The lights had been up for five minutes; as had the audience, on its feet chanting for Bette Midler‘s return to the austere labyrinth that was Sydney’s State Theatre last Saturday night, a bust of Queen Victoria looked out over these subjects who had really gone crazy.
Thie band, was literally packing away its gear; there, in the soft limbo that for the previous two hours had exuded, pulsed, no, exploded pure energy onto the Australian public. We would not go home without saying goodnight to that tiny, frizzy-haired New Yorker who had provided some of the most exciting entertainment ever to grace the Sydney
Midler took her audience up and down,’ through numbers, routines, gags, the Sophie Tucker jokes were different, some of which were familiar,others unknown, through the decades, in’ and out of fantasies, back again Through mime and the sugary Lily Tomlin smile to the loneliness of alcohol, up to the hopes of tomorrow and back again.
Midler is one of that all-too-rare breed, Midler is an entertainer. A professional. A song in herself, a poem, a joke to make you laugh, incredible energy that works you into a sweat by being there, waiting, expectant,Â wondering every moment what will happen next, savoring the pace, trusting her, hoping that the fantasies and the memories will never end.
Midler’s act is not really cabaret. Nor is it song and dance and idle chatter. Yes, of course, it’s all that. But it also spans about 50 years of show business from ‘The Gold Diggers of 33’. with small-scale Busby Berkeley routines through the milestone tunes of the 40s, 50s, and 60s to a person that is perhaps a near rival of Midler’s in terms of ergs to the audience, the late Janis Joplin.
Added to this is a generous proportion of her own material, songs listened to long and hard during the winter, material ranging from the sensitive appeals of’Mr Rockerfeller’ to the double on double on double entendres of ‘Dr. Longjohn’.
Midler takes the formulae of the great musicals with their bevy, the great comedians, the great eras, the great singers and songwriters and composers, and packages it in a one-person show with the support of about a dozen musicians and a vocals trio.
We first sec Bette emerging from behind the huge pile of speakers and advance to center stage, acknowledging the audience, the band, and her accompanying trio, the Harlettes. She is wearing a halter-neck, knee-length form-fitting leopard-skin dress, with a split at the back up to .-. . there. She claimed it was not a leopard but a dalmatian, “It goes wild every time a fire engine goes by”.
It was not until Midler turned to the whisky-scourged renditions of Janis Joplin that the possible extent of this remarkably versatile voice became apparent. She did two numbers from the recently completed biographical movie on Joplin and in each case, they began slowly and built to ear-piercing crescendos.
Coupled with thick blue background lighting and single white overhead spot â€” like the concerts of the Joplin era â€” these numbers have surely summoned every person who has faced the Midler experience to see that movie when it arrives.
In the South Pacific routine, which is set in the sleazy atmosphere of a Western Suburbs (Sydney) RSL Club, the Harlettcs do their level best to keep up with the quick costume changes, but, as the act dictates, it does not come off, and the result is a magnificent farce. Bette arrives on stage in a motorized wheelchair, resplendent as a mermaid with a menacing tail and erratic driving. Attached to the wheelchair is a, well, I think it was supposed to be a palm tree complete with coconuts.
Other costumes were a simple frock and a raggy, pockety old overcoat, from which she pulled the things that entertained her one day on a bench, in a park; her Charlie Chaplin routine.
The old idea that intermission was a time for a smoke, a drink for the performers, and verdict-so-far-type chats around the bar went completely haywire on Saturday. Midler scrambled our brains and spoiled us rotten.
After reseating ourselves for round two, and the opening strains of ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ damped the chatter, it was apparent that she was by no means through with us.
Midler’s wit spared few sacred cows, though it is unlikely that all those royal persons and politicians would sue for slander. Among her favorites were Bjelke-Petersen, Fraser, Anthony, Princess Margaret.
Yes, most of the jokes are. unfortunately, unprintable, but if you know someone who has been lucky enough to catch a show, ask about them. Or better still, check out the availability of tickets for the remainder of the Sydney or Melbourne shows.
Bette Midler has so overtaken the Australian audiences that what started out as a tour has developed, into a season. Or, in the words of Sophie Tucker which she uses to preface her jokes, “I will never forget it”.