Bette Midler: Still â€˜divineâ€™ at 69
BY JOHN WIRT
May 17, 2015
Bette Midler named her current 22-city North American tour the â€œDivine Interventionâ€ tour.
The singing star and actress has used the word â€œdivineâ€ throughout her career. As every fan knows, her 1972 debut album was titled â€œThe Divine Miss M.â€ Tours called â€œDivine Madness,â€ â€œExperience the Divine,â€ â€œThe Divine Miss Millennium Tourâ€ and more followed.
The â€œDivine Interventionâ€ show, which came to the Smoothie King Center on Saturday night, could also, in the best sense, be called â€œThe Bette Midler Variety Show.â€
Accompanied by a big band and the singing, dancing Harlettes, Midlerâ€™s highly theatrical production was packed with music, dance and bawdy stand-up comedy, plus standalone bits such as a vaudeville-esque homage to Sophie Tucker.
Seats werenâ€™t cheap, but Midlerâ€™s nearly two-hour show delivered entertainment as only the Divine Miss M can, in lively, flashy, sometimes trashy style.
At 69, Midler still has a strong singing voice. That was clear in her performances of a trio of ballads saved for late in the show: â€œThe Rose,â€ â€œFrom a Distanceâ€ and â€œWind Beneath My Wings.â€
She made her entrance sitting in a chair that appeared to be part throne, part average furniture from anyoneâ€™s living room. The hot opening number, â€œDivine Intervention,â€ preceded by computer-animated imagery of a tornado, featured Midler and her Harlettes dancing and singing up a storm.
â€œYes,â€ she announced afterward, â€œthe peopleâ€™s goddess is in the house tonight! And how are all you Smoothie kings and queens?â€
Referring to her pink minidress and matching heels, Midler gushed, â€œDonâ€™t I look fabulous?â€
A comedy monologue early in the show included mention of the 50 shades of gray she spotted in a section of the audience to her left. She then expounded upon her own looks and stamina, singing â€œIâ€™ve Still Got My Health,â€ a swinging jazz piece from a nightclub scene in her 1988 film â€œBeaches.â€
Midler loves being in the spotlight, but she also gave props to her singing heroines. There was an affectionate take on 1950s singing star Rosemary Clooneyâ€™s â€œTenderly,â€ plus material from Midlerâ€™s 2014 album â€œItâ€™s the Girls,â€ which features songs by girl groups from the 1930s through the 1960s and beyond.
â€œSome people rescue dogs and cats,â€ she said. â€œI rescue old songs. … When I was growing up, it was all about the girl groups.â€
Midlerâ€™s mention of New Orleansâ€™ own Dixie Cups inspired applause. But even though she mentioned the â€œChapel of Loveâ€ and â€œIko Ikoâ€ singers as well as another New Orleans group, the Boswell Sisters, she didnâ€™t perform any of their songs Saturday.
Instead, Midler and her fringe-dress-attired, hip-shaking Harlettes romped through the Excitersâ€™ â€œTell Himâ€ and a medley of the Crystalsâ€™ â€œHeâ€™s Sure the Boy I Loveâ€ and â€œDa Doo Ron Ron.â€
Midler pretended to faint afterward. â€œHard to see a septuagenarian carry on like this,â€ she said. (Midler will be 70 in December.)
Midler interpreted music of a much later vintage by singing TLCâ€™s 1994 hit â€œWaterfalls,â€ making the most of the melody and lyrics. â€œWaterfallsâ€ was part of a serious segment of the show, along with Leonard Cohenâ€™s â€œEverybody Knowsâ€ and a poignant rendition of Randy Newmanâ€™s â€œI Think Itâ€™s Going to Rain Today.â€
Moving from the sublime to the slapstick, the costumed Midler and two Harlettes appeared onstage as the witches from the Midler-starring Disney film â€œHocus Pocus.â€ They hammed it up during Screaming Jay Hawkinsâ€™ â€œI Put a Spell on You,â€ but the Harlettes seemed tentative, apparently not sure of their roles; that part of the show needs development.
Several times during the concert, Midler expressed her delight about being in New Orleans again.
â€œItâ€™s so emotional to be here. Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful welcome,â€ she said before a lyrical, late-show performance of â€œWind Beneath My Wings.â€
For the show-concluding â€œBoogie Woogie Bugle Boy,â€ it was all hands on deck, with the Harlettes and every band member who had a portable instrument onstage with Midler.
â€œWeâ€™ll never forget this night,â€ she said afterward.