September 29, 1973
With due respect to Carol, Little Darlin’ and Runaround Sue, all heart-throbbers in their own time, Bette Midler is now queen of the hop and getting most of the action. “The Divine Miss M.” is back in town and singing up a storm at the Berkeley Community Theater through Sunday.
Bette Midler is part of the ’70s cabaret parade, a campy return to the glamour and tinsel of the entertainment world 30 years ago – extravagant production numbers, old show tunes, hubba-hubba costumes and even choreography. Miss Midler incorporates all of these things, on a small scale, into her act.
“We do this ‘garbaage’,” she said. Translated, that means Miss Midler and her Harlettes back-up-trio, flutter about, strike sexy poses, make costume changes and sing their sweet heads off.
But that’s only part of her act. Bette Midler is also a very funny lady. Her humor is sharp, quick and double-edged, which goes hand in hand with her “tacky is chic” image. It’s something she’s got down and it can be hilarious.
Bette Midler sings songs for all ages. There are old songs, new songs, teenage romance songs and torch songs. Her arrangements are captivating and her delivery is nothing short of remarkable. Listening to her sing a sad song is something I can’t forget. But she never leaves you in one place too long.
The opener, “Friends,” had her smiling. On “Delta Dawn,” she was almost in tears. Then she did a Philadelphia medley (“We call it that because it reeks”) of “Uptown,” “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby.” Bette and the girls were accompanied by a large band.
There wasn’t a moment when the curly-haired redhead wasn’t ON. On up-tempo numbers, it was action, action; on the smoky, sad songs, it was expression, expression. In between tunes, Miss Midler carried on a mile a minute in her loveable nasal monotone, about the joys of show biz, audience reaction to her and attacks on other personalities in the news. The audience couldn’t get enough of her.
She is as much actress as she is singer. On “Am I Blue” and a bitter ballad about a man named Johnny, her voice became a whisper, cracked a little and let out long, low sighs, while her face showed much feeling.
But no sooner had your throat gone dry, than the song ended and Bette was back to being Bette, a harlequin with a sharp tongue and wit to match. “Oh, mediocre!” she chided the audience for a weak attempt at singing part of “Do You Wanna Dance” along with her. “Honey, you better get it on, or go home,” she said.
The second half of the show began with Bette Midler’s arranger, composer and conductor, Barry Manilow, doing songs from his new album. His is the voice on the current McDonald’s hamburger ad.
Then, as the Harlettes came back in pink maid uniforms and the backstage was lit with a night time cityscape, Bette reappeared for “Lullaby of Broadway.” Doing the old Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” once, wasn’t enough, so they picked it up three times in all. They finished in cute salutes.
Then, another bar song, followed by Karen Carpenter’s “Superstar.” which was completely transformed by Miss Midler’s grieving rendition. John Prine’s “Hello In There” and a couple of back to back production numbers followed, Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” and the Shangri-Las‘ “Leader of the Pack.” The last was too rambunctious to get everything you wanted out of it, but the intro dialogue, with the girls’ backs to the audience and hands on their hips, was worth waiting for.
She closed with “Going to the Chapel” and “Friends” again. At the end she was radiant, glowing, bubbling over with her big beautiful smile and skittering across the stage like a happy child. She gave so much. I want to go see her again