MAY 29, 2015 | 06:26PM PT
Associate Editor, Features
Oh, Bette. You just keeping getting better.
43 years after the release of her 1972 debut album, â€œThe Divine Miss M,â€ co-produced by Barry Manilow, her piano accompanist during her formative Bathhouse Betty days at New York Cityâ€™s now-defunct Ansonia Hotel, Bette Midler still knows how to make grown men and women cry.
In a good way.
The Staples Center Thursday night was filled with weepy, swooning fans of the Grammy and Golden Globe-winning songstress-actress-comedian, whose L.A. stop on her 24-city â€œDivine Interventionâ€ tour â€” her first road show in a decade â€” was a spectacular theatrical mash-up of variety-hour-meets-vaudeville-act-meets-Broadway-one-woman-show. The show featured a set list of wartime radio tunes (â€œIâ€™ve Still Got My Health,â€ â€œBoogie Woogie Bugle Boyâ€), sultry deep cuts (â€œDo You Want to Dance,â€ â€œStay with Meâ€), sexy supper-club renditions of rock and roll classics (the Rolling Stonesâ€™ â€œBeast of Burdenâ€) and femme-centric ditties like TLCâ€™s 1995 hip-hop ballad â€œWaterfalls,â€ a track off Midlerâ€™s â€œItâ€™s the Girls!â€ tribute anthology performed with so much soul and sadness, half the women in section 101 went clambering for pretzel napkins to dab the smudged mascara off their tear-stained faces.
At 69 years-old, with legs like a Rockette and a voice as rich and smooth as velvet, Midler is such a charismatic wonder itâ€™s a shame she doesnâ€™t run for president. The legendary star has lost nothing of the bawdy wit and madcap antics â€” â€œIâ€™m going to lift your spirits like a boob job,â€ she teased the crowd â€” with which she started out in the late-1960â€™s, a ginger-haired, Hawaiian-born Jewess who cut her teeth on the great white way, where for three years she played Tzeitel in the original Broadway production of â€œFiddler on the Roof,â€ sweeping the stage with a broom, pining for a more glamorous life that would surely come.
â€œDonâ€™t I look fabulous? Iâ€™m a triumph of science and fiction,â€ said Midler, primping her now-flaxen coif and parading around stage in a slinky pink shift before launching into a rousing version of â€œI Look Good.â€
â€œIâ€™m in better shape than this yearâ€™s Lakers,â€ she joked.
Midlerâ€™s feisty passion for girl groups, female empowerment and â€œrescuing old songsâ€ â€” the Harlettes, her singing-dancing backup trio, were as coy and flamboyant as ever during a deliciously campy â€œBird in the Handâ€ bit â€” proved fortuitous for fans at the May 28 show, who were treated to a high-energy cover of The Excitersâ€™ 1962 single â€œTell Him,â€ the song that, as Midler regaled, made Dusty Springfield want to become a pop singer. Midlerâ€™s nostalgic nod to all the yiddishe mamas in the house, â€œBei Mir Bistu Schoen,â€ a love song made famous by the Andrews Sisters, was not only the most Jewish moment of the night (in a show that was uniformly Jew-ish) but a poignant one, for itâ€™s the song Midlerâ€™s parents, whom she â€œlost long ago,â€ would sing to her as a little girl.
Midlerâ€™s show was expectedly chock full of signature shtick, from an uproarious parody of the Oscars, â€œThe Oysters,â€ complete with a mock â€œin memoriam (1980-2014)â€ montage honoring Delores DeLago, the fictional wheelchair-bound mermaid, and a satirical slideshow of Midler canoodling with such famous men as Vladimir Putin and Bruce Jenner. â€œI could kick myself for not monetizing my sex life,â€ she quipped of the booming Kardashian Empire.
But it was Midlerâ€™s biting commentary on the condition of the human race that best underscored her unflappable genius, not only as an entertainer, but as an acutely astute social pundit.
â€œI miss handwritten notes and bookstores and LPs,â€ lamented Midler, driven by a wistful longing for a simpler past that didnâ€™t include the bewildering maelstrom of computer apps and social media sites. â€œRemember when people were afraid of being followed?â€
There was comfort in what Midler assured the crowd, â€œEverything you need to know you already do.â€ A point made ever more melodic in her cover of Leonard Cohenâ€™s moody dirge â€œEverybody Knows.â€
After an emotional, arena-wide sing-along of â€œThe Rose,â€ duly punctuated by swaying hands and twinkling iPhone lights, Midlerâ€™s encore included the smash hits â€œFrom a Distanceâ€ and â€œBeachesâ€ theme song, â€œWind Beneath My Wings,â€ which won a Grammy for record of the year in 1990 and has appeared on the set list of almost every bar mitzvah and wedding band since.
â€œWhat a weird and wonderful town,â€ Midler told audience members, thanking them profusely for their unwavering support as her eyes welled up with tears of gratitude and joy.