The Advocate: Bette Midler: Still ‘divine’ at 69

The Advocate
Bette Midler: Still ”˜divine’ at 69
May 17, 2015

5-17-2015 6-59-05 PM

Bette Midler named her current 22-city North American tour the “Divine Intervention” tour.

The singing star and actress has used the word “divine” throughout her career. As every fan knows, her 1972 debut album was titled “The Divine Miss M.” Tours called “Divine Madness,” “Experience the Divine,” “The Divine Miss Millennium Tour” and more followed.

The “Divine Intervention” show, which came to the Smoothie King Center on Saturday night, could also, in the best sense, be called “The Bette Midler Variety Show.”

Accompanied by a big band and the singing, dancing Harlettes, Midler’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 weren’t cheap, but Midler’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: “The Rose,” “From a Distance” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

She made her entrance sitting in a chair that appeared to be part throne, part average furniture from anyone’s living room. The hot opening number, “Divine Intervention,” preceded by computer-animated imagery of a tornado, featured Midler and her Harlettes dancing and singing up a storm.

“Yes,” she announced afterward, “the people’s goddess is in the house tonight! And how are all you Smoothie kings and queens?”

Referring to her pink minidress and matching heels, Midler gushed, “Don’t I look fabulous?”

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 “I’ve Still Got My Health,” a swinging jazz piece from a nightclub scene in her 1988 film “Beaches.”

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 Clooney’s “Tenderly,” plus material from Midler’s 2014 album “It’s the Girls,” which features songs by girl groups from the 1930s through the 1960s and beyond.

“Some people rescue dogs and cats,” she said. “I rescue old songs. … When I was growing up, it was all about the girl groups.”

Midler’s mention of New Orleans’ own Dixie Cups inspired applause. But even though she mentioned the “Chapel of Love” and “Iko Iko” singers as well as another New Orleans group, the Boswell Sisters, she didn’t perform any of their songs Saturday.

Instead, Midler and her fringe-dress-attired, hip-shaking Harlettes romped through the Exciters’ “Tell Him” and a medley of the Crystals’ “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and “Da Doo Ron Ron.”

Midler pretended to faint afterward. “Hard to see a septuagenarian carry on like this,” she said. (Midler will be 70 in December.)

Midler interpreted music of a much later vintage by singing TLC’s 1994 hit “Waterfalls,” making the most of the melody and lyrics. “Waterfalls” was part of a serious segment of the show, along with Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” and a poignant rendition of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.”

Moving from the sublime to the slapstick, the costumed Midler and two Harlettes appeared onstage as the witches from the Midler-starring Disney film “Hocus Pocus.” They hammed it up during Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” 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.

“It’s so emotional to be here. Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful welcome,” she said before a lyrical, late-show performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

For the show-concluding “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” it was all hands on deck, with the Harlettes and every band member who had a portable instrument onstage with Midler.

“We’ll never forget this night,” she said afterward.

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