Bette Midler, still as divine as ever
By Dave McKenna June 23 at 3:05 PM
Bette Midler arrived onstage for Mondayâ€™s show at the Verizon Center beneath a massive reworking of Michelangeloâ€™s â€œThe Creation of Adamâ€ that had her taking Godâ€™s place. By the end of the 100-minute performance that followed, the graphic seemed like less of a parody.
Midler, at 69, is surely proof of a higher power. She informed the audience repeatedly how fabulous she looked. And, by god, that she did, decked out in what for anybody else of her vintage would be an age-inappropriate ensemble of blue sequined hyper-mini-shorts and a tasseled top. She also boasted about being as â€œtastelessâ€ as vodka, and most of her comedy was indeed as blue as the outfit. She narrated a video montage that purported to show her bedding Vladimir Putin, Bruce Jenner and Dicks Nixon and Cheney as a younger woman and lamented not releasing sex tapes with all of them.
Midler threw some local color into her monologues, making a rather obscure reference to the recent Washington Nationals no-hitter (â€œDonâ€™t stick your elbow out and ruin my perfect game!â€ she told the fans) and asking her dancers to â€œwave to the lobbyists in the suites.â€ She trashed the Kardashians and lamented how â€œbutts have kicked boobs to the curbâ€ in pop cultureâ€™s body-parts pecking order. Every Midler line, whether dirty or vague or catty or just plain unfunny, was delivered with a smile that made it all work.
Even theatrical bits that went awry ended up being fun. She came out as Winifred Sanderson, the wicked witch character she played in the 1993 feature film, â€œHocus Pocus,â€ for a cover of â€œI Put a Spell On You.â€ Any intended spooky vibe turned comic when Midlerâ€™s prosthetic buck teeth fell out mid-lyric. As a pro would, Midler just took the laughs where she found them.
There was a lot more to the performance than giggles, of course. She has still got a voice every bit as big as her bustline, though she called more attention to the latter. She transformed Bobby Freemanâ€™s 1958 pop rave â€œDo You Wanna Dance?â€ into a sultry, quiet-storm ballad, just as she had when she released the tune as her very first single in 1972.
â€œSome people rescue dogs and cats. I rescue songs,â€ she said before a slew of songs from her most recent CD, â€œItâ€™s the Girls,â€ a collection of girl-group material.
The highlight was a cover of TLCâ€™s â€œWaterfalls,â€ a cautionary tale about life in the fast lane made sadder as Midler slowed it way down. Midler has always done sadness as well as anybody in show business. She seemed to tear up on Randy Newmanâ€™s brilliant mean, mean world saga, â€œI Think Itâ€™s Going to Rain Today.â€ Real or acting, the grandstands were full of folks who followed suit and sobbed along. Midler was also at her tear-jerking best on â€œStay With Me,â€ a bluesy rocker from the â€œThe Roseâ€ soundtrack, as she told how for her that tune has morphed from a ditty about lost romance to an urgent plea to friends and loved ones to stop dying on her. She belted it out with enough strength to reach those already on the other side.
Near the end of the night, she performed her most famous and grandiose ballads, a triumvirate of the highest-grade cheese to ever find the pop charts: â€œFrom a Distance,â€ â€œThe Roseâ€ and, dairiest of all, â€œWind Beneath My Wings.â€ She said that after all these decades of entertaining them, she wanted to make sure her fans still knew that theyâ€™re her heroes.
McKenna is a freelance writer.