KMB II Review: Belated Raleigh Review

Midler puts stars in our eyes
Bette Midler sang her heart out at the RBC Center on her ‘Kiss My Brass’ tour.
News and Observer
By OWEN CORDLE, Correspondent

RALEIGH — Bette Midler’s “Kiss My Brass” show is more resounding brass than tender kiss. The Divine Miss M is simply invincible in this evening of theater. She sings her heart out — a believable heart, a theatrical heart to the core. Her comedy is as smart-mouthed as the wordplay of the show’s title.

Playing to a near-packed house Monday at the RBC Center, Midler headed a cast of three girl backup singers, the Harlettes, and a 12-piece band, including five horns (two trumpets, trombone, tenor and baritone saxophones). The singer-movie star has traveled far since the ’70s, when she melted hearts at Raleigh’s Frog and Nightgown nightclub with mere piano accompaniment (albeit from Barry Manilow).

In the carnival of her tour, the backdrop and props create an amusement park — Coney Island a hundred years ago. Midler enters on a carousel horse suspended from the ceiling. After intermission she and the Harlettes straitjacket themselves into fish tails and ride around in wheelchairs and sing “All That Shad” (nee “All That Jazz”), among other spoofs. These fish gals also dance — quite a feat without feet. In a complete change of mood, Midler sings a duet, “I Like To Be Told,” with a video recording of the late Fred Rogers — a surprisingly poignant interlude.

Midler nails the politicians occasionally in the first half of the show (“I’m heartbroken that Meg Scott Phipps isn’t here”), but she doesn’t rant and carry on too long, thank the Lord. Besides, it’s time politics and show biz went their separate ways onstage. Her bawdy Jewish matriarch bit just before intermission is funnier, although offensive to some, I’m sure.

Along with her hits sprinkled throughout the show, Midler sings from her CD tribute to Rosemary Clooney. She has learned Clooney’s enunciation, especially the held vowel sounds of “o” and “e,” perfectly. Among the Clooney tunes are “Skylark” (she flattens out Hoagy Carmichael’s hill-and-dale melody a bit) and “Tenderly,” with big bandlike horn kicks in the background. There is also the lightly swinging “Hey, There, You With the Stars in Your Eyes” — so ’50s, so definitively Clooney, so effortlessly Midler.

Midler is an unflagging enthusiast and expert at what she does. She still charges into “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with razzle-dazzle and delivers a stirring “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “The Rose.” These approaches are expected, with the latter two performances displaying plenty of theatrical drama. But for sheer soul, Midler scored highest on “When a Man Loves a Woman.” She’s not a vulnerable singer, but she’s a fine actress with lyrics and melodies.

The Harlettes and the band got everything right. So did the sound engineers.

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