Joe’s View

With Joe Meyers, entertainment writer

When Celine Dion finally vacated the 4,000 seat theater Caesar’s Palace built for her in Las Vegas, the list of entertainers who could take Dion’s place was very small.

The theater and the five-year contract for Dion was one of the biggest deals in show biz history – it allowed the singer to stop touring and make the fans come to her – but management faced a dilemma when the Canadian star ended her run in 2008.

The time of such huge box-office Vegas perennials as Frank and Dean and Elvis is long gone. These days most of the big shows in the gambler’s paradise are star-less spectacles produced by Cirque du Soleil or lavish strip revues (such as Broadway choreographer Jerry Mitchell’s “Peep Show”).

Caesar’s finally turned to Bette Midler – who hadn’t shown much interest in touring over the past decade – and gave her $10 million to produce “The Showgirl Must Go On.”

Originally signed for 300 performances scattered over several years, Midler and Caesar’s called it quits after less than 200 shows that did not generate the tremendous buzz or the business that Dion did. (Dion returned to the Colosseum earlier this year and has shows lined up into 2012.)

HBO broadcast “The Showgirl Must Go On” last year and now Image Entertainment is releasing a DVD.

The problems are apparent right at the start when the diminutive singer-actress appears completely dwarfed by a stage that looks as big as the landing strip on an aircraft carrier.

In her early days, Midler was one of the most dynamic live performers you could ever hope to see because of her high-energy performance style, her uninhibited comic personality and the direct connection she would make with audiences in clubs and theaters.

Never a great singer (in a technical sense), the star could put across a ballad with tremendous dramatic flair and she could also sell a nostalgic novelty tune like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” with dazzling good humor.

In between tunes, Midler’s comic byplay with audiences was electric.

“The Showgirl Must Go On” traps Midler in a Vegas extravaganza – with mediocre choreography by Toni Basil and not enough visual pizzazz to fill the giant stage – where she only gets a few chances to really shine.

The star tries to make a joke out of the grueling number of shows she signed up for – and her exhaustion from working such a huge stage – but Midler doesn’t appear to be pushing herself that hard.

The show was only 90 minutes long and it’s typical Vegas star fare in which the dancing chorus and the musicians do most of the heavy lifting. (For the DVD release a comedy section of the show that was not well-reviewed has been deleted, leaving the video recording with a running time of barely over an hour).

Midler is in good voice throughout – she does a killer rendition of John Prine’s “Hello in There” – but “Showgirl” is a dim echo of her earlier work.

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