Bette Midler has built her highly successful show business by recognizing that she’s the best product she sells.
Midler sings, acts, dances, appears regularly on television, but she’s keenly aware that it’s not the movies or records people pay for: It’s Bette. She brands every product around her famous persona, a genial balance of outrageous and sincere, brassy yet humble, cavalier though vulnerable. Midler is one of us, but with talent.
The strategy works. She’s been plugging away for four-plus decades, building herself into an entertainment icon. At 69, she’s still in the game, and playing the biggest arena in town when she comes to Denver later this month.
In Midler form, the show will be full of songs, jokes and costume changes. But the production won’t be overwhelmed with laser beams and giant, video projections or any of the special effects that define big arena concerts in 2015. It’ll be about Bette.
“Sometimes things get lost in all that fury, all the sound and lights. Sometimes it’s hard to pick the star out of all that stuff,” said Midler in a recent interview.
“And I think the focus should be on the star.”
For this tour, the star who scored on the record charts, at the box office and in a long-running show in Vegas at the start of the decade, is pushing yet another reincarnation of herself, as a champion of pop music’s “girl groups” from the 1960s. Her new album “It’s the Girls” features oldies like “Be My Baby,” made famous by The Ronettes, and The Supremes‘ “You Can’t Hurry Love.”
The effort is largely a success. Midler’s renditions are an homage to the singers and a re-examination of songs that aren’t as fluffy in retrospect as they were at the time. The arrangements, and the singer’s knowing delivery, add a dose of 21st-century female empowerment that was missing from the originals.
“My whole stock and trade has been to pick up something that’s been kicked to the curb. To shine it up and say ‘here’s something you might have forgotten about and it still has worth,’ ” Midler said.
She’s polishing her road show in much the same way. Midler hasn’t done significant live performances since her Vegas moment, which ended, for the most part, in 2010. The current tour schedule has her in 23 cities in less than two months.
That’s a busy routine for someone past Social Security age, and Midler acknowledges, “It’s been a big effort cranking the machine up again.”
She jokes that “after Vegas, I took to my bed a few years. I’ve been picking up litter and planting trees.” She’s referring to the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit effort she founded in 1995, which recently hit its goal of planting 1 million trees in the city in 10 years.
The show may be tamer than in the old days. Her beloved “Delores,” the mermaid character, which for years had Midler romping about the stage in a wheelchair, has been retired.
Instead of high-tech tricks, Midler promises an emotional ride for her audience, a human connection between the personality and her public. “Bring some Kleenex,” she warns.
BETTE MIDLER The popular entertainer performs in concert 8 p.m., May 20, at the Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle. 8 p.m., May 20. $46-$211. altitudetickets.com.