December 5, 1973
Bette Midler boogied back to Broadway Monday night (3), opening a three-week SRO stand at the Palace, where $350,000 is already in the till from tickets scaled from $15 weekends, $12 weeknights, and that doesn’t include standing room on the day-of-performance at a walloping $10 per.
Kleig lights (despite the energy crisis), celebs, drag’ queens and the Broadway opening night establishment were out in force for the event, Midler’s first N.Y. appearance in almost a year. What they got was middling, just a glimpse of the potential of this talented brassy singer who’s now pushing too hard and too fast.
Less than fresh from an exhausting national tour, Midler’s voice was strained, unable to sustain higher registers and sometimes breaking mid-note. The act itself is tired with no fresh material, and Midler’s all-too-obvious first night jitters were not helped by a tough audience, most of whom have never shimmied in their towels at the Continental Baths, where this phenomenon began.
Trouble with Midler’s act, aside from the lack of balance and a disturbing note of a new, harsher vulgarity, lies in the inherent dangers of her relentless self-depreciation and her penchant for arrangements that build to frenzy without purpose. She still lacks the sustained confidence and / or guidance to just stand there and sing, but when she manages it, as she did briefly on opening, she is a knockout. Ironically, rehearsal footage aired on some of the local tv stations Monday night displayed a relaxed and controlled singer in top form. More of that feeling onstage would balance the current overemphasis on speed freak boogie-woogie and furious ’50s rock.
Again backed by the gifted Barry Manilow (who offered a sock solo second act opening of his own compositions), Midler needs only to care for her voice and exercise some self restraint, after all, nostalgia is trendy by definition and the boys in the balcony can be fickle. Developing a wider range and protecting that tough vulnerability that is her own should insure Midler the kind of lasting career her raw talent deserves.
The Palace stand is produced by Aaron Russo with Ron Delsener.