WITTY, WARM AND WICKED, MIDLER TAKES POND BYSTORM
Daily News (Los Angeles, CA); 2/24/2004
Byline: Fred Shuster Music Critic
BETTE MIDLER brought her over-the-top mix of Broadway and Coney Island to the Anaheim Pond on Sunday in a dazzling concert that brightened a miserably rainy night and offered witty commentary on the state of the world.
Always a top-notch, tireless entertainer, Midler’s lavish two-hour-plus road show features a tight script and new choreography alongside some familiar ingredients. In one of two touching segments, Midler paid tribute to Rosemary Clooney, interpreting “Come On-a My House” and “Hey There” while gorgeous ’50s black-and-white photos of the late standards singer played on a large screen.
Another moment that unexpectedly pushed some emotional buttons saw Midler dueting with a clip of the late Fred Rogers from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The tender performance of Rogers’ “I Like to Be Told” (“I like to be told/If it’s going to hurt”) was an eloquent take on the loss of civility.
More often, Midler displayed the brassy, comically self-deprecating alter-ego that crosses Ethel Merman with the brilliant late drag performer Divine. Costumes were predictably outrageous, taking in everything from sequin-sporting sailor suits to fishtails and umbrella hats. As the 58-year-old Midler trumpeted early in the show: “I opened the door for trashy singers with bad taste and big (breasts)!”
Another bit that drew cackles from the almost-capacity Orange County crowd dealt with Midler’s failed sitcom. Appearing in front of “Judge Judy” on screen, Midler is told to apologize for the show. “Maybe my show wasn’t must-see TV,” she said. “Maybe it wasn’t might-see TV. But there are worse things on TV. I’m too much of a lady to mention them but … Anna Nicole Smith!”
At numerous turns during this highly recommended show (which comes to Staples Center tonight), Midler’s humanistic message came shining through, extending to generous introductions of the Harlettes, her trio of backup singers and dancers, and members of the superb 13-piece orchestra that included well-known Los Angeles percussionist Lenny Castro.
One of the night’s best performances was “September,” a moving ballad that referenced 9-11, and “From a Distance,” which Midler called her “favorite song from the last Bush war.”
For those who’ve seen Midler before, the current “Kiss My Brass” tour retains the popular “Fishtails Over Broadway,” a 20-minute medley of fish-themed show tunes featuring mermaid-costumed dancers whizzing around the stage in motorized wheelchairs. Nobody could ever accuse Midler of good taste.
Midler was lifted off stage on a carousel horse. One hope she continues this marvelous trek for many years to come.