A Sold Out, Fun-Filled Night In Ft Lauderdale

Ms. M demands notice – and she gets it
By Sean Piccoli
Pop Music Writer

February 29, 2004

SUNRISE · People have gotten so used to Bette Midler the movie actress, it is easy to forget her origins as a live entertainer.

But Midler quickly re-establishes her bawdy, singing, high-strung self whenever she goes on tour.

A sold-out performance on Saturday night at the Office Depot Center was no exception.

“I opened the door for trashy singers with bad taste and big [breasts],” Midler said between numbers, asking aloud why younger idols such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and, of course, Janet Jackson never call or write.

Midler laid out her pioneering credentials in an outsized and engaging show full of wisecracks, gaudy props, burlesque bits and pop favorites drawn from several decades.

Whether singing from atop an airborne carousel horse or slinking about in snug catwear, the restless Ms. M demanded attention from the 16,000 people on hand and worked hard enough to guarantee they would.

This audience got jokes about local life that suggested Midler does more than keep up on current events. There were very specific references to Miami (“Gateway to Haiti”) Boca Raton (“Where are my Boca Jewesses?”) and Davie (“Shake your mullets!”) and something unrepeatable about crusading South Florida lawyer Ellis Rubin. Midler clearly has spent time here.

“Good evening Cubans, Jews, gays, retirees,” she said by way of greetings. “Did I leave anybody out?”

No one should have come here expecting to be moved, as such, by the woman who sings The Rose with such a convincing aura of hurt and Wind Beneath My Wings as if it were more than greeting-card copy. The comedic segues and the Coney Island-themed set design of Midler’s “Kiss My Brass” tour put such a cheerful, show-bizzy gloss on the proceedings, even Midler’s most piercing ballads on Saturday were more about melodramatic fireworks than bittersweet expression.

Midler sang Johnny Mercer’s Skylark with whispery ease and Percy Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman with gusto.

But the latter suggested that Midler also opened the door to a generation of big-voiced, power-ballad queens such as Celine Dion. But then, Midler never claimed to be subtle, just entertaining.

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