Bette Midler, still as divine as ever
By Dave McKenna June 23 at 3:05 PM
Bette Midler arrived onstage for Monday’s show at the Verizon Center beneath a massive reworking of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” that had her taking God’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 “tasteless” 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 (“Don’t stick your elbow out and ruin my perfect game!” she told the fans) and asking her dancers to “wave to the lobbyists in the suites.” She trashed the Kardashians and lamented how “butts have kicked boobs to the curb” in pop culture’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, “Hocus Pocus,” for a cover of “I Put a Spell On You.” Any intended spooky vibe turned comic when Midler’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 Freeman’s 1958 pop rave “Do You Wanna Dance?” into a sultry, quiet-storm ballad, just as she had when she released the tune as her very first single in 1972.
“Some people rescue dogs and cats. I rescue songs,” she said before a slew of songs from her most recent CD, “It’s the Girls,” a collection of girl-group material.
The highlight was a cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls,” 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 Newman’s brilliant mean, mean world saga, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.” Real or acting, the grandstands were full of folks who followed suit and sobbed along. Midler was also at her tear-jerking best on “Stay With Me,” a bluesy rocker from the “The Rose” 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: “From a Distance,” “The Rose” and, dairiest of all, “Wind Beneath My Wings.” She said that after all these decades of entertaining them, she wanted to make sure her fans still knew that they’re her heroes.
McKenna is a freelance writer.