Finally, We May Get A Live CD!


By MARIO TARRADELL / The Dallas Morning News
Bette’s been busy.

The divine Miss Midler thrives in the midst of yet another comeback. She’s
touring behind her latest album, the Grammy-nominated Bette Midler Sings
the Rosemary Clooney Songbook, her most successful disc since 1990’s Some
People’s Lives. Her 40-city tour, coyly titled “Kiss My Brass,” stops
Thursday at American Airlines Center.

And she returns to the big screen this summer in The Stepford Wives, a
remake of the 1975 TV movie about eerily perfect, blissful housewives in
Stepford, Conn.

But right now, it’s all about the singer, not the actress. The idea for the
Clooney CD came from former musical partner Barry Manilow, who had a dream that he and old pal Bette were making a tribute album to the late
songstress. Mr. Manilow produced the project, plays piano and duets with
Ms. Midler on a hilarious version of “On a Slow Boat to China.”

“I thought it was such a great idea,” the 58-year-old New Jersey native
says from a cellphone while en route to Philadelphia. “I love being in the
studio with him, and she was somebody I love to honor. She was quite a
remarkable soul.”

Songbook has sold more than 500,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan,
and spent time in the Top 20 of Billboard’s albums chart. Her last three
mainstream pop efforts, 1995’s Bette of Roses, 1998’s Bathhouse Betty and
2000’s Bette, weren’t as well-received.

Of course, the diva is tickled by the CD’s performance.

“I guess it means there’s an audience for that kind of music,” she says,
“and they like to hear this kind of music and they like to hear me sing it.”

Things are going so well that there’s talk of another disc with Columbia
Records, which released Songbook as a one-off deal. She may also deliver a
live album of the current tour. .

Meanwhile, she’s riding high. At next month’s Grammyfest, the disc is up for best traditional pop album against such big names as Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Rod Stewart and even Ms. Clooney, whose final live recording, The Last Concert, is also nominated. It’s bittersweet for Ms. Midler, because she’s won four Grammys and Ms. Clooney never won one.

“I was very excited that they nominated the album, but then when I learned
she was also nominated, I thought it was not so great,” she says. “Why
would you want to give an award to a tribute album when you can give it to
the original? As it turns out, it’s a pretty loaded category, and Tony Bennett always wins. I’m not going to worry about it. If I get it, I’ll give it to her family.”

Onstage, Ms. Midler performs a “revolving group” of tunes from the CD.
Depending on the mood of the audience and the flow of the show, she’ll do a
bunch of Clooney standards, or just a couple, or even just one.

The gig features a horn section (hence “Kiss My Brass”) and an elaborate
concept: Set on turn-of-the-century Coney Island, in what she calls a
“magical” era, the show is seasonal and metaphorical. In the cold gloom of
winter, a little bit of summer emerges.

“People would throw their clothes off and just let loose,” she says. “It’s
all about making things seem a little brighter then they have been. It’s
winter, so it’s a great time to put a little sunshine in people’s lives. As
part of the evening, we show short films that were made specifically for
the show. It’s well put together. We hit the ground running. You blink, and
two hours later it’s gone. It’s a lot of fun to do.”

Ms. Midler approaches acting much like she does singing. She established
herself as a singer first, garnering critical and commercial kudos for her
debut, 1972’s The Divine Miss M, but didn’t venture fully into acting until
her explosive star turn in 1979’s The Rose. More than a dozen films later,
she’s one of the leads in The Stepford Wives, which will hit theaters this

“There’s a lot of acting in the singing, and there’s a lot of rhythm and
melody in the acting,” she says. “The process is pretty much the same no
matter what it is. You start with an idea and you build from there. You
have to be focused in every endeavor. You have to be committed to
everything you’re doing. I love doing them both.”

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