Mister D: And if I’m not mistaken, our friend Matthew Parker is one of the background singers!
The New York Post
Revisiting Betteâ€™s hot â€˜Bathâ€™
By ELISABETH VINCENTELLI
Last Updated: 12:24 AM, July 30, 2012
Posted: 10:35 PM, July 29, 2012
Ask anybody about great but gone music venues in New York, and theyâ€™ll go on and on about CBGB, the Fillmore East, Maxâ€™s Kansas City and the Savoy Ballroom.
Probably because it was a gay bathhouse.
Down in the basement of what was then the Ansonia Hotel, on Broadway and 73rd Street, the Continental teemed with activity â€” musical and otherwise â€” from 1968 to 1974.
On Wednesday, the cabaret show â€œBette & Barry: Back to the Bathhouseâ€ revisits the heady nights in 1970 and â€™71 when Midler shaped her genre- and era-scrambling repertoire.
For Donna Maxon, 51, a longtime Bettehead and Midler tribute artist (â€œWeâ€™re not called impersonators anymoreâ€), the show is a way to link the star to an especially creative time.
â€œWe do explore other periods that were important to Bette and Barryâ€™s relationship and career,â€ says Maxon, whose set list includes later Midler hits like â€œWind Beneath MyWings.â€
â€œBut the show is set at the Continental Baths, and it does focus mostly on that time and that music. For instance, we do a tribute to [1972 album] â€˜The Divine Miss Mâ€™ with â€˜Leader of the Pack,â€™ â€˜Superstarâ€™ and â€˜Delta Dawn.â€™ â€
By the start of the â€™70s, Midler was already well on her way to fame, having appeared in various musicals â€” including â€œFiddler on the Roofâ€ on Broadwayâ€” and on Johnny Carsonâ€™s â€œTonight Show.â€ But it was at the Continental that she solidified her loyal gay following, earning the nickname â€œBathhouse Betty.â€
The bawdy humor certainly helped: â€œI was supposed to sing in Cherry Grove,â€ Midler said in one of her vintage song intros. â€œBut they couldnâ€™t find room for me in the bushes.â€
For Maxon, itâ€™s all gravy.
â€œI canâ€™t help myself â€” I love dirty jokes!â€ she exclaims. â€œThe bathhouse was a good venue for that, and I do some of the Sophie Tucker-style material.â€
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Maxon grew up being told she was a dead-ringer for Midler. She became a corporate trainer, but eventually started dabbling in Midler tributes â€” which led to her first encounter with the original.
â€œIt was in 1986,â€ she recalls, â€œand Disney flew me out to Hollywood so I could be her body double in â€˜Outrageous Fortune.â€™ When I got to meet her, I was overly chatty, and when I finally took a breath and let her speak, she told me, â€˜Girl, you have a career!â€™ â€
Things were less obvious for the new showâ€™s other half.
While â€œBack to the Bathhouseâ€ isnâ€™t the first tribute to the Midler/Manilow collaboration, Maxon says, she suspects itâ€™s probably the only one to feature a drag-king Barry: Fonda Feingold, in a suit and silvery shag â€™do.
â€œI was coerced,â€ Feingold says, dryly. â€œDonna seemed to think I look like Barry Manilow, so the next thing you know, I had a wig on.â€
Not only that, but the 60-year-old pianist and singer â€” who met Maxon at their local Staten Island dog runâ€” even warbles some of the croonerâ€™s hits, like â€œCopacabana.â€
â€œYeah, gotta do the Barry,â€ she drawls, playing the part of the long-suffering accompanist to the hilt.
Performing Manilow material acknowledges the role the baths played on Manilowâ€™s rÃ©sumÃ©: He started as the Continentalâ€™s house pianist before partnering with Midler.
It also helps with the showâ€™s flow.
â€œDonna has a big costume change in the middle of the set, so I get the spotlight for about four minutes,â€ Feingold says. â€œIâ€™ve put together a medley that incorporates maybe nine of his songs. And itâ€™s not easy, because the most famous ones tend to be slow.
All the more reason for the audience to relax, have a drink â€” and maybe loosen up that bath towel.
â€œBette & Barry: Back to the Bathhouseâ€ plays Wednesday and Aug. 15 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 W. 42nd St. Tickets, $15, are available at 866-811-4111.