BetteBack: ETD – Welcome Back Miss M

Article from:Albany Times Union (Albany, NY) Article date:August 26, 1993
Byline: GREG HAYMES – Staff writer

In less than a month, Bette Midler will land at Radio City Music Hall for a 30-show, six-week run of concerts.

It will mark the longest run for any solo artist in Radio City history, and when tickets went on sale back in May, she set another all-time record for the famed theater, selling more than 50,000 tickets in just one day.

But Radio City isn’t the only venue on Midler’s performance itinerary. For the first time in a decade, the Divine Miss M. is launching a full-blown, major concert tour, which will include a stop at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center at 8:15 p.m. Saturday.

On the Experience the Divine Tour — named after the title of her recent greatest hits album on Atlantic Records — Midler promises to pull out all the stops, unleashing hit songs that stretch back more than two decades to the days when she was awarded a Grammy as the Best New Artist for her 1972 album, “The Divine Miss M.”

Always bold, bawdy and bodacious, Midler will also recreate such inimitable characters as the wheelchair-bound mermaid Delores Del Lago, the toast of Chicago.

She’ll bring along a fresh catalog of her slightly more sedate but no less impassioned songs of recent years like the megawatt, megasellers “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “From a Distance.”

The big question is, why now — after 10 years away — is Midler returning to the glare of the concert stage spotlight?

When her album “Some People’s Lives” was released in 1990, Midler hinted that she was beginning to tire of the Hollywood film grind.

“The longer I do pictures, the more I wish I were on the stage,” she told the New York Times then. “I especially think about it at six in the morning when they’re slapping make-up on my face and pulling my hair.

“In the movies, you can wind up working 19 hours a day.

“In the theater, you come in at 7:30, go on at 8 and come home at 11. You can have a life.”

Having a real life may be becoming increasingly important to the 47-year-old Midler since her ’84 marriage to Martin von Haselberg — also known as one-half of the performance art duo the Kipper Kids — and the subsequent birth of her daughter, Sophie, now 6 years old.

Midler’s production partner, Bonnie Bruckheimer, offers another reason why Midler is ready to take to the stage again, explaining, “Bette has been really missing seeing those audiences up close, and she felt like she’s like to really get back and try it again. Plus, she’s got the two biggest hits of her career — ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ and ‘From a Distance’ — that, aside from a few benefit concerts, she’s never really sung live before.

“Every year, Radio City came to us and said, ‘Are you ready to do a show?’ And every year, they made us an offer, but she’s always been too busy doing movies. When they came to us this year, it just seemed like a good idea.”

It probably also sounded like a good idea because Midler’s movie acting career has been on a serious downslide for quite a while.

She’s had some movie success, most notably with her Oscar-nominated title role in 1979’s “The Rose.” But there were missteps after that, and by 1986, her comedy turn in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” was considered a comeback performance. A brief string of hits followed — “Ruthless People,” “Beaches” — but Midler’s box office clout has been less than knockout strength in recent years.

Her 1990 remake of the Barbara Stanwyck flick “Stella” was savaged by critics and filmgoers alike, and her co-starring role opposite Woody Allen in “Scenes From a Mall” that same year didn’t generate much heat or ticket sales, either.

Her 1991 film project, “For the Boys,” was a certifiable bomb at the box office and when she returned to the big screen this summer with the buck-toothed witch in “Hocus Pocus,” the audience as well as the film seemed to do a magical disappearing act.

Let’s just say that perhaps a change of medium might be in the cards for Midler right now. She scored her first show-biz successes as a singer, and it’s probably no mere coincidence that in two of Midler’s best film performances — “The Rose” and “Beaches” — she also played the part of a singer.

Midler will bring her larger-than-life talent to the small screen later this year, playing the quintessential stage mother in the television adaptation of the Broadway musical “Gypsy.”

Originally scheduled to be broadcast on CBS-TV in September, the air date for “Gypsy” has been pushed back to early December, but a soundtrack album is in the works, and Midler will include several selections from the show in her current concert tour.

No stranger to television, Midler made TV history last year in her Emmy-winning performance as the last-ever guest on “The Tonight Show” starring Johnny Carson.

There aren’t more than a handful of people on the planet who could possibly upstage the manic Robin Williams, but Midler proved herself to be one of them with a funny and heart-tugging version of “One For My Baby (and One More for the Road).”

Here’s to you, Bette. Glad to see you back on the road. We missed you.

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