From her earliest experiments belting notes between R-rated (and a few X-rated) jokes in bath houses, through a quadruple Grammy Award-winning recording career, triple Emmy Award-scoring film foray and a Tony Award-landing Broadway contribution, Bette Midlerâ€™s always marched to the beat of her own drum. In addition to carving out a diverse musical road few divas ever dared to travel (originals, oldies, rock nâ€™ roll, showtunes, R&B, standards, comedy), â€œThe Divine Miss Mâ€ carved out a larger than life personality, which after exactly fifty years in showbiz, has often been imitated but never as vivaciously or irreverently duplicated.
And for the first major time in ten years, the singer/actress extraordinaire returned to touring in a spectacle dubbed â€œDivine Intervention,â€ filling up most of Chicagoâ€™s United Center (hot on the heels of the Chicago Blackhawksâ€™ Stanley Cup victory) with loads of hits, history and her curious new covers collection Itâ€™s The Girls! (a feminine tribute as encompassing as The Andrew Sisters, The Supremes, The Ronettes and TLC). Together with a Vegas-ready backing band and updated trio of Harlettes, the sometimes nice/often naughty legend vocally and visually defied her 69 years, a fact further reinforced in early selections like â€œI Look Goodâ€ and â€œIâ€™ve Still Got My Health.â€
Clinging tightly to those assets, Midler swayed through her ageless arrangement of Bobby Freemanâ€™s â€œDo You Want To Dance?,â€ served a sobering, piano-centered stab at TLCâ€™s â€œWaterfallsâ€ and bravely conquered Leonard Cohenâ€™s â€œEverybody Knows.â€ Instead of catering to the PBS crowd like many peers, this unpredictable performer aimed for a more lively cross section, wickedly crooning the blues through Screaminâ€™ Jay Hawkinsâ€™ â€œI Put A Spell On Youâ€ (in her finest Hocus Pocus film garb) and ruggedly rocking The Rolling Stonesâ€™ â€œBeast Of Burdenâ€ (overcoming a brief microphone malfunction).
Several signature ballads also popped up towards the back half of the show, including a straightforward reading of â€œThe Rose,â€ the peace-pleading â€œFrom A Distanceâ€ and a spine-chilling â€œWind Beneath My Wingsâ€ (which she sold as if it were the first time even though it probably was the billionth). Along with The Andrew Sistersâ€™ charmingly nostalgic swinger â€œBoogie Woogie Bugle Boyâ€ and The Chi-Litesâ€™ soulful â€œHave You Seen Her,â€ Midler stayed on her A-game to the very last second, suggesting sheâ€™s either just as committed to entertaining as ever, or thereâ€™s some serious â€œDivine Interventionâ€ keeping this Beaches broad firing on all cylinders.
-Review and photos by Andy Argyrakis