“Main Liners are tough nuts to crack,” said the Divine Miss M, (Bette Midler to the uninitiated) whose spirit was obviously dampened by the straight, uptight audience at her opening show at the Academy of Music Sunday eight.
“I hope you go out and get yourself wrecked at intermission,” she pleaded, promising to tell “the filthiest Linda Lovelace joke” as a reward, then disappeared to prepare for a second attack aimed at loosening up the crowd.
In almost every city blessed with the trashy, flashy Bette Midler concert, the audience is a key ingredient. From her professional beginnings in the decadence of Manhattan’s chic, gay Continental Baths, the Divine Miss M has drawn energy from her constantly growing cult.
Elsewhere the straights parrot her outrageous dress while the adoring gay audience fills the air with their limp-wristed shouts of “Diviiiiine.”
But not in Philadelphia. Where was the freak show: the platform shoes, the sleazy thrift shop dresses, the tight toreador pants, the sequins and feathers – in short the all-round sparkle of a Bette Midler audience?
Granted, the platforms are hard to balance. One frizzy headed fellow wearing white pants, a white blazer opened to reveal an emaciated white chest, made a precarious descent to the lobby, tripping on three of the red carpeted steps in his pale blue leather platforms.
BUT HER FANS, worried and protective, feared her disappointment. “She’s uptight with us. That’s Philadelphia. The people aren’t responding,” lamented Dennis Dunwoody, a full time student and banker who wore, with his platforms, a gold earring, brown herringbone knickers and a black skullcap covered with childhood mementoes: a miniature baseball bat, a bowling ball, a tag from Stone Mountain in Georgia and car tags (“the kind you used to get from disabled people”).
Mr. Dunwoody was one of the devoted fans who would not have disappointed the star. Henri David was another. He wore a single pearl earring, expertly applied silver eye shadow, a panne velvet silver jumpsuit over which he draped a knee length silver-lined blue velvet cape.
“WE’RE IN THE TRADITION of the Bette Midler concert,” said decked-out Diana Knafo. “But this audience, they’re stars with no lights. They couldn’t move. There was nothing there.”
In fact, there was something there. It was a tribute to Miss. Midler that – despite the sea of dark blazers, bow ties, poplin car coats, and rows of sensible brown pumps, the Divine did not only survive, but she did prevail.
In the finale, stripped of her sequined pink gown and multi-colored feather boa and clad only in rose platform ankle strap shoes and a pale lavender, black trimmed slip that adorned the tiny troll like body, Bette Midler, hands sweeping through her frizzy red hair, finally got the standing ovation, the raucous cheers, the love she had been begging two hours for.