Sydney, AU
Sydney Superdome
April 13, 2005

A Divine Musical Experience
by Brett

Review of KMB – Wednesday 13th April – Sydney Superdome

A lot of reviews focus on summarizing career spans, and how long it has been since Bette Midler last graced our shores, and the fact that she’s 59 and fabulous – so I want to skip those details and concentrate more on the music and the performance that constituted my favourite concert experience so far – KMB.

The pacing of the opening tunes in the first set was perfect – the specially-penned ‘Kiss My Brass’ song was fun and energetic, and perfectly brassy. This made for (nay, demanded) a great transition into one of the highlights of the “For The Boys” soundtrack, ‘Stuff Like That There’. Part of the magic of seeing Bette Midler live, is that we make up the audience to whom she sings, in the same way that songs like these were delivered to an audience in whichever movie the song came from. It’s not just a recording artist reproducing their hits – this is, in part, the re-enactment of all the drama, spectacle and emotion that came through in the films themselves. So my enjoyment of the performance is tied up in and tripled by my memories and fondness for the drama of the films from which the songs come. That aside, ‘Stuff Like That There’ is seamless, well-arranged and choreographed, and naughty enough to indicate that we’re in for a well-rounded night of entertainment. It also shows off the presence of brass (for the first time in any of Bette’s previous tours) in the 13-piece band, and immediately provides validation for why Bette chose to bring brass all the way across the ocean – it was worth it!

‘Skylark’ was a well-placed, quieter number – but was by no means less notable. The subtlety of the musical arrangement (praising MD Bette Sussman) allowed for Bette’s voice to truly take centre-stage – which is not to say that she struggles to be heard in the more up-tempo, instrumentally-crowded songs. But it is on these quieter arrangements that one can really savour the softer tones, breaths, vibrato and expressiveness of Bette’s still-in-top-form vocal chords. It was also lovely to reach so far back into Bette’s back-catalog, and not just pull out a hit, but an understated, beautiful song. It shows an appreciation for what was never mere album-filler, and rewards listeners who truly respect this artist’s body of work.

‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ never fails to impress – and amaze, when one actually sees in the flesh, such a great delivery of such a difficult (and high-speed!) vocal part, while keeping pace with demanding choreography. Again, the brass shines!

The video of Judge Judy worked so well, and also showed part of the extent of work and care that went into this bigger-than-big production. The adapted lyrics to ‘Nobody Else But You’ provided the perfect way (in fact, the only way!) to perform that song. Self-satire is not dead! Of course I would’ve much preferred ‘God Give Me Strength’ from that album (‘Bette’), but figured that would’ve been asking too much.

In general, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the set-list (although in the case of Bette Midler, there’s always many many songs which one wishes they’d included – ‘Delta Dawn’, ‘Some People’s Lives’, ‘Boxing’, and of course ‘Stay With Me’) and was so thrilled with unexpected inclusions such as ‘I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today’, whose dynamics were helped along so well by the wonderfully arranged crescendos in brass and drums. Again it gave space for enjoyment of Bette’s lower, more lush vocal range, and complimented her perfectly when she lifts – on this night, on this song, she soared.

‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ was gutsy and tastefully re-created, crossing the 26 year timegap since its original performance in “The Rose”. This number was definitely one of the highlights, because as soon as I thought that Bette was controlling and measuring her vocals too well (to the point of restricting the ‘rock’ of it!) she would let loose and defy any restriction presumed. Some adlibs on the final choruses were great and inventive – it’s wonderful to hear a singer bend old lines in new ways, and to be taken by surprise.

The staging was fantastic and inspired – the symmetry of Bette riding in on the descending carousel horse, and riding out (literally “shiver me timbers, I’m sailing away…”) on it ascending was beautiful, especially as that particular song (whose inclusion in the setlist I was particularly thrilled about) is all about leaving and escaping – as Bette says on the monologue which introduces it’s live version on her greatest hits collection ‘Experience The Divine’ “Sometimes I think this song isn’t about the sea at all, it’s about getting away, getting out of whatever you’re in, just getting away”. The song sails away, and little attention and praise is ever paid to the intricacy of the vocal harmonies which end the song – the most beautiful set of la-la’s to ever send a song off with. And what a set it closed.

