BootLeg Betty

BetteBack: DeTour ~ Something To Offend Everyone

Santa Ana Orange County Register
December 29, 1982

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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 get away with it.

“There’s something in this show to please everyone,” The Divine Miss M said shortly after the start of her opening night concert at the Universal Amphitheatre. “There’s something in this show to offend everyone. You didn’t pay $25 for nothing.”

She was only partially right. There was something for everyone, but not nearly enough somethings to add up to a $25 ticket price.

Although Midler looked trim and fit – probably better than she has looked in years — her show suffered from bloated production numbers, overweight orchestrations and undernourished song selections.

I respect the right of any entertainer to grow professionally, and to grow, entertainers must experiment. I assume that was the motive behind much of what I 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 concert that her new show cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. 1 believe her. But the lingering question is: “Why did she spend hundreds of thousands of dollars?”

The Bette Midler of old — an awesome performer without peer — used a few props in her act but never to • the extent that the props overpowered the singing and  became the most obvious part of the show. But now Midler apparently feels it necessary to dazzle audiences with elaborate production numbers that border on the ludicrous. She is toying with absurdist theater and inexplicable symbolism, rather than relying on 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 backup singers, selected not only for their voices but also for their abilities to look tacky) almost brought the house down.

All went well for about three songs, and then the trouble began. Midler was justifiably annoyed by the distracting shouts of admirers who spewed an endless assault of “We love you, Bette.” The sentiment was appreciated but not the timing. The callers were interrupting the flow of the show and tainting the mood set by Midler’s ballads.

Midler, who once would have reduced the shouters to chopped liver with her biting wit, chose to reprimand the crowd like a schoolteacher chewing out her class for throwing spitballs. I can’t say I blame her, but the strategy backfired. The crowd quieted down,
and she never quite won them back. Midler may have matured over the years but her crowd hasn’t. They wanted the old raucous “show them no mercy” Bette, but that was not what Bette was offering.

In a succession of lightweight songs like “Firing Line,” “But I Had This Man” and Superstar,” Midler proved that even she could make a tune sound lifeless and dull. There was a time when her magic worked on anything.

Her monologues were always an important element of her shows, and she did not disappoint this time either. There were the usual Sophie Tucker jokes (none of which can be repeated here) and the unique Midler view of life, ranging in subject matter from sex
(“You always Herpe the one you love”) to the San Fernando Valley (“One million people … one hundred stories”).

It is unfortunate that the concert’s best moments had nothing to do with singing. Her sassy spirit is important, but it is her singing voice that makes her such a potent performer. But she seems to have lost 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 she should stay away from pseudo ballet numbers and filmed sequences that now bog down her shows. That film (in which she portrays an Italian actress meeting up with a villainous director) provides no entertainment value whatsoever and serves only as a weapon of vengeance. Character actor Jack Elam plays the villanous director, whose last name reminds one of the last name of a real-life director Midler fought with during shooting of the movie “Jinxed.” The film short, inserted in the middle of the first act so that any hope of continuity was sabotaged, was nothing more than an inside joke aimed mainly at people in the movie industry.

Even Midler standards like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “In the Mood” lacked an excitement one has come to expect.

My advice is that she return to her roots and forget trying to please jaded concert audiences of the ’80s.

Midler could be just as vital and right for the ’80s as she was for the 70s.
If she continues on her present path, she might have trouble finding an audience in the ’80s.

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