“I’ve seen it all and done it all,” says Bette Midler, who is back touring the UK after an absence of 35 years. “And tonight I intend to repeat what I can remember.”
Thankfully, Midler’s recall of a career that has seen her evolve from comedian to Grammy-scoring singer and Oscar-nominated actor is acute. And for almost two hours, she takes us on a whirlwind ride through its highlights, aided and abetted by a full band and three nimble-footed backing singers, the Staggering Harlettes.
The show begins in the glitzy, flamboyant style that saw Midler through a two-year stint in Las Vegas, the quips fast and funny, the songs breathless as she tears about the stage in a salmon-pink mini-dress. The 69-year-old has the energy ”“ and legs ”“ of someone a third of her age, and despite laying on her back and professing exhaustion, she’s soon shimmying along to her cover of the Exciters’ Tell Him, taken from her latest album, It’s the Girls!
The self-styled “Divine Miss M” deftly swaps moods and personas with dizzying speed. She thoughtfully reimagines TLC’s Waterfalls as a poignant piano lament before reclining on a red, lips-shaped sofa to bemoan the Kardashians and social media while sharing fake photos of herself in bed with British luminaries including Boris Johnson. Summoning up the bawdy spirit of her idol, Sophie Tucker, she relishes profanity-littered jokes, yet delivers the God-bothering From a Distance with absolute belief. She later delights in donning the shocking orange wig and buck teeth of her Hocus Pocus movie role, before becoming an iconic diva for Stay With Me, shimmering in a hot-pink sequinned dress.
But throughout all the incarnations ”“ via the schmaltzy Wind Beneath My Wings and the mullet-rock of Beast of Burden ”“ Midler remains, as she jokingly christens herself, “the People’s Goddess”. And, as good as the songs and asides are, it’s her irreverence and charm that really win her the numerous standing ovations she rightfully receives.