Sketch: Sammy Miro
Bette Midler at The Forum, March 2nd, 2004
Nolan’s Pop Culture Review
Guest editorial: Hugo Morley
The Divine Miss M brought her mammoth “Kiss My Brass” tour to the St.Pete Times Forum this week and found a deservedly, enthusiatic welcome from the Tampa Bay community. A beautiful, elaborate boardwalk themed stage set, skillfully designed by Michael Cotton made the cavernous Forum feel a lot more intimate than usual & Bette Midler made her entrance flying in on a carousel horse announcing “I’m not retiring and you can’t make me”. She then began the first half of what was essentially a two-act greatest hits tour. From the vulgar humour to the wheelchair-bound mermaids nothing seemed to be left out and nobody could have been disappointed.
Midler is no fool & leaves nothing to chance hence she has on hand two writers, Eric Kornfeld & Bruce Villanch who not only shape the show but tailor it to each specific venue. She told us that she was thrilled to be in Tampa where Bubba the Love Sponge has finally been hung out to dry. She was sorry to have missed Gasparilla as she loves wholesome, family-orientated festivals. Welcoming the people in the first few rows Midler said that these were the people who lied, cheated & screwed people they didn’t even like for such good seats – her kind of people – South Tampa. Looking up higher, to the third level Bette welcomed the people from Plant City asking them to shake their mullets. Jeb Bush we were informed is so concerned about the gay marriage situation he has had to take time off from rigging this years Presidential Election & as Florida residents we were begged to not repeat the mistake we made four years ago.
At times it seemed that the songs were only there to break up the stand up routine but they were of course the backbone of the evening. Many treats in the first half included a beautiful rendition of ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’ from her favourite movie ‘Beaches’ which she cleverly segued into a rousing version of “When A Man Loves A Woman”. A tribute to Rosemary Clooney reminded us of the glorious heyday of New York cabaret acts and a time when Rosemary Clooney was so much more than just George Clooney’s aunt. Midler knows exactly what to give her audience and later returned to ‘Beaches’ saying ‘I know what you came to hear’ before singing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’.
My parents met in 1964 at the University Of Honolulu where my mother was Bette Midler’s roomate. Midler was eighteen at the time and told my father (who is English) that she really wanted to be a Beatle and how should she go about achieving that. He explained that they seemed to be a quite happily self contained act & that as far as he knew they were not recruiting new members. He went on to explain that they were all male (which she wasn’t), they were all English from Liverpool (which, again she wasn’t) and that they could all sing (which she couldn’t). Unfased by such harsh critcism Midler announced that she was going to be an actress, they were after all on a drama course. My father was no less critical of her acting abilities telling her that she could not do that either. Showing early signs of the survivor & fighter that she undoubtedly is Midler said “You might be right. I may not become the world’s greatest singer or the world’s greatest actress but what I am going to become is the biggest fucking star that you will have ever met”. She certainly stayed true to her word & unless my father was totally wrong she has greatly improved her singing talents over the years.
I think my father was right about her acting skills as she has been pretty terrible in almost every movie that she has made. With the possible exceptions of Ruthless People and The Rose she has also made several of the worst movies of all time. In the brochure for the concert she even says about Stella – “I really should have read the script.” Her foray into the world of television was even more disastrous but finding success in everything Midler has turned this into a filmed skit for the concert. She faces Judge Judy in the Viewing Public vs Midler to try to defend her sitcom. The sheriff (played by Gary Coleman) plays a video of lowlights from the show before Judge Judy finds for the people and tells Midler to leave the courtroom before anybody starts discussing her movies.
In Bette Midler’s world nothing seems sacred, she describes her own audience as mainly Jews & Queens and who is she to not attack Hollywood relationships? While singing “Going To The Chapel” video monitors show us photographs of less than successful Hollywood pairings and Miss M has a barbed comment for each of them. Pamela Anderson & Tommy Lee: “They looked so happy in the video”. Billy Bob Thornton & Angelina Jolie: “I remember when exchanging vials of blood really meant something.” Liza Minnelli & David Guest: “Liza with an ‘X’, thank god there was no video of them.”
The second act of “Kiss My Brass” consisted mainly of a very elaborate musical pastiche “Fishtails Over Broadway”. This featured Miss M and her three dancers as mermaids in motorised wheelchairs. Bette was Dolores de Lago a mermaid with dreams of Broadway stardom and almost every musical from the fifties to the seventies were lampooned from Oklahoma to Mame by way of Gypsy, Cabaret and A Chorus Line. “Fishtails” ended with Midler on Carol Channing’s Hello Dolly staircase. As her tail prevented her from walking down it a stairlift was utilised.
Midler spoke about seeing Britney Spears performing in little more than pasties and a g-string thinking “That bitch, I opened the door for trashy girls with big tits and do they thank me?”. It is true that Madonna totally ripped off Bette Midler’s act in the mid eighties and never gave her due credit for it. Despite being famous for her trashy look, many of Midler’s outfits were actually quite stylish and sophisticated and she herself looked good and younger than her fifty-eight years. At times she looked like she could have been Sarah Jessica – Parker’s mother.
Like any true showbiz whore worth their salt, Bette Midler saved the best till last. This didn’t involve big scenery or elaborate costumes no dancers or vulgarity. This was just Bette under a tight spotlight singing the heart-wrenching song “The Rose” and to see her perform that live was worth the price of admission by itself.