from $30-$35 and are available by calling Y-Charge at 212-996-1100.
BERNADETTE PETERS
Nov. 2-Cinderella on ABC-TV with BP as the wicked Stepmother
Nov. 9 - Into the Woods reunion concert at the Broadway Theatre
Nov. 11 - Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Forest video released
Nov. 21 - Anastasia, the new animated film, hits theatres
Nov. 23- TV movie "What the Deaf Man Heard" airs on CBS
Dec. 14- TV movie "Holiday in Your Heart" airs on ABC

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

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