Get Tickets Early For Midler’s ‘Kiss My Brass’
Miss M Displays All That She’s Known For
Rick Garman, Vegas4Visitors.com
December 22, 2003
Bette Midler will stop at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Valentine’s Day 2004 on her new “Kiss My Brass” tour. I got a chance to catch the opening night in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, and I’m here to tell you to get your tickets now, either for the Vegas show or for any of the stops around the country.
This is an event of such spectacle, fun and outrageousness that you don’t need to be a fan of Bette Midler to enjoy it, as was evidenced by the guy sitting next to me who had been dragged there by his wife. By the end of the show he was an obvious convert, standing, cheering, and applauding more than I was.
I, on the other hand, am a fan of Bette Midler. I have been for a long time and I’m not ashamed to admit it. She’s what they call my “phone book entertainer,” meaning she could open the phone book and randomly sing through it and I’d think it was genius. So the concept of me giving the opening night of her new concert tour a bad review would be like me saying, “No, I don’t have room for dessert.”
Having said that, it’s important that you understand it is not my bias speaking when I proclaim the “Kiss My Brass” concert to be not only the finest Bette Midler show yet, but one of the most entertaining shows I’ve ever seen. This is Bette at her bawdiest, brashest, and brassiest best, a fine return to form for “The Divine Miss M.”
If you’ve ever seen a Bette Midler show, you’ll know that in many ways they defy description. Part traditional arena concert, part stand-up comedy routine, and part Broadway production show, it occurred to me that “Kiss My Brass” was an amalgam of all the best parts of what you’ll see on the Vegas Strip. There’s the singing and dancing, with a healthy dose of burlesque that you’ll find in “Folies Bergere” or “Jubilee;” the racy, laugh-out-loud humor of the comedy shops; and a few Cirque du Soleil-worthy production pieces. Heck, she’s even got a giant screen showing background visuals and film clips just like the one in Celine Dion’s show.
The “Kiss My Brass” tour is Midler’s first in three years — the first, she says, with a proper horn section (hence the title). This allows her to do interpretations of a couple of tunes from her new Rosemary Clooney tribute album, but also lets her haul out a few chestnuts from the Midler repertoire that haven’t been performed in ages.
The whole thing is wrapped up in a Coney Island theme, complete with soaring, candy-color, onion-domed towers on either side of the boardwalk-inspired stage. Fitting with the theme, Midler makes her entrance flying in on a carousel horse (Hey, isn’t that in “O”?), looking fit and fabulous at 58 and ready for business in a 1940s-style sailor suit.
The big band sound is put to good use early with the new swing number “Kiss My Brass,” where Midler boldly proclaims, “I’m not retiring and you can’t make me.” She follows up quickly with “Stuff Like That There,” from the “For the Boys” soundtrack, sounding as effervescent as she did in her performance in the movie that earned her an Academy Award nomination a decade ago.
In the first half of this nearly three-hour show, she blasts through greatest hits (“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Big Noise From Winnetka”), classics from the Clooney album (“Come On-A My House,” “Tenderly”), and rarely heard Midler favorites (“Perfect Kiss,” “Skylark”).
But a big part of the appeal is her no-holds-barred comedy and commentary, plenty of which is on display from the get go. There are no sacred cows in Bette Midler’s world, as she zings everyone from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera to President George W. Bush.
The biggest target of her hilarious ranting, however, is herself and especially her failed sitcom. There’s also a big section with Midler’s signature Sophie Tucker jokes, bawdy Catskills gags that would make sailors blush. For the sake of propriety, I can’t repeat any of them here but rest assured that Sophie, her best friend Clementine, and her boyfriend Ernie are all in fine form.
There’s even a shout-out to longtime fans where she lets the audience finish a Sophie classic — it’s a hoot to hear nearly half of the 10,000-plus people in attendance scream “Ain’t you got a vase?” Trust me, a lot of people reading this are laughing right now.
Yet, it’s not all punch lines and rim shots. There are few entertainers who can turn an airplane hangar of an arena into an intimate, up-close experience, but Midler attacks each song with a gusto and commitment rarely seen in the prefab, lip-synched concerts from today’s pop divas, drawing the audience close. Those were real tears she was wiping away at the end of “Perfect Kiss,” and her rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman” was so filled with passion and heartbreak that it brought the audience to its feet twice. Her first act closer — the suicide lament “Shiver Me Timbers” — was devastating as Midler, singing of “sailing away,” literally does so on her carousel horse.
Yes, I said first act. All of that was in the first hour-and-20-minute portion of the show, and following a brief intermission Midler returned for more. I was exhausted and I’m 20 years younger than she is. And I was just sitting there!
The second act opens with a carnival-sideshow version of her Delores de Lago character, a mermaid who dreams of Broadway stardom but is stuck in dinner-theater obscurity, only with wheelchair choreography. It’s all fish-joke versions of stage classics like “All that Jazz,”, “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)” from “Dreamgirls,” and a rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” that proves Midler is the only person in the world they should ever consider to play Ethel Merman if they do a movie of her life story.
If there’s one slight misstep in the show it’s the new song “September,” a too-obvious commentary on the 9/11 tragedy. Although I wasn’t wild about the song, in her hands it’s still a tender moment and segues nicely into a reggae version of her hit “From a Distance,” transforming that ballad into an uplifting call for peace that is just as timely now as it was during the first Gulf War.
“Wind Beneath My Wings,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” and “The Rose,” close out the show on an emotional note, and her encore, “White Christmas,” (featured on the new Clooney album) was an intimate bit of holiday cheer.
Wild and over-the-top, hilarious and inventive, touching and exhilarating, Bette Midler proves once again that no one does a stage show better. Managers have been wondering what to do with the Colosseum at Caesars Palace when Celine Dion ends her run in 2006. I say they should haul out their checkbooks and start waving them at the Midler. The Strip would never be the same.
“Kiss My Brass” tour is currently scheduled in more than two-dozen cities nationwide and will be at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Feb. 14, 2004. Tickets are available through ticketmaster.com.