HOW do you make an entry after 35 years away from the British stage?
Veteran American star of stage and screen Bette Midler puts herself in the hand of Michelangelo, or more specifically Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling; a joke that is only revealed when the screen image of The Creation Of Adam that we watch till the 8.20pm late start is stretched out to reveal the Divine Miss M going finger tip to tip.
Enter the real Bette, very blonde, all legs and ditzy little pink get-up in a modern miracle of “science and fiction” at 69. “Don’t I look fabulous?”, she states, rather than asks, as she “gets down to business” with her hot band, hip young brass section and her trio of singing, dancing party girls.
Ostensibly, Midler is on tour on the back of last November’s It’s The Girls!, her tribute album to girl groups, and she sprinkles the likes of The Exciters’ Tell Him, TLC’s Waterfall and The Andrews Sisters‘ Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy through the two-hour set, but Bette the showgirl is an all-rounder.
If you could put the glitz and patter of Dolly Parton, the swagger of The Muppets’ Miss Piggy, the wise-ass smarts of comedian Joan Rivers, the bravura costume changes of Cher, the song-and-dance cabaret panache of Madonna and the big-ballad schmaltz of Hollywood movies into one loud, loquacious package, it would be Bette Midler.
Even then, there is still more to Midler’s restless repertoire: the self-deprecation about her ageing and her resemblance to vodka (“ageless, odourless and tasteless”); the potty-mouthed gags that no-one else can deliver quite like her; and the jibes fired at the Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande era of writhing pop videos.
To top it all, she dons witch’s rags and buck teeth to recall her Hocus Pocus movie and re-emerges in cockerel feathers to strut her stuff in the Canary Club, the night’s peak.
As an interpreter, Bette Midler is spectacular rather than definitive or unique, but such is her personality she is bigger than any song. She is the full show.