KMB Review: Seattle Times

Bette Midler: saucy, sassy, simply delish
By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

As Max Bialystock says in “The Producers”: “When you got it, flaunt it!”

The Divine Miss M (a.k.a. Bette Midler) is flaunting it all over the country in her first live tour in several years, and ain’t it grand?

Midler roared into KeyArena Tuesday night, to the fanfare of a snazzy brass quintet, with one of the biggest and best shows she’s ever brought here — and bubbie, that’s saying a lot.

Svelte and sassy, frisky and frizzled, the ageless Midler reminded the packed arena she’s still one of the best full-service entertainers in the biz — and that Cher, Britney, Christina and Janet could just “Kiss My Brass.”

(That’s the gleeful title, and title song, of her current stage extravaganza.)

Mincing about in spike heels, slyly dissing those other superstar divas, along with certain Republican politicians, former University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel (dubbed “the Pete Rose of college sports,” because of his gambling problems) and (natch) herself, Midler was in fighting trim “after spending a couple years quietly, piously suffering through my menopause.”

Menopause be damned. Midler danced up a frenzy alongside her saucy backup crew, the Harlettes. She sang tunes from every phase of her eclectic career with gusto. And she cultivated that mutual love affair with fans that began back in the early 1970s, when Midler worked gay nightclubs as Bathhouse Bette.

You can take the girl out of the bathhouse, but not the bathhouse out of the girl — and who’d ever want to?

On a bedazzled Coney Island set (“no, it’s not the Kremlin”), Midler camped it up in snappy novelty numbers with a nautical motif.

She goofed on her failed TV sitcom with a stupid but fun video segment of “Judge Judy.” And she claimed to be hurt that nobody’s thanking her for inspiring a wave of trashy bad taste — not even Janet Jackson, whom Midler noted may have caught flak for baring a breast in the Superbowl half-time show but “can still get a job at Hooters.”

Midler, by the way, is really more bawdy than trashy — a subtle but important distinction. And what’s always been unique about her is that beneath all the sham mocking and irony, she’s a good citizen (urging everyone to vote), and a cream puff who loves to pour out her heart in big, mushy ballads.

The lady can put over a corny we-are-the-world tune like “From a Distance” with heartfelt sincerity. A little more suspect was her homage to Fred Rogers, of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” — but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt.

A tribute to Rosemary Clooney, based on a new Midler disc and bolstered by her classy stage band, was a new element that yielded a fine, uptempo rendition of “Hey There.”

And wailing through “When a Man Loves a Woman,” a leather-clad Bette got down and gritty to channel the spirit of Janis Joplin.

For many Miss M acolytes, though, the high point of the two-hour-plus show had to be the latest adventures of mermaid and diva wannabe Doris Delago. In and out of her wheelchair, Doris and her back-up amphibians worked their glittery tails off, with a rise-to-fame revue of Broadway showstoppers — refashioned for a Mermanesque mermaid.

Would you believe “Everything’s Comin’ Up Fish Tails”? How about, a la “Chicago,” the bouncy “All That Shad”? Or a version of “Hello, Dolly!” with Doris skipping the stairs and gliding down in a chair elevator with a wink and a, “Try this, Cher!”

Cher, don’t bother. The Divine One has it covered.

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