Burlington Times News
May 26, 1994
In an age when we ask so little of our leading stars, the reemergence of Bette Midler last year was a welcome jolt.
“ Here’s how it’s done, kids,” she seemed to be saying every night from the road tour that resumes Tuesday in Miami after a five-month break.
In other words, Midler wanted to do more with her life than prop up talk shows or the opening of another Planet Hollywood which seems to be all that’s required lately to qualify for superstardom.
So when she ditched L A. for the concert circuit last fall – armed with that unbeatable arsenal of dance steps, dirty jokes and pop hits – we were reminded of an era in show business when talent reigned. When top celebrities moved seamlessly from stage to screen, from pop to Broadway, just as Midler also did with last December’s gutsy TV adaptation of “Gypsy.”
But lately, thanks mostly to computerized production tricks in all aspects of the arts, few of us have much appreciation of raw talent. It’s gotten so we can’t even tell who’s singing, who can really turn a pirouette, who can tell a joke or deliver a line.
“Audiences have lowered their expectations.” Midler said during a telephone interview last week “Things have changed so that you don’t everÂ have to sing in tune. It s over. It ll never be like it was. It s the tenor of the times. Much of the mass audience is no longer knowledgeable, has no idea what skills are required. And they don’t appreciate how much work it is.”
To that end Midler knows she could probably take a few’ shortcuts – just show up in your town and wing it –”¢ but she refuses.
For weeks now’ she s been back in a Los Angeles rehearsal studio, running through every number, pace, note and gesture of her updated stage show.
Or as she calls it. “that three hour aerobics session.”
Her perfectionism in the studio is well-documented, but she s not prone to star fits. The divine diva act is usually reserved for showtime.Â “ I’m a true professional,” she says, without a hint of modesty. If she seems proud of herself, well, she is. And why not? She has fourÂ Grammy awards, two Emmys. a Tony and two Oscar nominations.
Few celebrities are as multifaceted and she knows it.
Though essentially a continuation of the fall tour. Midler has freshened the act with a few new costumes, players, jokes, and songs from past and present.
She ll mix show tunes with Catskills and vaudeville camp, plus chart hits such as “ From a Distance.” “Wind Beneath My W ings.” “The Rose ” and “ Friends.” and classics by Cole Porter and George Gerswhin.
“All they ever get is this year’s music.” she said of the typical pop fan. “There are people who don’t know who Judy Garland is or Maria Callas or Stephen Foster. George Gershwin. or Billie Holiday. And there is nothing in government or the schools to require they know. This should be part of spiritual and cultural education All that stuff is the root of culture. Basically, you have anarchy without it. That s what we have in this country now. Government does not care about the state of the national spirit.”
She s serious and passionate about all this, but when she talks about stardom, her film career and Hollywood in general. she s suddenly nonchalant.
You sense she d leave it in a minute for a farm somewhere if she could just be assured of a few good weeks each year on stage.
Ask her about her movie contract and she seems even less concerned.
“ I ve got two pictures to go with Disney,” she says, adding that she has no idea what or when they’ll be. I’m waiting for scripts. IÂ don’t know’ what’s gonna happen. I’m up for anything Really. I d like to just live.”
That she has tired of the L A. scene is hardly a revelation. Though her film career soared with “ Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” “Outrageous Fortune,” “Ruthless People,” “ Big Business” and “ Beaches,” in recent years it soured. “Scenes From a Mall.” “ Stella.” “ Hocus Pocus” and “ For the Boys” were costly flops that drained her desire.
She loves touring so much that she will again, on this new leg. tailor every performance for each city or state, a measure of concern for fans that is unmatched. In South Florida, for example, she plans likely one-liners about South Beach and immigration. Boca Raton matrons and humidity, just as she did during her stop here last November. She doesn’t travel with joke writers, because the best stuff alwaysÂ comes knocking.
“ Every’ single city has its own local ridiculousness,” she says.
“Our local spies call us up frothing at the mouth, dying to get their information into the public arena.
“ Part of the reason I went out on this tour was to experience America. Every region has its own interesting food and traditions and rituals.” She admits it s tiring to write and memorize new gags every few days, but she thinks it s worth it. I’m an old-world type, an
old-fashioned performer who goes the extra step. That s why I get paid the medium bucks.”
At 48. she says she’s “ ancient.” “ But who cares? I’m a young ancient.”
No argument there. On “ Late Show With David Letterman’’ the other night she burst on stage as “ Delores De Lago” (the mermaid who’s been the heart of her act forever) and bounced around to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” like a kid in her first show.
“The tail is what really takes it outta ya.” she said of the conditioning she gets whenever she dons the fish costume. But it wasn’t just the fins that got the crowd From the waist up Delores wears almost nothing but net.
“ Well. what’s the point of coming on to promote your live show if you don’t do that? Why not let the audience get excited? You might not like it. but you won t forget it.” she said.
“Alter a while all these people on talk shows in their jeans and T-shirts all run together. I have more fun.”
Though booked solid for the next four months, she has few’ firm plans after the tour ends Maybe a little time at home with family, and probably a new album for Atlantic Records by year’s end.
She may also tape this road show for video.
Then again, “ maybe not.” she says “ I want people to come and see me,” hinting at future tours.
She knows that Hollywood is often cruel to women over 40. let alone those nearing 50. but she s not afraid
“ I’m fed up with all these old adolescents. I ve earned every one of these scars and I’m proud. I’m a little tired, but I’m very proud of the fact that I’m a mature person I have a lot of life experience, a lot of lot wisdom and a lot to offer.”
But we already knew that.
On The Road With Bette:
May 24-25. Miami
May 27. St. Petersburg
May 29. Atlanta
May 31. North Charleston.
June 2. Raleigh . N C.
June 4-5. Columbia. Md
June 8. Charlotte. N C.
June IO. Nashville. Tenn.
June 12. Cincinnati
June 14. Cleveland
June 16 Columbus. Ohio
June 18. St. Louis
June 20. Kansas City. Mo.
June 22-23. Houston
June 25. New Orleans
June 28. Dallas
June 30. July I. Denver
Other North American cities:
July through September: Pittsburgh. Philadelphia; E. Rutherford. N J.; Uniondale. N Y . Hartford. Conn.; Mansfield. Mass.; Albany; Toronto;Â Chicago; Indianapolis; Detroit; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Winnipeg; Edmonton; Calgary; Vancouver; Seattle; Sacramento. Mountain View. Calif.; Irvine.Calif; and Las Vegas