Divine Miss M brings oldies to life but in her own inimitable fashion
“Tacky woman’ has new definition
January 23, 1973
ALL ADJECTIVES in the reviewer’s lexicon have already been used by others who have seen her and come away from the performance equally as stunned as the crowd that packed Cleveland’s Music Hall Saturday night.
Midler is, in a word, astounding.
Yes, everything you’ve heard about her is true, and in a concert setting she is just as spaced out as in a television appearance.
But mercy me, can the girl entertain!
FROM THE MOMENT she opens the two-hour, two-act show with “You Got To Have Friends” until she closes it the same way, anyone with an appreciation of raw energy is left breathless.
She struts, she stamps, she minces her little buns back and forth across the stage, to the piano to quaff copious amounts ofÂ something-or-other from a styrofpam cup, to absolutely falling right down on the floor when friendly hecklers broke her upÂ (and the rest of us. Explanation will come shortly.)
She is reminiscent of Janis Joplin in many ways, but sit through the old Bessie Smith/Helen Morgan tune “Am I Blue?” and try to fight the lump in your throat. (It can’t be done)
ON MANY OF the songs, particularly the powerful “Delta Dawn,” “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me” and “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,'” audience reaction was so great she did the final chorus once, twice, and. at one point, three times before quitting.
And she doesn’t seem to lose anything as the evening progresses.
Telling us she’s “the last of the tacky women.” Midler proceeds to challenge the definition of the word. She may be tacky, but for her there is a new meaning, not the one we’re used to.
She has a girl trio â€” the Harlots (honestly!) â€” behind her, along with a superb four-piece rhythm section. Constant drive,
drive, drive is the byword for these eight talents.
MIDLER SPOOFS the ’40s (Dorothy Lamar’s “Moon of Manokoora.” the Andrews Sisters) but it’s done with affection and it’s done well.
She has an impression of Laura Nyro â€” “The Divine Miss N,” she tells us breathily â€” that is somewhat of a tease. But her reading of Nyro’s “Do You Wanna Dance?” is turned from an old teeny-bop AM radio sound into what may well be one of the most provocative torch songs of that early-’60s generation.
Another 1,000 words would be needed to adequately sum up the Bette Midler experience. Someone else has said she must be seen to be believed, and that’s the truth.
NOW, IF you’re ever fortunate enough to see her in person, be prepared for a remarkable collection of humanity to be there with you.
Midler got her start some years ago doing shows in the steam baths of New York City. And steam baths in New York City are predominantly patronized by the gay community, a group not known to be dowdy when it comes to dress up for an event.
Her popularity spread in the gay underground, she is currently the hottest talent in that milieu, and her show is played
directly to her gay admirers.
THEY RESPOND in glorious fashion by donning glorious fashions. But that’s an unfair generalization because Midler’sÂ Cleveland audience (gay AND straight) displayed an eyepopping assortment of regalia dating from the late ’40s to the lateÂ “70s. A truly beautiful bunch of people.
Midler fell down during the show as a result of hilarious crowd reaction.
It came as she was trying to explain that there was a young lady in the audience whose mother had told Midler it was herÂ daughter’s birthday, and could she please say something because “everyone should have a good daughter like my Mary Kay”
All right Midler gets through this and looks out into the house and asks if Mary Kay is there.
AND FROM way up in the balcony an exceedingly masculine voice says “Here I am!” It stopped the show for two minutes as she lay on the stage, helpless with laughter.