Half of the excitement of the second set, was waiting to see in what order all of the remaining ‘big hits’ would be delivered. Delores was definitely more enjoyable this time than on videos of previous tours (1997’s Diva Las Vegas’ and all the way back to her inception on ‘Divine Madness’), and mostly because of the great selection of show tunes which kept it focused and coherent. These medleys however, are also teasers, because as in ‘Diva Las Vegas’, when I would’ve given anything to have heard Bette perform full versions of ‘MacArthur’s Park’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, this time I would’ve given even more for full versions of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Everything’s Comin Up Roses’.

The Cher-fight video moved nicely into ‘From A Distance’, which was played in the most beautiful, dynamic and song-serving arrangement I have yet heard. Its swells and tenderness were more than enough to keep it interesting, while still faithful – and for the first time in quite a while I really enjoyed this song. Particularly heart-stirring were the piano flourishes and the brass (which just worked so well!).

‘Do You Wanna Dance’ was simply lovely – the key change halfway through is always a highpoint, and you could tell that the band (and the vocalists) could really enjoy this part.
‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ benefited greatly from the transition away from 80’s synthesizers towards the more organic sounding piano – and of course, Bette sang it like none other could. The reprise (though potentially corny and ‘too-Vegas’) was absolutely called-for, and it was a joy to hear Bette sing again, just because once through is not enough – truly. Following each rise throughout this song, the listener is really struck by the demanding vocals required – after a whole huge set-and-a-half (including the toll taken by songs like ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’), Bette’s voice was resilient and stronger than ever. The connoisseur of female vocalists notes that voices such as Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell, really can’t hit the notes and recreate the same tenderness and fullness of tone that they used to (which is not to say they don’t mature to take on new and equally beautiful qualities) – and also notes, that Bette Midler in comparison, has wisely preserved a wonderful instrument, and doesn’t disappoint. I don’t even think that any songs were transposed down to a lower key to ‘save’ on the higher notes – except for perhaps ‘When A Man…’.

‘The Rose’ was accorded its proper and well-earned place as a beautiful encore – and the capacity crowd’s performance of the first verse combined well with Bette’s great ad-libs, to create the feeling that these musical moments were really being made in each present moment, and not just recreated in a pre-programmed way. The arrangements of the instruments (which held back when they needed to and went wild when there was no other choice!), and of course the performance of the vocalists (lead and backing – with a special nod to Margaret Dorn and the Harlettes) were the show-stopping elements of the night for me – the rest, being the fantastic staging, artwork, theme/concept, video footage, jokes and the spot-on Aussie references, were also fantastic.

All of it closed beautifully on a rather stripped-back, intimate note – a sensitive and lilting cover of Peter Allen’s ‘Tenterfield Saddler’, showing a true appreciation for his body of work and not just a knee-jerk grab for the most recognizable hit. It’s Bette’s sensitivity that gets me – and that voice.

Bette Midler: Kiss My Brass
By John Burfitt
Sydney Star Observer
Published 21/04/2005

Back in 1979 Bette Midler’s record 13-show engagement at the State Theatre became part of this city’s show business folklore due to the sheer brilliance of the talent and the ground-breaking show which contained it.

After Midler’s appearance last week at a very different venue, the Sydney Superdome, the Divine Miss M can leave us again safe in the knowledge she is certain to live on in our folklore once more.

Featuring a 13-piece band and the all-singing, all-dancing Harlettes, Kiss My Brass presented a mixture of old, recent and new Midler favourites from the past four decades.

From the moment she appeared sitting atop a merry-go-round horse to when she finally said goodbye, Bette Midler presented a three-hour show which was compellingly entertaining.

Whether it was making political jokes about John Howard and George Bush, adding a local flavour with references to Oxford Street being too gay and Blacktown being full of mullets, or boasting she has more talent than Pauline Hanson, Midler’s sassy, razor-sharp wit kept the audience on the circus ride with her.

Beloved characters like Sophie Tucker also made an appearance, but it was the outrageous Broadway medley of singing mermaid Delores DeLago which almost stopped the show as Midler crammed every show tune and musical cliché into one sequence.

Midler proved her voice had lost none of its lustre and was equally in charge with the up-tempo dance sequences of Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and the blues of When A Man Loves A Woman as she was with ballad anthems like Skylark, Wind Beneath My Wings and From A Distance.

She ended with a simple encore of Peter Allen’s Tenterfield Saddler.

