BootLeg Betty

BetteBack December 4, 1973: Midler Bows at the Palace

New York Post
Midler Bows at the Palace

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Bette Midler probably couldn’t be boring if she tried.

And that she doesn’t understand that – or at least believe it – was the problem when the vibrant singer-comedienne took the stage of the Palace last night for the opening of a long sold-out three-week run.

Skittering on stage like a manical kewpie doll in a green-blue-and-pink dress, tottering in ankle-strap platform shoes, she proclaimed herself the “last of the truly tacky women,” a “study in low rent” who’s been “through the muck and mire.” But in place of the cheap honesty that’s propelled her to fame, she opted for lavish theatrics.

No lyric was to be dispatched without extravagant gesture, no joke cracked without a dazzling smile or crafty rapture, no sally tossed off without passing through her nose, no pause marked without an elaborate “my gawwwwwd!” and no conclusions were to be reached by an audience of camp followers and scene makers without detailed instructions from the entertainer.

Which was a pity, as she has in past performance and on record proven herself a pop singer able, by raiding the past with care and command, to raise her craft to pop art.

But where on her first album, “The Divine Miss M,” she glides, slides and soars through “Am I Blue,” pushing it to the outer limits of poignancy, but not a quavering note further, as though it hadn’t been through the wringing hands of a bedraggled army of torch singers before her, at the Palace she chooses to be gayer than gay and lonelier than lonely.

Nor does she aim any higher with “Hello in There,” a near-athetic paean to American old age which she has in the past pared down to spare poetry but last night enriched with glittering, superiors intensity.

And when she tackles (and that’s the word) songs of intrinsic glitter – “Lullaby of Broadway,” “In the Mood,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and onto schlock-rock classics “Leader of the Pack” and “Do-Ron Ron” – it’s too often like watching a channel swimmer in the last flailing laps.

Still and yet. When she opens the second act by traipsing down an enormous Busby Berkleyish-silver lame ankle-strap shoe, resplendent in pink sequin sheath and tatty boa, arms going like hydraulic-powered egg beaters to the masterful beat provided by musical director Barry Manilow, her back-up group, the Harlettes, just as dazzling in pink maids’ uniforms that swoop open to reveal an American flag lining, Bette Midler makes a promise you want to believe in.

And when she learns that it’s possible to try too hard, she’ll probably fulfill it.

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