BetteBack March 1973: It’s “Divine” Bette Midler

Newark Star Lodger ”“
March 1973


It happens so fast you have to do a quick double-take: One second she’s prancing and gliding across the stage in a poured-into raspberry sequined backless sheath, the quintessential ’40s nightclub star. Then, with a zip quicker than-the-eye, a flash of raspberry sequin is tossed at the gray haired man in the second row, and the singer, still prancing, is wearing – tight black satin leotards and a black corset – halter.

Quick change accomplished, Bette Midler, the “Divine Miss M,” is ready to take us on a trip back to the “fahb-bue-lus” days of the Shangri-Las‘ “Leader of the Pack.” She turns her back to the audience, as the spotlight centers slightly below her waist, and begins that
rock and roll saga of a biker’s girl – a perfectly raunchy caricature of the part.

The Divine Miss M” (Atlantic) is a good album, very good, but it pales before Bette Midler in person. Her show at the Capitol last weekend was the best pop performance I’ve ever seen – Mick Jagger not excluded.

The Divine Miss M, in all her brassy, trashy glory, took “Pah-say-yick” by storm (out of Tempest). Beside her, attempts at showmanship like Alice Cooper become sorry, minor league circus sideshows, and David Bowie is about as dynamic as Neil Armstrong.

Bette Midler may be camp, but she’s high camp, camp elevated to the upper reaches of Pop Art. She has the marvelous ability to mock the nightclub, Broadway and Hollywood musical star image of the ’40s while refurbishing and enhancing the magnetism and charisma that makes a star.

She’s a hip Carol Burnett, a stoned Ethel Merman, a full color Hirschfeld cartoon suddenly come to uproarious life. And her show is filled with the accoutrements of sleazy opulence found in ’40s nightclubs and musicals: Gigantic potted palms, stage set lamppost and park bench, grand piano – even a trio of backup singers dressed like French Apache dancers and called the “Harlettes.”

And dominating it all is Bette Midler, the Divine Miss M, belting out “Empty Bed Blues,” torching “Am I Blue,” doing an instant replay of the last chorus of “‘Chapel of Love.” Telling “hah-ra-bull” jokes between songs and finding them as funny as the audience.

All the time showing a remarkable rapport with her audience and pacing the show with all the verve of an old pro, holding the audience in the palm of her hand! Add to it all a really big virtuoso voice – but you can hear that on the record.

Share A little Divinity

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