Bette Midler: Campy, Kooky, And Terrific
By ROBERT LaBRASCA
October 17, 1973
You have never seen anything like Bette Midler.
She was introduced Tuesday night at the Dane County Coliseum as “the Divine Miss M” and reintroduced herself as “the last of the truly-tacky women.” But her show”was as professionally smooth and imaginatively musical as nearly any stage show to pass through Madison, and she is one of the strangest and most talented culture- heroines to emerge within memory.
Miss M started to make it big when she was singing at the Continental Baths in New York, a male gay club that became far too chic to keep the heterosexuals out.
Her stage patter bears the mark. She hisses her “s’s” and prefaces sentences with “Listen, honey, did you ever have a Ford that didn’t break down.
She mixes obscenities and badly pronounced French. Most of her jibes are not printable here.
She has two. three, four or more masks. There is Bette, the catty, campy, condescending “bitch,” Bette the child star with a Baby Snooks voice, and Bette, the humble, simple immigrant woman.
Each mask has a speaking voice that she changes as quickly as Marcel Marceau changes faces.
As a singer she has other roles. She can be Tina Turner or – the Andrews Sisters, but she is most often her own persona, a sort of intensified, more dramatic version of Peggy Lee.
In contrast to the biting sarcasm of her long moments of chatter, her singing is sometimes done with tearjerking sincerity. A version of John Prine’s “Hello in There,” a sad, sentimental song about old people held last night’s audience in rapt silence until its final note.
She also, of course, has a full repertoire of nostalgic tunes, never done sloppily.
She sang, with the help of her three outrageous backup singers, the Harlettes, her hit version of “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” and handled all of its rapid and intricate articulation without a slip.
They pulled out “Am I Blue” and “In the Mood’ from the 40s and shifted to the 50s for “The Leader of the Pack” and “Do You Want to Dance.”
Throughout the music she was superbly supported by pianist-arranger Barry Manilow, four more excellent musicians on organ, guitar, bass and drums. Her principal forces, however, are the Harlettes, three women, who not only perform the tight Andrew Sisters harmonies and doo-wop and rock-n-roll parts, but strut their own stage stuff with- sleazy brilliance.
Bette, in a house dress and slippers, could easily pass for a Brooklyn housewife. That’s part of her thing. If Liza Minnelli succeeds on near glamour, Bette Midler makes it from an apparently more conscious perspective, by parodying it.
The Divine-Miss M has narrow hips, unshapely legs, broad shoulders and an overdeveloped chest, which, if you hadn’t noticed, she continuously points out.
Her greatness is her style, the put-on so perfect that it can only be based in sincerity and authenticity.
The audience, which, in large part, dragged itself to this concert in a most spectacular array of fashion, got its money’s worth and then some.
- BetteBack: “Hollywood isn’t dead. It’s sitting right in this chair.” ~ October 4, 1973 (bootlegbetty.com)
- Bette On The Boards Presents ~ Bette Midler – Rare Footage (bootlegbetty.com)
- Bette On The Boards Presents: Bette Midler – Miss Millennium Tour (Dress Rehearsal) (bootlegbetty.com)