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BetteBack: Bette Midler relishes her concert tour de force

Bette Midler relishes her concert tour de force

Article from: The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)
Article date:,July 21, 1994
Author: Steve Morse, Globe Staff

Versatility, thy name is Bette. For the divine Bette Midler, the worlds of film, theater, television and the concert stage all beckon simultaneously. Stop for a moment and ask yourself: How many artists can match her credentials of two Emmy awards, four Grammys, a Tony, two Golden Globes and two Oscar nominations?

Midler has options galore, but her favorite option these days is the concert arena.

“I have two pictures left with Disney, and we have a half-dozen other things set up around town, but I like working live better than anything else at this point,” says Midler, who returns to Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts for three shows Monday through Wednesday.

“I mean, I’m having a wonderful time. I love working with musicians. I love paying attention to that end of my life for a while, as opposed to worrying about pictures and thinking, `Oh my God, what is my first weekend going to be like {at the box office}?’ I can’t stand that. It’s no fun. I just want to have some fun for a change,” says Midler, whose films include “Ruthless People,” “Beaches” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”

Last year’s concert tour, which revived the comic Midler characterizations of daffy mermaid Delores Del Lago and Soph the Spinster, was her first in a decade. And she couldn’t resist an encore.

“We had a fabulous time last year,” says Midler, 48. “And when the season rolled around again, we decided to do it again. There were a whole bunch of places we didn’t get to last year, and there were requests to come back to some of the places we did get to, so we strapped on the old harness and here we are again.

“We’ve had fabulous crowds and of course great food, which means everything,” she quips. “I like being out. I like traveling in the summer. We were in Kansas City, where we played in 110-degree heat. And we just missed the rainstorms in Georgia. But we’ve had a great time. I love touring this country. I think I’ve found my niche.”

Midler will admit, though, to a slow start psychologically this summer. “I was caught in the middle of so many things. I had a lot on my mind. For one, we had the earthquake to deal with,” says Midler, a transplanted New Yorker who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Martin von Haselberg, and 7-year-old daughter, Sophie.

“We had a lot of earthquake damage to take care of. There were a lot of things like `What are we going to do, are we going to tear the chimney down?’ There were all those kinds of decisions in the middle of trying to put the show back together. It was a strain, but we’re fine now. We tore the chimney down, by the way.”

Midler didn’t tear her show apart, though.

“No, not a lot has changed, because it’s a good show. I think it’s a really good show. And for people who didn’t see it, I’d like for them to get a chance to see it the way it was meant to be. The players are great and the girls are terrific,” she says of her backup singers, the Harlettes. “And it’s still as funny and lively as it was. I like it and I trust it. It’s solid. It works. And I just don’t feel like messing around with something that really does work.”

Midler will make a new album this fall, but is loath to insert some of that new material into her show this summer. “I’m nervous about putting new songs in, even though I have been working on them,” she says. “I’m never even sure how much people know my old songs! I get a lot of new people because of my films — and I’m never sure how much of the material they know.

“Do you think they would like to hear some new material at Great Woods?” she asks. “Yes, you say? Well, that’s inspiring to me. I think I will sing something new up there.” Asked to elaborate, she says she’s been listening to a lot of acoustic music by the likes of Lucinda Williams, Brenda Burns and other songwriters who “are not in the general mainstream.”

Midler has also been known to surprise audiences by singing regional songs wherever she goes. “It gives me a laugh. I really do make an effort to find a Colorado song or a Carolina song, depending on where we are. The band and I always like to see what happens when you sing the state song of wherever you happen to be. Very funny things can happen, especially in the Midwest. It keeps us on our toes and gives the audience a giggle.”

As for her nonconcert pursuits, Midler is still basking in the high TV ratings of her starring performance in “Gypsy” last winter. “It did wonderful business and there seems to be a real resurgence of that kind of thing for television,” she notes. “I hear Whitney Houston has been asked to do `Cinderella’ for television — and I’ve been asked to do `Mame,’ which I’m turning over in my mind.”

Midler also still plans to make a film in which she’ll play the role of Florence Greenberg, the housewife who discovered the ’60s girl group the Shirelles. It will be co-produced with Eddie Murphy. A script for it is now in its final draft. “It should be fun. I know the music’s at least going to be fun,” she says.

For now, though, the concert trail dominates. Midler is even turning it into a family affair by having her daughter come onstage some nights. “I put her in `Ukelele Lady.’ She sits and plunks her ukulele and sings a song and has a pretty wonderful time. She loves slapping that makeup on. We call it going to `burlesque camp.’ She loves the trappings, the feather boas, the makeup and the hairdos. She loves the costumes and the sets. She’s a great kid and she’s been a great sport.”

She’s also watched her mother become a fitness dervish. When Midler stormed onstage at Great Woods last summer, she told the audience: “Bet you didn’t expect me to look quite this fab!”

And what about this year?

“I still look fabulous!” Midler declares. “I was very heavy when I went into last year’s rehearsals for the show, but I guess the rehearsals were so long and arduous that the weight just dropped off of me. And through a combination of the shows and treadmill workouts and yoga, I kept it off. This isn’t the easiest job in the world, but I’m in pretty good shape.”

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