Midler Detroit Bound


January 4, 2004

Its official name is “Kiss My Brass,” but just think of Bette Midler’s current concert tour this way: Come on-a Bette’s house.

Strictly speaking, the Palace of Auburn Hills does not belong to Midler, she’s just using it for a little while. However, judging by the reviews she’s already received, Midler is likely to make the place her own on Saturday as she performs a nearly three-hour show of music, comedy and a few special effects. Among the songs will be at least a couple of selections from Midler’s new album, “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” including “Come On-a My House.”

As one familiar with the show put it: “I think it’s a spectacular show and people absolutely get their money’s worth.” Well, what else did you expect Midler to say?

She is speaking by phone from St. Paul, Minn., on what is ostensibly a day off. “I try to be quiet on the days that I’m not working. I don’t have much luck when I have to do phoners,” she says. This is not an unsolicited complaint, but a response to a question about how she cares for her voice on a tour of three dozen cities in the dead of winter. The answer: “I warm up. I warm down when the show is over. . . . I take my steam, I try not to drink alcohol — that swells the cords.

“You have to hang on to your health,” says Midler, who turned 58 on Dec. 1. “You have to hang on to your wind, so you have to run on the treadmill.” It all boils down to this: “When you go on the road, you’re going into retreat for as long as the tour lasts. Otherwise you don’t make it.

“Basically, you live like a monk.”

That doesn’t mean Midler performs like one. “Kiss My Brass” has the raucous and gaudy earmarks that Midler’s shows are famous for. She makes a grand entrance, details of which will not be disclosed here; she peppers her jokes with local references and combines musical and visual elements to great effect.

In this show, for instance, as she sings “Chapel of Love,” videos of now-defunct celebrity couples — Liza Minnelli and David Gest, Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, etc. — are shown on towering screens; Midler makes suitable comments about them.

Midler’s irreverence has always coexisted easily with a profound respect for her show biz predecessors. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is as much a tribute to its original performers, the Andrews Sisters in the 1940s, as it was Midler’s first Top 10 hit (in 1973). “Kiss My Brass” in part is a tribute to the late Rosemary Clooney, the singer whose popularity peaked in the 1950s and whose career revival began in the late 1970s. Clooney died at 74 in 2002 and her reputation has only grown since.

Midler is no newcomer to the legion of Clooney’s admirers. They met in 1983 and became friends. Clooney talked about their friendship 20 years ago, in a 1984 Free Press interview.

“I met Bette about four months ago when she came to see me at the Fairmont in San Francisco. She’s really a wonderful gal. I am having the best time with her. What a birthday party she had at her house! Johnny Carson was there and Barry Manilow played the piano while I sang. Bette got up and did ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ with her Harlettes . . .”

Then, as now, Midler combined making music with acting in movies. In October Midler completed filming a remake of “The Stepford Wives,” to be released later this year. “Ours is going to be much more fun” than the 1975 original, says Midler. “It’s really a creepy comedy,” whereas the original was more a suspense story. “It’s a huge production with a lot of big stars: Nicole Kidman’s in it, Glenn Close, Chris Walken and Matt Broderick. . . . I think it’s just going to be amazing.

“I finished it like a day before I started rehearsals” for the concert tour.

Midler’s last tour was four years ago. “When my guts tell me to go, I go. I wanted to go last year (2002) but I wasn’t strong enough. . . . I was pretty tired last year: 9/11 took a big toll on everybody. We were doing lots and lots of benefits, lots of memorials. It was going on and on for a long time, a very sad time.

“I feel a little bit better now, so here we are.”

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