Before Beaches, before Wind Beneath My Wings and before her mammoth two-year Las Vegas residency, Bette Midler was a saucy, sassy 20-something, singing torch songs and cracking off-colour jokes to appreciative near-nude queers at the iconic Continental Baths in New York.
Fans yearning for a bit of classic â€™70s-era Bette can look no further than Catherine Alcornâ€™s sell-out tribute show, The Divine Miss Bette, written and directed by cabaret veteran Peter Cox. The audiences have to keep their clothes on, but otherwise itâ€™s a faithful recreation of Midlerâ€™s early stage act.
â€œThe show is what you wouldâ€™ve seen if youâ€™d gone to a 1970s concert by Bette â€” the Sophie Tucker jokes, the Harlettes [Midlerâ€™s backing singers], the bawdy humour,â€ Alcorn told the Star Observer.
â€œIâ€™m turning 30 this year, so I donâ€™t want to play the First Wives Club Bette, I want to play her when she was my age.
â€œA lot of my mates had no idea she was so risquÃ©, that sheâ€™d get on stage and do these bawdy routines. Without a show like this, you might never know that Bette was once this sassy foul-mouthed chick who did these awesome rockâ€™nâ€™roll shows in her 20s.â€
A woman of many talents, Alcorn is also an accomplished producer, having masterminded Slideâ€™s recent Flood Light benefit, raising $22,000 for Queenslandâ€™s flood victims in the process.
She also worked as a producer on Oprahâ€™s Ultimate Australian Adventure, and was en route to Uluru for filming when she received word that the January Bette show had sold out. A further two dates have been added and, after Sydney, the show will head to Melbourneâ€™s iconic Butterfly Club in May. Thereâ€™s also been interest from the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
â€œThis was all in my three-year plan, but itâ€™s just exploded in about two months,â€ she laughed.
The Divine Miss Bette also comes with an impressive pedigree â€” Alcorn sought out the man credited with kickstarting Midlerâ€™s career to be her vocal coach.
â€œI was working with a cellist from the Brandenburg Orchestra back in 2009 on some of my original music, and telling him about the Bette show. He said to me, â€˜You know the guy who discovered Bette Midler lives just around the corner from you?â€™ Steve Ostrow, who owned the Continental Baths, discovered her in a cafÃ© and offered her $25 a night to sing for him.â€
Brassy as the real Bette, Alcorn contacted Ostrow and asked for vocal training, mentioning that she was working on a Bette Midler show.
â€œHe said, â€˜Bette, Bette, I remember Bette. She started in my club and now sheâ€™s makinâ€™ 100 million a year. Come over, Iâ€™ll tell ya all about itâ€™. â€
And donâ€™t worry, Beaches fans â€” Alcorn bends the rules to allow a couple of Midlerâ€™s later hits to sneak into the setlist.
â€œI do sing Otto Titsling from Beaches, because it fits in with that bawdy feel â€” itâ€™s all about tits! And of course I do Wind Beneath My Wings. I think Iâ€™d be shot if I didnâ€™t sing that.â€
info: The Divine Miss Bette plays Slide on February 17 and March 31. Visit www.thedivinemissbette.com