BetteBack September 6, 1993: Divine Revelation: Midler Back in Fine Form

Chicago Sun-Times
POP: Divine Revelation: Midler Back in Fine Form
September 6, 1993 | Hedy Weiss


`So, Chicago, here I am, up Poplar Creek without a paddle, so to speak, which makes me not unlike your Dan Rostenkowski.”

It was just one of Bette Midler‘s better lines at the Poplar Creek Music Theatre, where she played to packed houses Friday and Saturday.

Midler made her entrance perched on a gilded sunbeam. And three hours later, after a marathon explosion of unbridled energy, trashy excess and gut-wrenching singing, the entertainer vanished along with her spotlight – a tiny figure in an iridescent sea green gown, who had made the transformation from raucous mermaid to galvanic chanteuse. In the interim, she proved once again that she is a singularly profligate star, intent on giving her fans everything but the kitchen sink, and blithely opting for flash while her unquestionable artistry is often forced to wait in the wings.

“Experience the Divine,” as la Bette has dubbed her first major concert tour in a decade, now heads to New York for a six-week sold-out engagement at Radio City Music Hall. Obviously, the singer-actress doesn’t have to worry about selling tickets. But she might want to continue experimenting anyway, hiring a strong director to help her unify this hugely unruly show while improving the sound system that tends to muddy punchlines and lyrics.

Yet whatever Midler decides to do with her crazy hash of an entertainment, it’s clear she’s in terrific form, with a sleek figure suggesting long hours at a health club and a voice whose clarion call of emotion and voluptuous sound has never been better.

Not surprisingly, the zany, tacky and sometimes downright vulgar sense of humor (a crude reference to Bosnia was especially offensive) also remains intact. “I’ve done it all,” the 44-year-old Midler reminded her audience, as she pranced around in royal blue tights and tunic and silvery platform shoes, and poked fun at her checkered career.

“I’ve been compromised and Walt Disneyized,” she chanted, though she certainly hasn’t succumbed to political correctness. She also has retained her love of the burlesque, melding her hiply contemporary sense of the self-mocking with the brash Sophie Tucker-Mae West tradition. Midler has orchestrated a striptease with a quartet of statuesque dancers that probably has Marcel Duchamp rolling over in his grave. And in an overly long sequence featuring her spirited backup trio, the Harlettes, she gives new meaning to the term Special Olympics, as a contingent of mermaids performs Rockette-style moves in electric wheelchairs to the tune of “New York, New York.”

On the singing front, Midler made mincemeat of a medley from “Gypsy” (though I suspect she’ll be terrific in the CBS special of the musical this winter), and she lacked focus in that sophisticated ballad, “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” Yet she turned everything around with her roof-raising version of “Delta Dawn” and her trademark, “The Rose.” And she sent shivers up the spine with John Prine’s elegiac “Hello in There,” Janis Ian’s lovely “Some People’s Lives,” the soaring “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “From a Distance.” She even managed to transform that funny little 1936 pop tune, “The Glory of Love,” into a small enchantment. And for my money, this was Bette at her very best.

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