Bette Midler got her start working in New York City’s Continental Baths, the premier gay bathhouse in America at the time. Since then, she’s gotten two Oscar nominations, won four Grammys, three Emmys and a Tony, headlines huge films and audience-grabbing TV specials. But in reality, she’s still just the queen among the queens, camping it up with puns, sexual double entendres and swinging her rack around like a mink stole at a debutante ball. She may be on the Vegas stage with a 13-piece orchestra and throngs of adoring middle-ages couples, but the act is pure late-night drag club.
That’s probably what has attracted the gays to Bette since her earliest days.
We love Liza, care for Cher, bow to Barbra and go gaga for Gaga, but Bette?
She’s still one of us. Fabulous ”¦ well, as fabulous as we imagine ourselves to be.
For two years, Bette played the Palace – Caesar’s Palace on the Vegas Strip – with The Showgirl Must Go On, her paean to corny glamour. It’s been nearly two years since the show closed, but you can finally see it with the DVD release. And it’s exactly what you think it will be.
La Bette has always known her base, so she gives shoutouts to “the gays,” who have always appreciated that she proudly pioneered the “trashy singers with big tits” trend – drag queens with real-girl parts. She’s not letting go of the honor easily. Vegas is a good fit for that, trafficking as it does in that sheen of tinsel and cheap glam – headdresses, scanty costumes (frequently changed), garish lighting and plenty of dazzle alongside the razzle.
Slickly filmed and fast-paced (aside from a quirky intro involving a twister that makes no sense), it’s a dazzling document of the Divine Miss M’s great gifts as a comedian and performer.
Her voice is still in fine shape, from “Friends” (the song that launched her to her first Grammy) through the inescapable tearjerker “From a Distance” (her fourth Grammy), with new arrangements of classics like “Do You Want to Dance” and “The Rose” that are true to the originals without being carbon copies. That almost makes up for the one-liners she does as her alter-ego “Sophie” – Bette admits she’s been telling them for 40 years, but we’ve laughed just as long.
True enough. That’s probably why we like her so much. We both get each other.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday.