BetteBack September 24, 1993: Liz Smith – Radio City fans go bananas over Bette

Daily Herald Suburban Chicago
September 24, 1993


That force of nature, Bette Midler, opened last week at Radio City Music Hall to a crowd that was nearly hysterical in its adulation. From her first moments onstage, singing “Friends” while thousands stood and cheered, to her final, exquisite rendition of “The Glory of Love,” Bette had the huge audience in the palm of her tiny hand.

If, at almost three hours, Bette’s “ Experience the Divine” has a few rough/slow spots, that is only to be expected. And Bette’s eclectic, grab-bag form at is pretty much what she’s always done on stage. You get ballads … you get hula n u m b ers… you get the incredible Delores DeLago, wheelchair-bound mermaid supreme (and wait till you see Delores’ great send-up of “New York, New York! ” – Sinatra and Liza may just have to drop this number from their repertoire, it should never be taken seriously a g a in )… you get the old Sophie Tucker jokes … you get a taste of “ Gypsy,” Midler’s upcoming TV special, with a knockdown version of “Rose’s Turn” … and, of course, you get Bette’s sass with flash, scripted (by Bruce Vilanch), and her ad libs.

Bette’s voice remains the unique, moving instrument it has always been. She is not now, and never has been, a gal with a beautiful voice – no smooth, soaring, dulcet, manyoctaved notes from this throat.

If you want that, listen to Streisand. What you get from Bette is pure emotion – she car convey anything. If she had only half the vocal resources she possesses, she would still be one of the greatest entertainers of her time. (First-nighter Barbara Walters did not equivocate: She declared Bette “the greatest performer – eve r! ” ) And Bette’s body language is as impressive as her voice, from sexy bumps and grinds to a graceful Hawaiian hula.

Midler’s command of her physical self is as sure as it was 20 years ago. She looks slim and smashing, and she wittily exploits this in her first number, a rap-styled ditty called “ I Look Good! ” Her choice of material is near-perfect, with one exception – she should excise “Stay With Me” from her repertoire. This just doesn’t work outside the context of her famous film.“The Rose,” in which she played a self-destructive, drugaddicted, Janis Joplin-like rock star. Particularly, it doesn’t work with Midler encased in an evening gown, her hair upswept. But this may be a minority opinion. The audience went nuts for “ Stay With Me.”

In the end, Midler’s triumph is the feeling of humanity, of innate down-to-earth, all-American, mall/super market/dailyliving goodness, that she conveys.

Perhaps it is corny to say, but Midler’s show, despite its bawdy, gaudy aura of cheerful vulgarity, is a genuine, life-affirming experience. As someone remarked on the way out, “Have we all grown up as well as she has?”

After three exhausting hours on stage, Bette Midler arrived at her Metropolitan Museum party in the Temple of Dendur, looking and acting as though she’d just come from a month in the country. This low-key event, nicely star-populated, was remarkable primarily for Bette’s energetic presence.

She stood in towering high heels and a skintight gown for an hour, greeting old friends and total strangers with affectionate aplomb. There were no pushy bodyguards or PR people, no roped-off “VIP” area, no attitude, thank you very much. (Oh, I’d just love to name the stars who could learn a valuable public-relations lesson from Bette M idler!)

Among the throng – Ashford and Simpson, Mike Myers and wife Robin, Carole Bayer Sager, Lauren Bacall, Mo Ostin.Mike Ovitz, Catherine Helmond, Richard Avedon, Donald Sutherland. Barry Diller, etc.

Bette, accompanied by hubby Martin von Haselberg, was still on her feet as we left, being presented with a diamond trinket from the grateful people at Radio City Music Hall. (Bette has shattered every existing personal-appearance record there.)

By the way, Bette should be grateful to the Music Hall as well. The lighting was superb and the sound was clear as a bell!

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