Another OC Review…Fabulous, of course


Mister D: Thanks to Terri from for sending this to me 🙂

You Can Bette On It
She’s still in top vocal form, and the Divine Miss M’s latest spectacle proves to be her best show yet.
by Ben Wener
Orange County Register, February 24, 2004

Photo: Brian P.

The first thing you notice — you can’t help but notice — is her age. Or, rather, how beautifully and vigorously she defies it.

Bette Midler is nearly three months past 58, a few years shy of Streisand and about half a year ahead of Cher. Yet none of her contemporaries, save for the now-retired Tina Turner, looks so naturally vibrant and performs with as much sassy energy.

Midler may joke about getting on in years: “Two numbers in and I need CPR… What’s gonna happen when I turn 40?” But, then, as a knowing audience was reminded during her smashing show Sunday night at Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, she jokes about everything; her spirit is as much embodied by self-effacing vaudeville-era star Fanny Brice as it is, say, classy jazz vocalist Rosemary Clooney, to whom Midler paid tribute with her latest album.

The truth, however, is that the incomparable Midler remains unfailingly plucky, smiling and hopeful even during what she considers a “national winter of the soul.” Above all, she remains youthful beneath her nest of blond curls, despite her dismay at how far from traditionalism pop music has fallen or how little credit she gets from Britney and Christina for having “opened the door for trashy singers with big (breasts). They owe me!”

Indeed. And now more than ever, they could do with lessons from the Divine Miss M, a true original who keeps cabaret and burlesque and the Great American Songbook alive by making them current, ensuring that their appeal transcends generations.

That said, the second thing you notice about Bette Midler — probably around the time her mermaid character Delores Delago emerges — is that after 30 years her shows really haven’t changed much.

It’s a familiar routine: She opens with her latest theme, shifts to nostalgia, pauses for jokes, then a few teary slow ones and finally some bawdy Sophie Tucker shtick, accompanied by her teasing backing singers, the Harlettes. After the break, we catch up with Delores, then Midler goes into her big hit ballads and showstoppers. Encore with “The Rose” and goodnight.

Only the elaborate staging seems different each time. For this outing, she chose a fantasy amusement-park motif, with a backdrop that was a cross between Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland and Coney Island circa 1900. Thus, Midler entered and exited via a flying carousel pony.

But regardless of any predictability, Midler’s new Kiss My Brass Tour, which stops again tonight at Staples Center, may be her most enjoyable extravaganza, its edgier humor and less-maudlin song selection putting it ahead of her Y2K-themed outing in ’99.

For one, the music wasn’t so Streisand-like. Infused with Clooney’s sense for material, Midler dipped into the past for the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer classic “Skylark” as well as her playful revival of the Andrews Sisters’ staple “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” She further saluted Clooney with a smooth coupling of “Come on-a My House” and “Hey There,” the latter bolstered by a collage of archival pictures of the late singer.

Best of all was how Midler wrapped up the first half of her two-hour performance, with robust (if overly dramatic) versions of three more
gems: Randy Newman’s lonesome “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today”; Percy Sledge’s signature tune, “When a Man Loves a Woman”; and, most movingly, Tom Waits’ “Shiver Me Timbers,” a deathly piece that could turn depressing in the wrong hands. (Expert Midler made it bittersweet.)

Amid this were jokes that fans surely are still retelling. Among her
targets: The O.C. (“where all the birds have two right wings”), gay marriage, Rush Limbaugh and, inevitably, Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl exposure (“Didn’t that thing look like a door knocker? That’s the first time I’ve seen a knocker on a knocker!”).

If only the second half of Midler’s show had been as rousing as the first. As it was, the Delores Delago segment, a sendup of starry-eyed Broadway dreamers, went on too long. The barrage of bad seafood puns stuffed in songs like “All That Jazz” and “Hello, Dolly!” quickly grew tiresome, especially knowing that oft-heard bits like “From a Distance” and “The Wind Beneath My Wings” would follow.

A spirited encore of tunes from “The Rose” only made the Delago portion seem more superfluous. Maybe it’s time Midler sent Delores to her watery grave and mixed things up in her second act.

If that sounds too assured that she’ll keep touring past 60, well, seems to me there’s reason to be optimistic. There undoubtedly will be more live delights from this treasure chest. “I’m not retiring,” Midler proclaimed Sunday night. “And you can’t make me.”

Wouldn’t dare try, Miss M.

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