Midler mixes camp, ballads
Democrat and Chronicle columnist
(October 6, 2004) — Vaudeville isn’t dead. It glided gently to the Blue Cross Arena stage Tuesday night astride a carousel horse, then pranced the stage relentlessly, like a poodle trained to walk on its hind legs in high-heeled shoes.
It wore mermaid costumes and spun around the stage in a wheelchair, duetted with Mr. Rogers via video, and mixed campy songs with ballads, anti-Bush remarks and bawdy comments.
Although Bette Midler’s “Kiss My Brass!” show was set in turn-of-the-century Coney Island, she arrived well armed with local jibes. “I made it!” Midler exulted in front of 8,500 fans. “The Blue Cross Arena! Who said dreams don’t come true! We wanted to do this at High Falls,” she said of the struggling downtown district, “but we wanted people to come.”
She sings fearlessly on the buoyant “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Yet for all of her hooters and hollerin’, Midler can be startlingly elegant, as on “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” and “Shiver Me Timbers.” She paid tribute to Rosemary Clooney with a brassy jazz arrangement on “Hey There” and “Tenderly.”
“I’m Sorry” was recast as an apology for her TV show Bette: “I didn’t know TV could be so cruel.”
Playing off her three sidekick Harlettes — which included Nicolette Hart, who was known as Michelle Lipman when she played Blackfriars and Downstairs Cabaret here — “Chapel of Love” saluted failed celebrity relationships, concluding with a familiar-sounding tune called “The Britney Bunch,” which went something like, “Here’s a story, of a girl named Britney. …”
Midler mocked Social Security, Dick Cheney and terror alerts. Introducing the three-decades old “Skylark,” she fondly recalled an era of avocado appliances, a time when she claimed even George W. Bush came to her shows. “His coke dealer got him some tickets.”