Bette Midlerâ€”wonderful bananas!
Story and Photo
By DENISE KUSEL
September 12, 1973
Lights dimmed. RipplesÂ of excited hush crackledÂ through the audience likeÂ electricity.
A frazzle-red haired latter day Fanny BriceÂ boogied on stage; peeredÂ t hrough “Los AngelesÂ Glaze” and invited theÂ crowd to take “a trek intoÂ tastelessness with her.”
The Divine Miss M â€”Bette Midler â€” had arrived. The audience withÂ cultish devotion and someÂ with just plain curiosity,Â was out in full force toÂ maker her opening nightÂ at the Universal Amphitheater Monday an exercise in excitement.
“I never played theÂ semi-round before,” sheÂ quipped from the bowlshaped stage.Â She’s sharp, cool, zingyÂ and as quick with her witÂ as she is with her 1940Â choreography and highÂ camp talk.
Bette Midler remindedÂ me of Ethe l Merman ,Â Judy Garland, BarbraÂ Streisand and walkedÂ across the s t a g e like a character out of a BettyÂ Hoop cartoon.
With all this nostalgiaÂ and 1940-50 ricky-tickyÂ tack thrown in , Bette Midler also reminds me ofÂ Bette Midler. She is refreshingly herself â€” andÂ if she takes the best fromÂ other performers andÂ molds them to her buxomÂ bod y, she does it withÂ fantasic flare.
She walked around (heÂ stage in her high spike=heeled shoes with ankleÂ straps, shook her tousledÂ hair and said, “Just thisÂ morning I was demonstrating Vegamatics at Â Woolworths.”
The crowd The crowd ate it up.Â They gorged themselvesÂ on her fast-hitting lines.
The excitement p o w e rplus pace she sets beganÂ with a “Philidelphia Medley” of “two and a halfÂ tunes, because you couldn’t stand it if we did threeÂ at once, ” she told the
audience. The medley inc l u d ed the dredge s ofÂ 1960s rock and roll withÂ “Uptown” and “A Do RunÂ Run Run A Do Run Run.”
“I’m really out to lunch today folks,” the DivineÂ M i ss M related as sheÂ crawled under the piano.Â A f t e r introducing theÂ Harlettes, her back-upÂ singing trio, they got intoÂ a vocal version of GlenÂ Miller‘s “In the Mood”Â something she dubbedÂ “hubba-hubba music.”
If you’re thinking thatÂ “In the Mood” never hadÂ w o r d s, you’re right. Undaunted , Bette MidlerÂ launched the new lyricalÂ version and as the personÂ sitting next to me mummered, “This is the firstÂ time I’ve ever heard anyone sing the tromboneÂ part to a song.”
Next came a version ofÂ “Delta Dawn” whichÂ makes the current HelenÂ Reddy version â€” which isÂ number, one on nationalÂ pop charts â€” sound likeÂ an advertisement for Burma Shave. Midler hasÂ her stuff together.
Before climbing backÂ into 60s nostalgia andÂ “Music to Bash YourÂ Heads in By,” Miss M Â sang a convincing “Am IÂ Blue” and a sensitive andÂ moody John Prine composition, “Hello in There.”
Her gown was white withÂ a heart cut out in the center and red dropletts â€”Â the bleeding heart.
And then it was BobbyÂ Freeman’s “Do YouÂ Wanna Dance” before theÂ intermission lights wentÂ up.
Part two began with aÂ slow interlude featuringÂ Barry Manilow on piano.
Manilow gathers theÂ material for Bette Midler,Â turns it into her jingle-joltÂ style and also serves asÂ musical director on herÂ concert tour.
Out bounded the Harlettes in neo waitress uniforms with pink sequinsÂ for “A Lullaby of Broadway.”
Joined on stage with theÂ Divine Miss M, “TheÂ Boogie Woogie BugleÂ Boy” snapped into action.
Maxine Andrews â€” oneÂ of the A n d r e ws SistersÂ whose version of “BoogieÂ Woogie Bugle Boy” madeÂ money and fame for themÂ in the 40s â€” was sittingÂ across the aisle from me.
She seemed to thoroughlyÂ enjoy herself.
The song ended with aÂ smart salute, with theÂ Harlettes opening theirÂ waitress dresses to revealÂ American Flags on the inside. Patriotism forever.
What do you do for anÂ encore when you’v e already sung “Leader of theÂ Pack” (a true 50s scourge)Â and told the audienceÂ your big dream is to beÂ Sanitation CommissionerÂ for New York City whileÂ standing on stage in yourÂ slip?
You rush into a versionÂ of “Chapel of Love” andÂ blow kisses to an audienceÂ who is standing on itsÂ feet, hands swaying wildly and bodies moving toÂ the music.
The whole thing was bananas. Wonderful bananas.