KMB Interview: Gittin’ To Grand Rapids!


Bette Midler brings brassy tour presence to Van Andel Arena Thursday
Sunday, March 07, 2004
By Sue Merrell
The Grand Rapids Press

Nearing the end of her three-month, 40-city, “Kiss My Brass” tour, Bette Midler sounds tired but still enthusiastic.

Photo: John J.

“I get a great deal of pleasure from this,” the 58-year-old Divine Miss M said in a brief phone interview from South Carolina. “It’s a real lively show with lots of laughs.”

Still, there’s more tarnish than bold brassiness in her voice.

“It’s very hard to do. My schedule’s not as hard as some, but it’s still hard. I’m not getting any fresh air.”

Since Dec. 10, Midler has been packing arenas from Seattle to Tampa with her biggest, heaviest show ever, including a massive Coney Island set, a 13-piece band with a five-horn brass section, and huge plasma screens for showing humorous video footage.

“There’s something for everyone,” Midler said. “My audience always gets a full meal. There’s a starter, an entree, a dessert. It’s very satisfying. They don’t feel like anything has been left out.”

In fact, reviewers repeatedly comment on Midler’s ability to make 10,000 people feel up close and personal. Her secret?

“I talk to them. I tell jokes; I tell local jokes. I talk about what’s going on in the world. A lot of performers never speak. In the old days, performers

always talked to the audience and they were careful about their introductions. You built your act on your personality. Some of today’s rock performers don’t have a personality, or if they do, they don’t show it.”

Midler exhibits multiple personas in her two-hour show. A self-proclaimed “broad,” she portrays a brash Sophie Tucker in one segment, then flops around the stage as her singing mermaid character, Delores Delago, in another.

Backed by a trio of new Harlettes, she sings tunes ranging from the sassy swing of her 1973 No. 1 hit, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” to tender ballads such as “The Rose” and “Skylark.”

“I feel like I’m singing to each person,” the Divine Miss M said. “That’s the way I’ve always done it.”

Midler wanted to accomplish so much in the tour — including a segment on her short-lived 2000 television sitcom, “Bette” — that there’s only time for a brief tribute to Rosemary Clooney from her most recent album, “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.”

“I include as much as I can (from the songbook), a song or two, if I’m not too exhausted,” Midler said. “This didn’t start out as a promotional tour. The record is still selling; it’s going very well.”

The nostalgic Rosemary Clooney Songbook, produced with Barry Manilow, her collaborator from the early ’70s, is Midler’s 19th album in 30 years. Over that span, she has received four Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year in 1990 for “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

“Someday I’d like to put together a small group of musicians and do something in beautiful little opera houses and intimate theaters,” she said. “But it’s difficult.”

Beyond her recording career, Midler probably is even better known as a comedienne and actress in such movies as “First Wives Club” (1996) and “Beaches” (1988). She has earned three Emmys and three Golden Globes, as well as a Best Actress Oscar nomination in 1979 for “The Rose” and a special Tony Award in 1974 for adding luster to the Broadway season.

She recently completed filming a remake of 1975’s “The Stepford Wives,” with Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close, Faith Hill, Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken. The film is in post-production.

Also known for her community activism, Midler in 1995 founded the New York Restoration Project, which has raised $18.5 million for parks in the city, organized volunteers to remove 75,000 tons of garbage, cleaned up the Harlem River waterfront and saved hundreds of community gardens from commercial development.

Midler moved to New York in the 1960s but was born and raised in Hawaii. Her parents moved to Hawaii from New Jersey and stayed on the island paradise, coming to the mainland only a few times to visit her, Midler said.

“It’s a wonderful, magical place,” she said. “I’m always so happy to go back there. It’s expensive, and there isn’t much to do there. But I have property there, and I want to go back someday.”

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