Washington Star News
August 27, 1973
Standing on the Merriweather Post Pavilion stage in rehearsal before her concert Saturday night, Bette Midler appeared to be a tiny figure. Only her bright red hair and the power of her singing would indicate that this person in the tight, low cut blouse, blue jeans and platform shoes was anything out of the ordinary. She looked tired.
“Shake your fannies, girls,” she ordered one of her backup trio, the Harlettes, who also were in blue jeans. And when the rehearsal and sound check were over, there was a little hassle with her musicians and road crew about when they were supposed to be back. Midler sounded like a New York yenta, nagging her people to do what she wanted.
Two hours later, she was back on stage, attired in a stainy white dress with a V-neck and a hemline that came to mid-calf. This time there were 5,000 fans in the pavilion’s 5,000 seats, another 5,000 or so on the lawn outside, and as the fans stood, shrieked and roared their welcome, Bette Midler suddenly looked larger than life.
SHE IS AN authentic superstar.
The Saturday night concert was the first of a grueling three-and-one-half month tour. She spent last week finishing her second album, the long-awaited successor to the lengendary “The Divine Miss M.” She spent the rest of her time in rehearsal and with choreographers, getting ready for the tour. Newsweek was following her around for a cover story, Time was standing in line, Ms. had elevated her to sainthood in the women’s movement and the word was that she had just turned down a cool $500,000 to star in a movie.
Her fans are legion, and they are devoted. The pavilion seats were sold out within two days of the concert’s first announcement. The large fashion parade of homosexuals and other assorted oddities that made up half of the audience at a Kennedy Center appearance last spring was back Saturday night, but they constituted only about 10 percent of this audience. The remainder were concertgoers who would look normal at any concert. They came to see and hear Miss M.
And they got what they came for. From the moment she came on stage, strutting, flapping her arms and roaring off into her first song, she had the audience won. All but one strange person near the front who heckled her and kept making motions as though he was trying to send up bad feelings. (He succeeded; she said after the concert he had upset her for 45 minutes, but nobody could tell from her performance.)
She is raunchy, she is sensitive; she can become almost beautiful, she can look grotesque as she rolls around the floor. She can make you laugh, and most assuredly, she can make you cry when she belts out a torch song.
THERE WAS much new material, in addition to such Midler standbys as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Superstar” and “Am I Blue.” There was a vocal interpretation of the old Glenn Miller arrangement of “In the Mood” that was note perfect, down to the soaring trumpet of the last few bars. There was a hauntingly beautiful presentation of Hoagy Carmichael‘s “Skylark.” And there was a roaring, rocking, stomping treatment of the rock ‘n roll epic “Higher and Higher,” along with an amazing version of Brecht and Weill’s “Surabaya Johnny.”
Her range of material is enormous, her voice ever-changing to suit what she is doing. If she sometimes gets carried away and be comes a little too vulgar, a little too dÃ©classÃ©, well, that’s Bette Midler, too; all the vulgarity disappears when she begins to sing, and she holds nothing, absolutely nothing, back.
After the concert, when all the screaming had stopped and almost everyone had gone home, Bette Midler sat in the tiny room of the trailer that serves as the star’s dressing room at the Post Pavilion. All the theatrics of performance were gone, but so was the fatigue of rehearsal. She was quiet, relaxed, signing a few autographs, reading a telegram, running a comb futilely through her hair. She talked about the star of the night’s fashion parade, Killer Keeler, a big-bosomed boomer on roller skates, and she remembered the bizarre crowd at the Kennedy Center earlier in the year.
And once more Bette Midler looked her 5 feet 1 1/2 again. Very human.