The Village Voice
December 13, 1973
IT IS NOT SO MUCH that Bette Midler‘s appearance at the Palace Theatre has made her a Broadway star as it is that she has brought stardom back to Broadway. Tacky she is, but tacky with a splendid sense of grandeur. Why, even her nervousness on Opening Night, manifested in a missed note or a wrong tempo, befit the occasion, for this was an audience, mostly invited, composed of the Beautiful and Famous from rock and theatre worlds alike. For them, she would have to be at her tackiest, even more so than in Portland or Passaic. Needless to say, she succeeded marvelously.
The show is beautifully constructed, with the production numbers properly produced, the gaudiness properly spoofed and exploited. Miss M’s second act entrance, following a three-song set by her pianist / musical director Barry Manilow, makes just her playing the Palace in a way that has eluded all of the pop stars who have tried it in recent seasons.
A magnificent pink, red, and blue skyline backdrop drapes the rear of the stage as she makes the entrance, descending from a huge, high-heeled silver lame shoe. Miss M herself wears a pink lame gown, an outfit which could only be topped by the sequined and feathered numbers of some of those who had come to hear her. The song she sings, appropriately enough, is “Lullaby of Broadway.” Climaxing the scene, her three-voice back-up group, the Harlettes, enter in 1940s maid uniforms to join her for “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” their costumes blossoming out into American flags. That, mind you, is but her entrance.
Throughout the evening her shticks, “dishes” as she calls them, once disjointed and rambling, are now built around her touring experiences and put downs shot at such popular personages as Dick Nixon, Dick Clark, and Linda Lovelace. The proper Broadway term for it, l believe, would be ribald. Miss M has her own terms: garbage, trash, sleaze. It works no matter what you call it.
The opening a week ago Tuesday was not Midler at her best, partly because as New Yorkers, we have seen the show develop through its more elementary stages. The things which once happened spontaneously are now formally incorporated into the show, though there is still plenty of room for improvisation. The portrayal of the Divine Miss M is more polished (refined it is not), with the result a program whose appeal will bring her to still newer and broader audiences.