Review: Bette Midler makes rocking return to Toronto after 14-year absence

Toronto City And Press
Bette Midler makes rocking return to Toronto after 14-year absence
By: Nick Krewen Music, Published on Sun Jun 21 2015


In the 14 years since Bette Midler last played Toronto, little about the Hawaiian hurricane known as The Divine Miss M has changed.

She’s still the consummate entertainer.

At the unbelievable age of 69 – improbable because she looks and moves a good 15 years younger – Midler is still the jill of all trades and the master of most of them, as she revealed to a partisan audience of approximately 11,000 at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

With a dynamic 16-piece band behind her (including her three-girl backing troupe The Harletts), Midler spent two hours performing a show that’s almost impossible to describe in terms of format.

The three-time Grammy, three-time Emmy, two-time Golden Globe, one-time Tony Award winner and Academy Award nominee started off her show shimmying around in a short pink dress against an apocalyptic set design singing about her own faux vanity with “I Look Good” and “I Still Have My Health.”

Then came the partial standup comedy routine, as she threw zingers left and right at the audience.

“I still look good, but I don’t know what happened to some of you,” the pop star teased. “It’s 50 shades of grey in this section right here. I don’t know whether to sing to you or tell you about reverse mortgages.”

Rim shot – please.

Or how about this little gem: “I’m like vodka: ageless, odourless and tasteless.”

Yes, she was as tasteless as she claimed in spots and often ribald, handing out sex jokes with a frequency akin to the Ford Brothers handing out campaign buttons during our last mayoral election.

Why did I bring up Rob and Doug in a concert review? Because they made appearances in Midler’s dialogue, with a topical astuteness one wouldn’t expect from a woman who hasn’t been here all that often.

Rob was part of another shtick, when Midler showed photo-shopped photos of her in bed with her “former lovers”: a crowd that included U.S. president Richard Nixon, Russia’s Vladimir Putin (“I called him ”˜Vlad the Impaler,’” she quipped), New Jersey governor Chris Christie and our own Rob Ford (open Rob Ford’s policard), with what looked like whipped cream smeared against his chest.

“My first Canadian,” she joked.

There was an unexpected and insightful monologue about social media that was surprisingly observant as she segued between unexpected covers of TLC’s “Waterfalls”and Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.”

Actually, “Waterfalls” was the only time her acting failed her; a rare disingenuous moment of tears and choking up during an evening that was part Vegas, part Vaudeville, part Broadway and wholly entertaining.

As a singer, Midler slid easily between styles, from the slow, heartfelt romance of the Bobby Freeman cover “Do You Wanna Dance?” and the harmonious ”˜60s girl group of the Exciters with “Tell Him” to a strong jazz rendition of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.”

And although she officially retired her mermaid character Delores Delago with a tribute video montage, Winifred Sanderson, her bucktoothed witch character from her 1993 film Hocus Pocus, made an appearance to sing Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You.”

Here, again, her topical awareness of Toronto shone like a spotlight: As “Winnie,” Midler threatened to tear down the Gardiner Expressway and replace it with a garden, much to the delight of the crowd.

She left the hits – and let’s face it, both “The Rose” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” have graduated to pop standard status – until almost the very end, performing them wearing a sparkling ruby gown and supported by a band under the leadership of musical director Morris Leisure that was as peerless as it was perfect.

An aside: someone should track down Midler’s live sound engineer for the secret of making the Air Canada Centre sound so clear and pristine – it transformed a good show into a great show. If he can work that magic, he should be hired as a consultant to other acts visiting the venue, the sound was that crystalline.

As was the Divine Miss M, who graciously came out and thanked the crowd for supporting her over the years and giving her family a life they could have only dreamed of.

“See you next time,” she said, and you could tell by the crowd reaction that many hoped that there would be a next time, and it would come around a lot sooner than another 14 years.

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