Mister D: I’d like to thank director and writer, Mr. Hawkins, for sending in this unedited version of a review of Bette’s Sydney show. It’s long and detailed…just like we all love it. He writes for several publications so this is a real treat. If any of you Ozzie’s wanna be surprised if you’re going to the show, then read no further.
Ain’t No Gamble….It’s A Sure Bette!
By David Hawkins
Bette Midler – Kiss My Brass
13 April 2005
“Tradition” was the first song Bette Midler sang on Broadway in 1966 in the ensemble of “Fiddler On The Roof” and last night thirty nine years later she once again gave us a huge serve of tradition. The kind of tradition that one could think has been forgotten in our crazy fast paced modern world, I am talking of the good old fashioned tradition called SHOWBIZ. To see a woman in her 60th year rip up a packed arena of over 20,000 people using every trick in the trade is really an experience no living human should miss.
One is struck immediately by the hugely theatrical set built originally for New York’s gigantic Radio City Music Hall proscenium arched stage; the design is riddled with the Midler style. Themed around Coney Island at the turn of the century, from this Midler pulled the structure for what was to be the amusement ride of our lives. As she told us “some rides are scary, some are fun, and some are both” she did not disappoint us in our travels one bit.
Every fan was screaming as soon as we heard the opening tribal beats from her past live hit “Big Noise From Winnetka” which developed into “Kiss My Brass” using genius parody lyrics by Eric Kornfeld. Midler made her entrance in a sailor suit on a larger than life carousel horse, like ten thousand stampeding horses she proceeded to dazzle us with her electric energy and that trade mark strut.
There could be no mistake the DIVINE was in the house, her opening was so well crafted it landed like a Boeing 747 on a perfect day. “How ya doin Australia!” she announced to us with force, we were all still breathless after her jet speed opening.
Before we knew it we were at the mercy of the Divine Miss M, “Last time I was here the audience was on drugs, now their all on medication”. Whilst strutting she informs us “When I arrived at the airport they asked me if I had a criminal record, I replied: I didn’t know it was still a prerequisite”. She greeted the front row calling them “My own personal Double Bay”, and then under her breath “Or should I say Double Pay”, waving to the top balcony she shouts out “Hello Blacktown, show us your mullets.”
The Divine introduces the staggering Harlettes (her infamous female backup trio) telling us “they love their accommodation at the local Refugee Camp”, and continues “I have to keep getting new girls, they just seem to get old unlike me……I’m not retiring and you can’t make me, I’m just like John Howard”.
Introductions done, exposition completed we start our journey with “Stuff Like That There” with Bette in full swing doing all the choreography with the girls. Our divine leader then pulls back the reigns and sings a stirring ballad from very early in her recording career “Skylark”.
She starts to tell us of the seventies “Oh the seventies (lying on the floor), ahhhhh the seventies,… George Bush once came to my show in the seventies you know… yeah,….. I think his cocaine dealer bought him the tickets” the audience lost it. Then the big payoff “I shouldn’t be so mean to poor George Bush, you know he is about to have a MAJOR operation…..He is having John Howard removed from up his ass”
No time to linger suddenly we are in a time warp with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” her first hit, now the energy in the Superdome went right up as fans bathed in a chance to jive along in the flesh with Midler. Images of her doing the number at various times in her career were flashed on the massive screens, choreography the same through the years only the look obviously changed.
Time for a costume change, and a bit of a filmed comic sketch about her failed television series: “Bette”. To expose her awareness of the situation she chose a parody of “Judge Judy”. In this Judge Judy puts Midler on trial against the CBS eye; it is amusing and a great set up for Midler to reappear as the devil. Joining her Harlettes for a medley of “I’m Sorry”, “No Body Does It Like You” and her big hit “Friends”. The first two songs were done with Kornfeld’s parody pen, with the basic out come that she has two major markets the Jews and the Queens and they were wrapped up as friends.
Devil ears removed she tells us how she was shocked when Barry Manilow called her “He is such a good sport” as she had abused him the last time they spoke many years ago. He asked her to record an album of Rosemary Clooney songs with him; this is her latest offering to her vast recording catalogue. She did “Hey There” with a full brass section a sound that was to die for, then pulling it back even further for a touching rendition of “Tenderly”.
Look out it is bouquets and wedding veils on the Harlettes, this means one thing and that is “Chapel Of Love”, the divine joined the girls but in a huge swan that she rode around the stage strategically. Jumps out of the swan and into the song, so once again the audience could bath in the past for a moment. Then a series of recently failed celebrity married couples appear on the screen, and finally Liza Minnelli and David Gest appear, and she says “I saved the best till last” with that David Gest ends up with a black eye.
The genius of Midler you soon realise is her amazing gift to have you laughing your head off like a lunatic and then two seconds later you’re crying your eyes out. She stood in the light of a single spot and delivered like a true diva the stirring ballad from Beaches “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today”. Now we start to get intimate with her as she pulls us right into her heart and soul, she turned that Superdome into a small cabaret venue and had us all in her palm. A massive switch of gear again and we are reminded of the blues/rock voice Midler has with “When A Man Loves A Woman” she really let go on this and the audience responded accordingly.
The Harlettes then took us for a moment as their leader was preparing for her next entrance, they sang “Walk Right In” whilst wearing their turn of the century bathing suits and setting up the stage for an entrance we had all been waiting for. Suddenly from the door stage right “I will never forget it you know……” Soph has finally appeared. Soph is a character that has been in her shows since the beginning and is based on the late great American vaudeville star Sophie Tucker. Soph has always been the vehicle for her blue jokes, cleverly written by Midler with her writer Eric Kornfeld and formerly Bruce Vilanch. She must have done well over ten jokes and Soph has gotten older in appearance she looked like a tarot reading gypsy lady within the Coney Island theme.
