KMB II Interview: Las Vegas

Bette On It
By Spencer Patterson

Apparently, Bette Midler considers holiday weekends in Las Vegas to be divine.

The vocalist/actress spent Valentine’s Day on the Strip, playing to a sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

At 8 p.m. Friday she brings her “Kiss My Brass” tour back to the same venue for a Thanksgiving weekend show.

The 58-year-old Midler began her career as a nightclub performer, appearing in and around New York City during the 1960s. Her stature as both a singer and an actress continued to grow throughout the ’70s — when she starred in critical and box office success “The Rose” — and the ’80s, when she scored a No. 1 hit with “Wind Beneath My Wings” from the movie “Beaches.”

A three-time Grammy Award winner, Midler continues to release music, most recently last year’s “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.”

The two-time Academy Award nominee also maintains her Hollywood profile, appearing in this year’s “The Stepford Wives,” among other projects.

On Monday, Midler took time from her busy schedule for a phone interview with the Las Vegas Sun from a hotel room in Dallas.

Las Vegas Sun: With the timing of your show here, will you have time for a Thanksgiving dinner?

Bette Midler: Oh yeah. I’m flying in right after dinner (Thursday night).

Sun: Do you guys have any long-standing holiday traditions?

BM: My daughter’s birthday is on Nov. 14, then it’s my birthday (Dec. 1), then it’s our anniversary, then it’s Christmas, then it’s New Year’s and then it’s my husband’s birthday. So through the end of January, it’s nonstop party, party, party for us.

Sun: You seem to enjoy playing Las Vegas. Could you see yourself doing a long-term show here like Celine Dion or Elton John?

BM: It would probably be a lot of fun. I saw Gladys (Knight) the last time I was there. She’s been there a long time and she just loves it.

It’s probably nice not to have to think about where you’re going, but always to have something steady that you look forward to. And it’s a fun town. It would probably be grand.

Sun: Have you ever been approached about that type of Vegas opportunity?

BM: As a matter of fact I think I was, but I think they couldn’t make the deal or something like that. I think I was asked. I remember vaguely that there was something tossed around, but nothing ever came of it.

Sun: Has your live show changed much since you were here in February?

BM: It’s the same show. It’s still beautiful. I still have beautiful girls, gorgeous clothes, a great band. I still have my horns. But we’ve tightened it up a bit. And we try to stay current with what’s going on, so some of the gags are a little bit different.

But it’s the same show. I worked very hard putting it together, and typically I work these shows until they fall down dead (laughs).

I really enjoy doing this show. It looks really really hard, but it’s not that hard. I mean, at my age it is hard, and I think people are kind of stunned that I do close to two hours and I huff and puff through the show and I sing every note, every single note.

And I guess I have awhile to go with it. I’ve been invited to go to Europe and I’ve been invited to go to Australia, and I think it might be fun. I hope I have the strength.

Sun: How long has it been since you performed in Europe and Australia?

BM: Actually, I have not been to Europe or to Australia in over 20 years.

I went in the early ’80s and I never came back because I stopped touring. I started doing pictures. And when I came back to touring in the ’90s I toured extensively with one show and then I started making pictures again. So I didn’t get back to it.

It’s a shame because it’s a different kind of career, a musical career, a live performing career. And I think it would have gone a different way if I had stuck with that.

But I wanted to act, and I think a lot of the stuff was really terrific, some of it was not so great, but I think that’s how it is nowadays. And I’ve had a great time.

Sun: You ranked fourth among all touring acts in gross sales at the year’s halfway point. Why do you suppose you continue to pack arenas at a time when so many tours are struggling just to break even?

BM: I think too many acts get jammed up at the same time. I think they all go out when the weather is nice and they all think that they’re gonna make a buck.

But these are tough times, and people don’t have that much discretionary money to spend. They can’t buy a ticket to every single act that’s out there, even though they’d love to. So they save their dollar for who they really have a fondness for and who they really think is gonna lift their spirits.

And they’re very fond of me. I think they’re fond of me in a family way. It’s like coming to see your auntie … a woman who’s not really your auntie but who acts as your auntie, someone who you really like and who’s a really, really dear friend of the family and who comes back all the time and is very chatty and that kind of thing.

So I think they’re fond of me in that way, because I’ve been around a long time. And they kind of know that when they come to see me that they’re really gonna get their money’s worth. I really do believe that. Because I always put on a huge show, and I feel it’s highly, highly entertaining.

Because I take the word — entertainment — very seriously. It’s not just a concert. If you come and see me you’re gonna laugh, you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna be transported.

It’s not just dancing. And it’s not just a catalog show, a show where I sit on a stool and strum the guitar and sing my hits. If I had that many hits I’m sure that’s what I would do. But I don’t, so I do what it is that I do, and I try and make it really entertaining.

Sun: Your show has featured some running jokes about President Bush. What are your thoughts about his recent re-election?

BM: I’m heartbroken, I have to say. We were in Philadelphia on Election Day … and the next night I had to work in front of all those Philadelphians, and they were so heartbroken. It was very sad.

People are coming out of the haze now and trying to think of what they can do, because there has to be an opposition and it has to be unified. I don’t think they can let the ball drop. Because there’s a war going on and you can’t just lay down your ideals and go to sleep for the next four years.

I just feel like people don’t mix anymore. People are so segregated from each other in the worst possible way, like they’re behind these gates.

And it’s so interesting that the people who think they’re so moral are the people who listen to Fox, who are the biggest purveyors of pornography in the country and the biggest purveyors of tabloid journalism in the country.

The people who voted for Bush, it’s like they don’t realize that they’ve taken all their jobs away. It’s so strange. They voted for the people who’ve taken their jobs. And it’s almost like they don’t care. They’re gonna stick by their guns no matter what. I find it shocking.

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