BootLeg Betty

BetteBack September 7, 1993: Bette Midler Still Tops In Art Of Performance

Lowell Sun
September 7, 1993

6-3-2012 10-51-29 PM

Extravagant? Campy? You can Bette on it.

According to early reviews, Bette Midler, now 47, is in fine form on her first tour in a decade. Her shows at Great Woods (Thursday through Saturday) were quick sellouts.

Jimmy Buffett, fresh off four days of “Parrot-mania” down at Great Woods, then took over for Henley with a party-hearty version of his “Margaritaville,“ which put a festive touch on the end of a very long day where rock ’n’ roll and social awareness went hand in hand.

Over the years, from her early incarnation of bawdy, bathhouse-belter mama to her dramatic and comedic film roles, Midler has drawn in millions of fans. She s the gossipy, lovable neighbor who chats over the clothesline, relishing the dirty laundry.

In her early days, she was what pundits might now term a performance artist. And many of Madonna’s bits (though drawn out with much less elan) in Truth or Dare owe much to Midler.

Midler’s recording debut, 1972’s The Divine Miss M, merged elements from a broad musical repetoire. You want the Andrews Sister? There’s the Top IO hit, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Sixties girl groups? How’s about a cover of “Chapel of Love1? And it even included a dramatic rendering of then up-and-coming singer-songwriter John Prine s “Hello in There.” The album’s mostly non-rock mix was a hit with the Grammy voters, too, copping Midler Best New Artist honors.

Nor has her piano accompanist — Barry Manilow — fared so poorly.

After minor roles in theater and film productions, the Hawaiian-born Midler trekked to New York, where she became a regular singer at the Continental Baths, a gay men’s club. There, her sense of camp and comedy blossomed and it wasn’t long before she emerged from cult status.

While sales of subsequent albums dropped, Midler remained a big concert draw and began branching into films.

Her first big role, a starring role in The Rose (based loosely on Janis Joplin’s life) earned an Oscar nomination. Shes become best known for her film roles, and her albums have often lapsed into less-than satisfactory exercises.

Always one who could cut straight to the humor or drama of a lyric, she has recently score hits with “Wind Beneath Your Wings” and “From A Distance.”

It was Midler who was the obvious highlight of Johnny Carson’s farewell week on the Tonight Show, crooning affectionately to the king, camping it up during the talk segment.

Some things you probably didn’t know about Bette:

• The New Jersey-born singer was raised in Hawaii and named for Bette Davis.\

• In her high school years, she sang in a folk trio, The Pieridine Three.

• She appeared in the 1965 film Hawaii, in a bit part as a missionary’s wife.

• Once in New York, she landed parts in several off Broadway productions, and eventually spent three years on Broadway, in Fiddler on the Roof. Starting in the chorus, she moved to the featured part of Tzeitel.

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