BetteBack: Under The Boardwalk

December 21, 1988
The Pop Life
The New York Times
By Stephen Holden
Bette Midler Again

In the strongest musical moments of the new Bette Midler movie, ”Beaches,” one is reminded of just how powerful a pop singer Ms. Midler can be when handed the right song and an arrangement that doesn’t constrict her brash, larger-than-life personality.

The movie follows the rise, career slide and resurgence of an entertainer whose story very roughly parallels Ms. Midler’s. As in ”A Star Is Born,” some of the songs are production numbers for her character, C. C. Bloom, a raucous red-headed singer from the Bronx who rises to pop stardom via Broadway. But the most effective numbers are dramatic ballads – ”The Glory of Love,” ”The Wind Beneath My Wings” and ”I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” -that underscore the turning points in a tempestuous 25-year friendship.

”When we started gathering material last January, the movie was supposed to open with the kind of big, funny boogie-woogie number associated with Bette when she first became a star, but she decided it would be a mistake to suggest that the story was overtly autobiographical,” said Marc Shaiman, the film’s musical supervisor and Ms. Midler’s longtime musical director. ”Then she decided she wanted to open with ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,’ but we ended up choosing ‘Under the Boardwalk,’ since that’s where the two characters meet.”

The musical decisions were made by a committee of more than half a dozen, including Ms. Midler and the other producers; Mr. Shaiman; Garry Marshall, the film’s director, and Arif Mardin, the record producer. The Cole Porter show tune, ”I’ve Still Got My Health,” which C. C. Bloom sings in a nightclub in the early 70’s, was discovered on an obscure Ann Sothern recording. The Broadway musical ”Sugar Babies” served as the stylistic model for the bawdy production number that makes C. C. a Broadway star.

”The Glory of Love,” which the character sings twice in the movie -first as a child auditioning in Atlantic City and at end as a grown-up in the Hollywood Bowl with a 52-piece orchestra – replaced the original notion of ”I’ll Be Seeing You,” since the latter didn’t lend itself as readily to a child’s interpretation. ”The Glory of Love,” which serves as the movie’s dramatic finale, was the contribution of executive producer Teri Schwartz, who realized its potential as a soaring dramatic ballad after hearing a slow version on a recording by Alberta Hunter.

Ms. Midler’s openhearted vocals and the relaxed flexibility of the arrangements help to make the Atlantic Records soundtrack album for ”Beaches” the singer’s most engaging pop album in years.

”I think the soundtrack contains Bette’s best singing,” Mr. Shaiman said. ”After her third album, ‘Songs From the New Depression,’ was panned by most critics, Bette started listening to herself too closely and became so microscopic in her vocal self-analysis that she became stifled. Being a producer as well as a star of ‘Beaches,’ there wasn’t time for her to do that. She had to go in and sing the songs.”

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