KMB Interview: Trekking Towards Tampa

Article published Feb 27, 2004
The Divine Miss M returns
Tampa Herald Tribune
By Jay Handelman

TAMPA — If you had any illusions (or delusions) about Bette Midler getting all soft and mushy as she ages, get rid of them.

After all, her new concert tour, which stops at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa at 8 p.m. Tuesday, is called “Kiss My Brass.”

Even though it’s a reference to the large brass section that’s traveling with her, it’s actually a fitting title for the Divine Miss M, who has never been afraid to express an opinion or potentially offend someone in the name of good fun and entertainment.

Or even sanity.

While starring in her own CBS sitcom “Bette” in the 2000-01 season, she went on the network’s “Late Show with David Letterman” and complained about how the workload was killing her.

“I said I felt like a dung beetle pushing a pile of poop up a hill,” she reminded Letterman in an appearance last month. A week or so later, CBS put her out of her misery by canceling the series.

While promoting her tour on Letterman’s show in January, she apologized to those she put out of work on a show that began to warm reviews, but quickly suffered from poor ratings.

But “Bette” is in the past, and Midler is enjoying tremendous success and strong critical reaction to her latest live show, which she has described as “the biggest show I’ve ever done. It’s a lot of work, but it’s my creation. I made it up.”

She sings old hits such as “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “Friends” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The show also features her trademark alter ego, the singing mermaid Delores Del-Lago, and some Sophie Tucker jokes.
Midler waxes political (too much so, according to some complaints on various Web sites) and performs selections from her latest album, the Grammy-nominated “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.”

And it’s all wrapped up in her trademark over-the-top style, on a set reportedly inspired by Coney Island.

With Letterman, she joked that the hardest part of her shows is choosing the costumes.

“I went to Christina’s (Aguilera) last show,” she said. “She was prancing around in pasties and a G-string, and do any of these girls ever call me and say, ‘Thank you?’ Do any of them ever write a note?

“I opened the door for trashy singers with bad taste and big (breasts), and don’t you forget it. I have the patent on that. They owe me big time.”

The album of Clooney songs reunited her with an early collaborator, Barry Manilow, who told her he had a dream about the recording.

Manilow accompanied Midler when she first found an audience in gay bathhouses in New York, and he was the producer of “The Divine Miss M,” the album that first brought her wide attention 31 years ago.

The Clooney album went gold, and Midler, now 58, found herself in the awkward position of competing with the late singer for the Grammy. (They both lost to k.d. lang and Tony Bennett).

“Kiss My Brass” is the first tour to bring Midler back to the Tampa Bay area since 1994, when she presented “Experience the Divine” at what was then the Thunderdome (now Tropicana Field) in St. Petersburg.

The show is getting strong reviews around the country for its brassy, bawdy and colorful nature. The New York Times called it “a delirious, freewheeling celebration of phoniness.”

And the Daily News in New York said the tour “tempers Bette’s eagerly coarse persona with more nostalgia than any show of the star’s 30-year career.”

And while she’s been busy preparing for the tour, she’s also been busy onscreen. Her latest film, a remake of “The Stepford Wives,” is due out later this year, with Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick.

Midler jokes about the bawdier and trashier elements of her performances, but she told the Rocky Mountain News that “An artist is really supposed to move you — even the lowest form of art. I’m not saying my art is the lowest form, but it’s not far from the bottom.

“Even so, we do struggle to have people be moved. And moving people is not just making them cry. It’s making them laugh and having them come out of the auditorium wearing a different face — changing them, transforming them, even if it lasts for just a week.”

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