Santa Ana Orange County Register
December 29, 1982
There aren’t many performers who could get away with making such a hold promise at the start of a concert. Bette Midler is one you’d think could getÂ away with it.
“There’s something in this show to please everyone,” The Divine Miss M said shortly after the start ofÂ her opening night concert at the UniversalÂ Amphitheatre. “There’s something in this show toÂ offend everyone. You didn’t pay $25 for nothing.”
She was only partially right. There was somethingÂ for everyone, but not nearly enough somethings to addÂ up to a $25 ticket price.
Although Midler looked trim and fit – probablyÂ better than she has looked in years — her show suffered from bloated production numbers, overweightÂ orchestrations and undernourished song selections.
I respect the right of any entertainer to grow professionally, and to grow, entertainers must experiment. IÂ assume that was the motive behind much of what IÂ saw Monday night. The unfortunat e lesson learned byMidler and her audience is that bigger is not necessarily better.
She made an offhanded remark during the concertÂ that her new show cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. 1 believe her. But the lingering question is: “WhyÂ did she spend hundreds of thousands of dollars?”
The Bette Midler of old â€” an awesome performerÂ without peer â€” used a few props in her act but never toÂ â€¢ the extent that the props overpowered the singing andÂ Â became the most obvious part of the show. But nowÂ Midler apparently feels it necessary to dazzle audiences with elaborate production numbers that borderÂ on the ludicrous. She is toying with absurdist theaterÂ and inexplicable symbolism, rather than relying onÂ the strength of her voice and personality.
Actually, the concert got off to a pretty good start.
The Midler spark and spunk were there and the appearance of the Harlcttes (Midler’s trio of backupÂ singers, selected not only for their voices but also forÂ their abilities to look tacky) almost brought the houseÂ down.
All went well for about three songs, and then theÂ trouble began. Midler was justifiably annoyed by theÂ distracting shouts of admirers who spewed an endlessÂ assault of “We love you, Bette.” The sentiment wasÂ appreciated but not the timing. The callers were interrupting the flow of the show and tainting the mood setÂ by Midler’s ballads.
Midler, who once would have reduced the shoutersÂ to chopped liver with her biting wit, chose to reprimand the crowd like a schoolteacher chewing out herÂ class for throwing spitballs. I can’t say I blame her,Â but the strategy backfired. The crowd quieted down,
and she never quite won them back. Midler may haveÂ matured over the years but her crowd hasn’t. TheyÂ wanted the old raucous “show them no mercy” Bette,Â but that was not what Bette was offering.
In a succession of lightweight songs like “FiringÂ Line,” “But I Had This Man” and Superstar,”Â Midler proved that even she could make a tune soundÂ lifeless and dull. There was a time when her magicÂ worked on anything.
Her monologues were always an important elementÂ of her shows, and she did not disappoint this timeÂ either. There were the usual Sophie Tucker jokes (none of which can be repeated here) and the uniqueÂ Midler view of life, ranging in subject matter from sex
(“You always Herpe the one you love”) to the SanÂ Fernando Valley (“One million people … one hundredÂ stories”).
It is unfortunate that the concert’s best momentsÂ had nothing to do with singing. Her sassy spirit isÂ important, but it is her singing voice that makes herÂ such a potent performer. But she seems to have lostÂ track of that now. When she lost her longtime manager Aaron Russo, she also lost her sense of direction.
The emphasis should return to the singing, and sheÂ should stay away from pseudo ballet numbers andÂ filmed sequences that now bog down her shows. ThatÂ film (in which she portrays an Italian actress meetingÂ up with a villainous director) provides no entertainment value whatsoever and serves only as a weapon of vengeance. Character actor Jack Elam plays theÂ villanous director, whose last name reminds one of theÂ last name of a real-life director Midler fought withÂ during shooting of the movie “Jinxed.” The film short,Â inserted in the middle of the first act so that any hopeÂ of continuity was sabotaged, was nothing more thanÂ an inside joke aimed mainly at people in the movieÂ industry.
Even Midler standards like “Boogie Woogie BugleÂ Boy” and “In the Mood” lacked an excitement one hasÂ come to expect.
My advice is that she return to her roots and forgetÂ trying to please jaded concert audiences of the ’80s.
Midler could be just as vital and right for the ’80s asÂ she was for the 70s.
If she continues on her present path, she might haveÂ trouble finding an audience in the ’80s.