BootLeg Betty

BetteBack September 16, 1993: Still Divine After All These Years

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The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
STILL DIVINE
September 16, 1993 | BARBARA JAEGER, Music Critic

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Bette Midler is a lot less outrageous these days. But she is no
less divine.

Opening an unprecedented 30-night stand at Radio City Music Hall
Tuesday night, The Divine Miss M — make that Mrs. M, since Midler is
married and the mother of a 6-year-old daughter, Sophie — unveiled a
show that was minus much of her trademark bawdiness of the past. That,
however, was the only thing lacking (and certainly not missed) in
Midler’s thoroughly delightful and exceedingly entertaining performance.

It’s been a decade since Midler has performed on the concert stage,
but from the moment she made her grand entrance — sitting on a
throne-like chair suspended from the ceiling — it was as if she had
never been away. Serving up equal helpings of song and shtick, Midler
commanded the stage for more than two hours.

She took no time to establish an instant rapport with the audience.
The very fitting “Friends” was her opening number, and she sang the
uptempo tune as if she meant every word.

Proving that she’s kept abreast of the contemporary music scene,
Midler followed with an amusing rap tune. “I Look Good” ensured that all
eyes would be on the chic and slim Midler (“You never expected I’d look
quite this fabulous. … You were expecting a beefier person.”) as she
sauntered and skipped across the stage with the “politically correct,
sanitized” Harlettes (her three backup singers).

But Midler wasn’t above poking fun at herself. Concluding the rap
number, the 47-year-old entertainer exclaimed, “I’m a little old for
this rapping [expletive deleted].”

Most of her self-deprecating wit, however, was reserved for the
unlikely path her career has taken. Where once her stock-in-trade was
her uninhibited outrageousness, today she’s best known for her uplifting
inspiration, typified by such hit ballads as “Wind Beneath My Wings” and
“From a Distance.” And this did not go unnoted.

In the midst of her rapping, she paused and stated what she
believed to be on the minds of most of the audience: how much more of
this they would have “to endure before she got to the inspirational
ballads.”

And until she sang her first ballad, “Some People’s Lives,” Midler
kept making asides such as “Last [breast] joke before the ballad.” “Did
I sing the ballad yet? My brain goes on CD shuffle and I can’t
remember.”

But when she unleashed her vocal might on this ballad — as well as
The Rose,” “Hello In There,” “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and “From a
Distance” — it wasn’t hard to understand why Midler’s acclaim has come
from songs such as these. Not only does she bring her robust voice to
these tunes, but she brings a sense of drama few can match. While, on
occasion, she went over the top with the dramatics (“Hello In There”),
many of today’s contemporary singers could learn a thing or two from the
way Midler seemingly feels every word she sings, and then conveys those
emotions to her audience, so they, too, feel happiness, sadness,
longing, love.

The true genius of Midler’s performance, though, was how she
balanced the serious moments with the comedic. The shifts were subtle,
never jarring, making for a show that effortlessly ebbed and flowed.

Midler also resurrected one of her more zany characters, the
mermaid Delores De Lago.

The skit, centered around De Lago’s “infomercial,” proved the
show’s most clever and creative bit. Suffice it to say, the sight of
Midler and the Harlettes hopping up and down on their fins to the brassy
strains of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the chorus line of Midler, the
Harlettes, and four dancers flipping their fins high in the air and
singing “New York, New York” are not to be missed.

Throughout, it was hard to determine who was having more fun — the
star or her audience. While Midler has of late focused on her filmmaking
career, it was clear, by the end of this performance, that the stage is
where she was born to be.

With any luck, it won’t be another 10 years before she decides to
come back where she rightfully belongs.

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