Theater Review: mud is flung tonight!

New York Post
”˜I’ll Eat You Last’ is a sassy and sure Bette
Last Updated: 12:58 PM, April 25, 2013
Posted: 10:52 PM, April 24, 2013

USA: 'I'll Eat You Last' Curtain Call

For her first Broadway appearance since “Clams on the Half Shell” 38 years ago, Bette Midler split the difference between playing it safe and taking a risk.

Instead of trotting out her hits – like her old accomplice Barry Manilow did a couple of months ago – she chose the onewoman play “I’ll Eat You Last.” But while Midler doesn’t sing a note here, she’s dressed to kill while pumping out profane one-liners. And she’s playing another Divine Miss M: Sue Mengers, the late Hollywood agent known for her bulging Rolodex, wild parties and biting wit – mud is flung tonight!

With brassy quips and zingers, Bette Midler inhabits the role of Sue Mengers, superagent to the stars, in this one-woman show – Midler’s first return to Broadway since the 1970s.
This isn’t much of a departure from the outsize stage persona Midler created for herself over the decades, but so what? “I’ll Eat You Last” is wickedly entertaining precisely because performer and material are so perfectly matched.

As Mengers, she spends the entire play plopped down on a couch, rearranging the throw pillows and lighting up joints. That she manages to hold our attention while doing it says a lot about the actress’ charisma, as well as Joe Mantello’s smoothdirection.

Playwright John Logan (“Red”) takes us back to 1981, with Mengers lounging in her luxurious Beverly Hills home – Scott Pask’s set makes it look like a SoCal version of Neronian decadence.

She’s just been informed by her biggest client’s lawyers that she’s been dumped. Now she’s waiting for a phone call from the star herself – Barbra Streisand.

To kill time, Mengers fills us in on her life, from her fleeing the Nazis at age 8 to her apprenticeship at William Morris and all the way to her conquest of Hollywood. She loved the movies but quickly figured out she belonged behind the scenes: “Why be a king when you can be a kingmaker?” No wonder she became one of the first so-called superagents.

Here we meet her as her influence is waning in a changing Tinseltown. This brassy, outspoken broad doesn’t fare well in the new world of “pseudo-Ivy-League-whiz-kid-boy-agents-slash-rentboys.”

She’s defiantly old-school Hollywood, devoted to stars and crazy parties fueled by pot and bitchy gossip – “the lube by which this town slips it in.”

Logan – who met Mengers in 2008, three years before her death – sticks to a conventional template, but fills it with killer quips and hysterical set pieces. Midler may not warble, but Mengers’ brazen bluff on behalf of Faye Dunaway and her visit to Sissy Spacek’s farm “in a mythical land called Virginia” belong on her Greatest Hits list.

The star is in total control throughout, multiplying each “S” into a slithering hiss (“Julie Harrissssss”) and duplicating the overdramatic staccato Mengers adopted after learning English from Warner Bros. flicks.

Midler’s said to be insecure about her acting, but she has nothing to be anxious about. Let’s hope this show is just the first step in her reconquest of the New York stage.

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