BootLeg Betty

BetteBack December 30, 1979: Bette Midler cleans up her act (Divine Madness)

Lawrence Journal World
December 30, 1979

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NEW YORK (AP) — Bette Midler has taken control of her “trash with flash image.”

It’s a notable change since Miss Midler’s performance in the new film “Rose” has some in the movie business swapping Oscar chitchat.

She uses it to advantage in her show, “Divine Madness,” which opened for this month in Broadway’s Majestic Theater.

Then she steps beyond it, ending the evening in the guise of a wonderful old lady, singing poignant, sad, optimistic and testifying songs. Miss Midler has become a true entertainer.

Her first Broadway show, in 1973, came with her first burst of fame. Calling herself “The Divine Miss M,” she was camp, singing songs and wearing flamboyant clothes of the 1930s and ’40s. She kidded herself, dished the dirt about other people, and acted brash, loud and vulgar. That first show was something new, with amateurish moments.

In the second show, in 1975, in which she made one entrance in the fist of a giant King Kong, part of the time she seemed to be struggling to escape from camp.

Now she has it just right: don’t escape it; build on it.

She begins with a lavish arrangement of “Big Noise from Winnetka,” which is from the late ’30s, for the 10 stage musicains, herself and her backup trio, the Harlettes.

She’s in curly pink hair, a tight, spangled sheath, cleverly constructed to be terrible, cut low, part of the bodice flesh colored. The dress reaches to her knees and is split up the back, with a tassle hanging from the top of the split.

Her monologues are well done and tightly constructed, too. Most of the humor is now directed at herself. She tells the Harlettes, “Show some respect. I’m a screen goddess now — in the great tradition of Shirley Temple, Zasu Pitts and Miss Piggy.”

She minces around, jazzing up “In the Mood,” and confides tongue-in cheek that she had meant to show the growth she has made “since last we met.”

Then she does show it. She powerfully sings three songs from her film, “The Rose.” She zips around the stage in a motorized wheelchair, wearing a mermaid’s tail, as Deloros Delago, an entertainer who makes Bette Midler look tasteful.

She starts Act 2 in a ruffled wedding gown with a cake on her head, singing her hit record, “Married Men,” does a joke-telling monologue in which she’s Soph, a woman in her 80s and a combination of Mehitabel and Sophie Tucker.

She ends wearing an old lady’s tattered coat, singing “Without You,” “Ready to Begin Again” and an anthem-like “I Shall Be Released.”

Miss Midler and long-time associates Jerry Blatt and Bruce Vilanch wrote the show. She and Blatt staged it. Ron Delsener produced.

The audience, which looked more square than in former years, did a lot of respectful applauding. As it should have.

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