Photo: Andy Barron
Review: Bawdy, fabulous Midler had Lawlor crowd on its feet
2/21/2004 01:42 pm
From the time she glided down onto the stage perched on the back of a white carousel horse to the two encore songs she gave as a parting gift to an appreciative Reno crowd, Bette Midler worked her magic.
Hitting the road for the first time in four years, Midler brought her Kiss My Brass tour to town for its 30th performance Friday at the Lawlor Events Center.
And Midler was indeed brassy yet charming, bouncing across the stage in an opening “Kiss My Brass/Big Noise from Winnetka” medley in a Shirley-Temple curls wig that, unfortunately, appeared to be molting. (Note to wardrobe: The Divine Miss M deserves a decent hairpiece.)
The production features a Coney Island set at the turn of the century, and Midler strode across the stage in form-fitting nautical pantsuit, declaring, “I have returned! How are you Reno? I’m fabulous. Don’t I look it?”
And she did. At 58, Midler is in fighting trim, and she wore a series of costumes that showed off a trim waist and great legs.
“I am not retiring,” she told the crowd almost defiantly, “and you can’t make me.”
Tailoring the show to the Biggest Little City, she mentioned the film “Jinxed,” she made in Reno with comedian Rip Torn. And in one of many digs at President Bush, which were not at all popular with some members of the audience, Midler poked fun of the Chief Executive’s pronunciation of Nuh-vah-duh.
“Ah, Reno, Nuh-vaa-duh,” she said. “Did I say it right? I don’t want to be on George’s Bush’s side on anything.”
Much of Midler’s humor is bawdy and can’t be repeated here, but her vaudevillian shtick and wicked one-liners aside, Midler’s talent as a comedian took a backseat to her way with a song with Friday’s crowd.
Kiss My Brass features a band with a brass section of one trombone, two trumpets and two saxophones, which occasionally drowned out the star. But Midler held her own, using her considerable voice that shined best during such ballads as “Skylark” and “Hey There.” She struggled with “When a Man Wants a Woman.” That could be partly due to coming up from her last performance in San Diego. Early in the show, she mentioned Reno’s dry air and high altitude, which has leveled many another performers’ pipes and lungs.
It didn’t stop the indomitable performer from belting out that World War II favorite, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with a verve that would have made Pattie, Maxine and Laverne proud. The crowd loved it even more with a film clip that superimposed the live on-stage Bette with two versions of her younger self on either side singing the same song.
An undisputed diva, Midler proved she can take a joke when she’s the brunt. The show spoofed her ill-fated television show, “Bette,” and in a resurrected rendition of her 1970s Clam on the Half-Shell Review, she appeared again as a mermaid, but this time whipping about in a wheelchair.
Throughout the show, she was accompanied by the Harlettes, her trio of backup singers/dancers.
The wide-ranging show covered a lot of entertainment territory — a duet with Mr. Rogers of the Neighborhood fame, a film clip of Judge Judy and a tribute to Rosemary Clooney.
One purpose of the tour is to promote Midler’s new CD “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.” As Midler sang while photos of the late Clooney were shown on a screen, you couldn’t help but be struck by how truly beautiful Clooney was in her youth. It speaks of a time when singers such as Clooney were proof that women could be glamorous, classy and very sexual while keeping all their clothes on.
And, yes, Midler, too, for all her bawdiness. Stunning and sophisticated in what was supposed to be one of her final numbers, she sang “Wind Beneath My Wings,” bringing the audience to their feet. They remained until she told them to please sit down, and launched into “The Rose,” prompting another standing ovation. So, winded and exhausted, Midler gave one more parting shot — “You Gotta Have Friends.”
It makes one wonder if Britney Spears and her ilk will have the legs, the body, the talent or the class to still do it when they’re staring 60 in the face.