KMB Interview: Bette Boogies To Boston- Thanks Manilow Elf!

Boston Globe
By Steve Morse, Boston Globe
Globe Staff, 1/18/2004

You won’t hear premature “farewell tour” talk from Bette Midler. She’ll leave that to Cher, Kiss, the Eagles, the Who, and all the others who have overworked the phrase in recent years.

“People kind of expect talk of farewells,” she says. “But I’m not there yet. I’ll face it when it’s time. And I’ll know when it’s time.”

At present, Midler is loving her new “Kiss My Brass” tour — her first in four years and her first with a horn section, hence the tongue-in-cheek title. She’ll bring it to Boston Tuesday at the FleetCenter, where she also hopes to shed some light — literally — on the crowd with a stage set adopted from the turn-of-the-century Luna Park.

“Luna Park was a mainstay of Coney Island when they first started with light bulbs,” she says. “I had been looking at a picture of a girl on a carousel for a year on my wall, and I didn’t know why. But it all fell into place when I realized what Luna Park was about.”

Luna Park was about good times, and that’s always the essence of any tour by the Divine Miss M. — now a married woman with a 16-year-old daughter.

“I read a book on Luna Park that said people would go there and throw off their everyday cares,” she continues. “There was a determination to have fun. So that’s what I based this tour on — and it’s a good thing for what we’re living through now. It’s a dark season in our lives, and I just feel it’s time for a good whoopee cushion.”

This particular whoopee cushion is a blockbuster event. “It’s the biggest show that has ever toured, weight-wise,” says tour producer Larry Magid of Clear Channel Entertainment. The staging weighs 112,000 pounds and contains moving parts including a carousel, as well as several video screens. The Boston show has been essentially sold out for three weeks (only scattered single seats remain), but Magid says the tour will swing back to play an added FleetCenter date in March (tentatively March 15).

These are up times for Midler, who has rebounded from the cancellation of her sitcom, “Bette,” on CBS three years ago to tour again, make another movie (she’s finishing a remake of “The Stepford Wives” with Nicole Kidman and Glenn Close), and rejoin her former musical partner, Barry Manilow, to record a well-received album, “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.” It boasts loving performances of such Clooney hits as “Hey There” and “This Ole House.”

The CD is up for a Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album, but in a strange twist of fate, it’s up against an actual Clooney album, “The Last Concert.” (Other category nominees are Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart, Tony Bennett, and k.d. lang.)

Midler breaks from her chirpily upbeat tone to express frustration at competing with Clooney for a Grammy. “I’m mortified. I’d really like Rosemary to win that Grammy. I can’t believe I’m up against her,” she says. “I’m going to look into withdrawing. I just think it’s bad form if I won. You know, she never won a Grammy. Tony Bennett always beat her. And you’d think Tony Bennett would have the grace to say, `That’s enough for me.’ ”

A call to Grammy headquarters in Los Angeles revealed that it’s “probably unprecedented” to have a tribute album and an album by the actual artist in the same category, according to Grammy historian Craig Bechtloff.

“We’re checking on it, but we’ve never heard of it happening before,” he says. “Bette has not asked us to withdraw her name, but she has not confirmed that she’s coming to the awards, either. Maybe she doesn’t want to go up and pick up [the trophy] if she wins,” he says of the Feb. 8 ceremonies. It’s probably a moot point anyway, since Bennett is in that same category, and he has the weight of history behind him. It would be the eighth time that Clooney has been nominated but hasn’t won, if history proves relevant.

But Midler isn’t going to pieces over it. She’s too busy tearing things up on tour, where she is updating some of her vaudevillian stage characters, such as Soph the Spinster and the wheelchair-bound mermaid Delores de Lago. “Delores has been through every conundrum and had every wrinkle thrown at her, so I’m not really sure where we’re going to take her. Delores goes to the moon, maybe? I don’t really know.”

Midler had threatened to retire some of these characters, but “my crew told me that people expect to see these characters again. I don’t know where they get their information from. Maybe they’re all online talking with each other. Who knows, because I’m not [online]. But the information I get is that they expect these characters from me.”

In true show business fashion, she says, “If they want them, they’ll get them.”

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