BootLeg Betty

BetteBack January 17, 1997: Miss M is Divine in Las Vegas

Santa Ana Orange County Register
January 17, 1997

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That Bette Midler!

One minute, she gets down and dirty in a bawdy burlesque number, next, she spouts obscenity-spiked jokes, then she blossoms into a glamorous diva belting out spine-tingling ballads.

All sides of the Divine One’s stage persona can be seen in “Diva Las Vegas,” a two-hour concert airing Saturday on HBO.

It’s definitely not the frumpy Bette you saw in “The First Wives Club.”

She’s a slimmed-down, outright babe, and she won’t let you forget it. Her second song is “I Look Good,” and she repeatedly asks the audience, “Don’t I look good?” as she struts across the stage in strappy black wheels, skin-tight black pants and a glittering
black top beneath a mop of blond ringlets.

Such an attitude, though, is to be expected from the irrepressible Midler.

With her backup singers and dancers, the Harlettes, Midler puts on a supercharged production, her first full-length TV concert since 1984. She even slips into a mermaid outfit to revive her outrageous Delores DeLago character, who literally flops around onstage during several songs.

The concert’s high point, though, is more understated. It comes near the end, when Midler dons a floor-length brown gown, swoops up her hair for a classy twist and belts out the ballads “From a Distance,” “To Comfort You,” “Stay With Me” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

In a pre-concert interview, Midler, 51, said the performance would be the last of her big-production shows.

“I can’t do it anymore. I can’t take it anywhere,” she said. I can’t take it overseas because it’s too cost prohibitive.”

She left open the possibility of touring with a smaller entourage.

“I’d like to pare it ail down and have a small group just to sort of get to Japan. I’ve had a 30-year career, and I’ve never played Japan!” she said.

Midler is among a handful of entertainers who can claim success in virtually every arena — television, film, stage, music and standup comedy. But it’s singing before a live audience, she said, that is her first love.

“That’s where I started my professional life and what I enjoy the most because it’s my, you know?” she said. “I don’t have to worry about someone else’s ideas being superimposed on me.

“It’s my expression and my art. And sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s not so great, but at least I’m not at the mercy of someone else’s taste. I’m at the mercy of my own taste and my own intellect.”

With 16 cameras pointed at the stage, the concert was taped Saturday at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino on the city’s famed Strip.

It was produced and directed by Marty Callner, best known for those Aerosmith music videos featuring Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler.

“When you work with someone like this,” a beaming Callner said after the concert, “she was so into it. Not for the money. There were no egos. We just wanted to do something great.”

Callner accompanied Midler for a couple of months on a nationwide tour so they could hammer out choreography and fine-tune the performance for the HBO special.

Of all the cities they could have chosen for the show, why Vegas ?

“I love Las Vegas. I love it!” Midler bellowed. “It’s a great city. It’s so silly. I have two minds about it. On the one hand, I’m appalled, and, on the other hand, I’m just like, ‘Oh, so what. There it is. Go ahead and enjoy it. Don’t make a big deal about it.’ ”

By going to Vegas, she also could use that great name “Diva Las Vegas,” a play on Elvis Presley’s movie “Viva Las Vegas.”

Plus, Midler has fond memories of the city of Lost Wages. She was married there to Martin von Haselberg by an Elvis impersonator.

Midler shows no signs of fatigue after a long day of photo shoots and interviews. Wearing a mismatched outfit of a leopard-print jacket and black-and-white checkered pants, she leans back on a couch, stroking her 11-year old daughter’s white jack terrier, Queen Puddles.

She’s not one to just discuss career. She loves girl talk, too.

“Blond is so great if you’re old.

There’s nothing like blond to keep your spirits up. Really. It just cheers you up to be a blonde,” she says. “Red doesn’t last. People thought I was a real redhead. I was never a real anything.”

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