Act two opens in ‘Side Show Alley’ with the freaks, of course Delores De Lago the toast of Chicago is one of the major attractions. Delores is a mermaid and therefore gets around the stage in an electric wheel chair. The art of wheel chair choreography is something Midler has down to a fine art now, Delores like Soph has been in her shows since the early seventies. Delores is almost a tribute to the art of the lounge act, your ultimate Vegas cheap songstress, except this one is a mermaid. Over the years she has been on a constant search for fame and fortune, and has a vicious ego that she inflicts amusingly on her backup girls who are also wheel chair using mermaids.
Delores has a new quest and that is to break out of the Side Show and get on Broadway and so our mad journey begins “Delores De Lago Fish Tails Over Broadway”. She starts with Gypsy’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and then it is all out on the show tunes. I sat there thinking this is amazing here we are at an arena FULL of a very mixed demographic and we are all listening to classic show tunes.
We visit “West Side Story”, “Phantom Of The Opera”, “Cabaret”, “Carousel”, “Annie” and “Dreamgirls”, during the turning point in the comic plot she finds herself at a broken down dressing room table to get herself ready for Broadway. She lights a cigarette, has a bitch about her tragic existence before she finds divine inspiration to make that big Broadway debut. Then a fish appears stage left and does the opening trumpet solo from “Chicago”, we are then hit with a final round of genius parody material by Kornfeld with “All That Jazz” becoming “All That Crab” with other hysterical seaside punches that had us in stitches. Dolores’ golden oldies came thick and fast with an amazing spoof on the “Hello Dolly” set, “One” the big tune from “A Chorus Line” became “One Swimmable Sensation”, plus shows “George M” and even “Oklahoma” get a look in.
This really left every audience member awe struck, and it was nice to see some people surprised and shocked like “What is she doing in a wheel chair” and then they would just break up. The time and effort that would have gone into choreographing that piece of stage craft is immense the sheer precision of their movements and timing whilst all the time singing is mind blowing and that discipline is something that is really lacking these days in entertainment. Not to mention the breath taking musical arrangements, that are a total credit to her musicality and professionalism.
After a brief movie feature called “BMTV (Bette Midler Television – All Bette, All the time!)” that showcased her screen and television appearances topped off with an animated boxing match between one of her oldest topics Cher. Midler used to say in her concerts in the seventies “I donated my tits to Cher……And she was so glad to get em, I can’t even begin to tell you” well once again it is Cher’s body that gets the punch. The Bette character is unable to destroy Cher’s face with anything, trying a shovel, jack hammer and blow torch. Then it is decided that after a nuclear war only Cher and Cockroaches will remain on earth.
Midler then comes back out for her final stretch, she talks about the state of the world and how you would think by now we may have found another way other than wars to solve conflict. Touchingly “From A Distance” is delivered with supreme beauty and heavenly vocal ease. We have one more laugh as she tells us “If any of you have a doob left from the last time I was here now is the time to light it up and enjoy the special effects” then delivering with her Harlettes “Do You Want To Dance”.
“Wind Beneath My Wings” was the sign that we were definitely coming to the end of our ride, the artistry of this woman is immense with her continually pulling you into her whilst she is sending out the most wonderful energy. Emotions started to flow and fans took flowers to the stage, she gracefully took them saying “How Sweet” then my favourite true Midler moment a girl took a program and a pen up to her and amazingly she signed it. This of course prompted another girl to get up with a program with that she said “Get a grip girls” and moved on, it was beautiful. She then sat on the stage in true Judy Garland fashion and said she had one more song to do.
We all knew it was “The Rose”, the piano had been moved downstage and the mood set for an intimate connection with her audience. She then asked us to sing it and we did for two verses until she joined in and we all sang together like a lost religion found again.
Audience on feet screaming heart felt cheers for a legend that has stayed away from our shores for far to long and she admitted it. She then had some beautiful words about Sydney and Australia and said “Don’t tell anyone; otherwise they will all come here”. Telling us of our great contribution to the music industry worldwide and what a talented nation we are, she set up for a classic song by her friend Peter Allen, “Tenterfield Saddler” which she sang with emotion and great lyrical skill, finishing sitting with her backing singers around the piano as the curtain closed.
She is a major legend and superstar, and one of the few that has kept the art of music theatre and cabaret alive in the main stream for many years. I believe because she has used very strong theatrical traditions to find her voice, she is a true original. Her style is a stirring mix of European Kabarett traditions: with her topical often political social commentary, Broadway: with her stunning musical arrangements design and staging, Vaudeville: with her themes and sketches, and Burlesque: with her raunchy stand up and bawdy language.
Put all those elements together and you end up with a hip, and now artist who has conviction to stay in the moment constantly. Many current artists could take a few lessons by seeing this master class in how to fill a stadium with energy and pure talent. This is not achieved by high tech gadgets although Midler uses plenty as her wild imagination obviously can go crazy now on the budget, but never are these the selling points of the show they are merely the dressing. Under all that theatrical magic you will find a physically tiny lady who has a massive heart for the human race, and she is telling us how she sees it through music, dance, words, laughter, love and hope.
There really is not much more to say except go and see BETTE MIDLER, she is playing two more shows in Sydney, three in Melbourne and one in Adelaide.
Go to www.showtune.com.au for a special online booking offer.