What a remarkable woman Bette Midler is. Last night, the 69-year-old concluded her Divine Intervention tour with a show that veered from schmaltz to smut without breaking stride. From the moment she told an audience member, “you look awfully pale; that’ll be the blood rushing to your genitals. I have that effect on people,” she was a sweary seaside postcard made flesh.
She commanded her backing singers, The Staggering Harlettes, to “wave to the wankers in the luxury seats”, while A Bird In The Hand (Is Worth Two In The Bush) was punctuated with lustfully delivered “Soph” jokes, mostly updated versions of those first told by her bawdy heroine, comedienne Sophie Tucker.
The mix’n’match punchlines included crotchless underwear, Coronation Street, orgasms and Chihuahuas. For all that, the wonder of the cherub-cheeked Midler is her ability to brazenly follow an anal sex gag with spine-tingling, almost spiritual versions of TLC’s Waterfalls and Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows without losing an audience which included Richard E Grant, Christopher Biggins and Elaine Paige.
Her biggest hits tumbled out towards the end. The Rose and From A Distance were fabulously overwrought, but they paled in comparison to an extraordinary, almost unhinged Stay With Me and Wind Beneath My Wings, which in its rightful hands sounded anything but saccharine.
She could have been a comic, she could have been as big a Broadway star as Bernadette Peters, but instead Midler is simply an MOR superstar with the voice of a siren and the patter of an adult cabaret act. She’s not for the faint-hearted, but she’s not to be missed.
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