BootLeg Betty

BetteBack July 10, 1994: “Bette Midler is divine. . . The lady has earned her halo.”

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Orland Park Star
July 10, 1994

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The Divine Miss M is happy happy happy, riding high on the success of her first concert tour in IO years and the recent triumph of her TV version of “Gypsy” on CBS.

Everywhere her concert tour has sold out the houses, the fans and critics ecstatic.

Said Richard Corliss in “Time,” reviewing her show at Radio City Music Hall: “Bette Midler has lived up to her self-promotion. She is divine. . . The lady has earned her halo.”

She was one happy angel when she called on a recent afternoon from Kansas City, fresh from a workout, looking forward to her performance that night.

Mainly, she was overjoyed to be back where she started — on the concert stage, free of the studio executives whom she felt diluted her talents in a movie career that has been only intermittently successful.

“For me, to sing my songs, to do my show as I choose, is just a thrill. It’s my own work, my own creation,” she said of her concert show.

“You get the rewards immediately, you see the people, you can see the smiles on their faces. You don’t have to wait six months, you don’t have to worry about how it’s going to come out.

“I like the fact that it’s my material, that I don’t have to submit myself to other people’s tastes, which is what you have to do in Hollywood. I got so exhausted from that over the years, having ideas, and having them redefined and remanipulated until I don’t even recognize my own work anymore.”

But Midler had more control in “Gypsy” the Broadway musical based on the memoirs of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

Known for her brassy ebullience, Midler was born to play the domineering Mama Rose, v a u d e v ille ’s definitive stage mother.

The production was a big ratings winner for CBS and a hit with critics as well.

“Gypsy,” it seemed could open the TV screen to a new genre of special, a whole area that TV has ignored for the last 30 years or more — revivals of hit Broadway musicals.

“I hope that happens, I really do,” Midler said. “We had a wonderful time making it. The material is wonderful, the book is completely ageless and classic. The songs have resided in people’s subconscious for so long. One show does not constitute a trend, but I sure had a good time making it, and I think it’s very worthwhile.”

Her concert features a performance of “Rose’s Turn,” the most flamboyant and emotional number in “Gypsy.”

Singing that song at her first Minneapolis show, Midler said, reminded her of how exhausting a concert could be.

“I came off the stage panting and sweating and practically cata­tonic,” she recalled, “and I said, ‘Now I remember why I stayed off the stage for so long ’

She never worried, she said flatly, about whether she still had the chops for a full-length concert.

“No, that never occured to me,” Midler said. “Why would it? Nobody does what I do.”

Her show is eclectic as ever, ranging from tender ballads to the raunchiest routines. Yes, she performs many of the songs fans have come to expect from Bette Midler concerts, including “Delta Dawn,” “Stay With Me,” and “Hello In There.”

She also does the subtle melodically complex “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.”

“It’s a challenge, and I like that,” she said.

And yes, she again rolls out in a wheelchair as Delores DeLago, the lounge-aet mermaid.

“Delores has been in rehab,” Midler said by way of catching up on the news, “and she’s doing an informercial.”

Midler, who began her career as a chanteuse in New’ York’s gay bathhouses, still attracts a large gay following, but her audiences are by no means limited to gays.

“My crowds this year have been completely mixed — young, old, gay, straight. And very middlebrow, lots of middle-class types.”

She has not toned down the more scandalous part of her show, she said. In fact, the audiences seem to wait eagerly for the raunchy parts.

“I guess after all these years of being bombarded with all that nuttiness on TV, I look like a square,” she said. “Sometimes I think I’m too straight.”

Her risque gags, Midler said, get “titters” from audiences, “but they wait for the really dirty ones. These are middle-aged people, and
grandma types and grandpa types, even. They’re just waiting for that really bad language.

“Suddenly, people want what I do. A few years ago, they weren’t so sure. But in the last 20 years, so many people have gone by the wayside, there are very few entertainers doing what I do. So now I look like someone who had some sort of recognition that this was going to happen. I didn’t, really. But I’m the only one left standing after all this time.”

Now 47 and married to Martin von Haselberg (a German-born businessman and performance artist), Midler is the mother of 7-year old Sophie. Because of Sophie, Midler is pondering whether she should go out on more concert tours. Or when.

She does not like leaving her daughter at home while she’s on the road.

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