“I am not retiring and you can’t make me,” Midler announced at the beginning of Kiss My Brass, and on the basis of this spectacle, the 58-year-old diva isn’t even close to stepping away from the microphone and spotlight.

Mister D: I’d like to thank Mr. Hawkins for sending in this unedited version of a review of Bette’s Sydney show. It’s long and detailed…just like we all love it. David is a director and writer. If any of you Ozzie’s wanna be surprised if you’re going to the show, then read no further.

Ain’t No Gamble….It’s A Sure Bette!
By David Hawkins

Bette Midler – Kiss My Brass
13 April 2005
Sydney Superdome

“Tradition” was the first song Bette Midler sang on Broadway in 1966 in the ensemble of “Fiddler On The Roof” and last night thirty nine years later she once again gave us a huge serve of tradition. The kind of tradition that one could think has been forgotten in our crazy fast paced modern world, I am talking of the good old fashioned tradition called SHOWBIZ. To see a woman in her 60th year rip up a packed arena of over 20,000 people using every trick in the trade is really an experience no living human should miss.

One is struck immediately by the hugely theatrical set built originally for New York’s gigantic Radio City Music Hall proscenium arched stage; the design is riddled with the Midler style. Themed around Coney Island at the turn of the century, from this Midler pulled the structure for what was to be the amusement ride of our lives. As she told us “some rides are scary, some are fun, and some are both” she did not disappoint us in our travels one bit.

Every fan was screaming as soon as we heard the opening tribal beats from her past live hit “Big Noise From Winnetka” which developed into “Kiss My Brass” using genius parody lyrics by Eric Kornfeld. Midler made her entrance in a sailor suit on a larger than life carousel horse, like ten thousand stampeding horses she proceeded to dazzle us with her electric energy and that trade mark strut.

There could be no mistake the DIVINE was in the house, her opening was so well crafted it landed like a Boeing 747 on a perfect day. “How ya doin Australia!” she announced to us with force, we were all still breathless after her jet speed opening.

Before we knew it we were at the mercy of the Divine Miss M, “Last time I was here the audience was on drugs, now their all on medication”. Whilst strutting she informs us “When I arrived at the airport they asked me if I had a criminal record, I replied: I didn’t know it was still a requirement”. She greeted the front row calling them “My own personal Double Bay”, and then under her breath “Or should I say Double Pay”, waving to the top balcony she shouts out “Hello Blacktown, show us your mullets.”

The Divine introduces the staggering Harlettes (her infamous female backup trio) telling us “they love their accommodation at the local Refugee Camp”, and continues “I have to keep getting new girls, they just seem to get old unlike me……I’m not retiring and you can’t make me, I’m just like John Howard”.

Introductions done, exposition completed we start our journey with “Stuff Like That There” with Bette in full swing doing all the choreography with the girls. Our divine leader then pulls back the reigns and sings a stirring ballad from very early in her recording career “Skylark”.

She tells us of the seventies “Oh the seventies (lying on the floor), ahhhhh the seventies,… George Bush once came to my show in the seventies you know… yeah,….. apparently his cocaine dealer bought him the tickets” the audience lost it. Then the big payoff “I shouldn’t be so mean to poor George Bush, you know he is about to having MAJOR surgery next week…...He is having John Howard removed from up his ass”

No time to linger suddenly we are in a time warp with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” her first hit, now the energy in the Superdome went right up as fans bathed in a chance to jive along in the flesh with Midler. Images of her doing the number at various times in her career were flashed on the massive screens, choreography the same through the years only the look obviously changed.

Time for a costume change, and a bit of a filmed comic sketch about her failed television series: “Bette”. To expose her awareness of the situation she chose a parody of “Judge Judy”. In this Judge Judy puts Midler on trial against the CBS eye; it is amusing and a great set up for Midler to reappear as the devil. Joining her Harlettes for a medley of “I’m Sorry”, “No Body Does It Like You” and her big hit “Friends”. The first two songs were done with Kornfeld’s parody pen, with the basic out come that she has two major markets the Jews and the Queens and they were wrapped up as friends.

Devil ears removed she tells us how she was shocked when Barry Manilow called her “He is such a good sport” as she had abused him the last time they spoke many years ago. He asked her to record an album of Rosemary Clooney songs with him; this is her latest offering to her vast recording catalogue. She did “Hey There” with a full brass section a sound that was to die for, then pulling it back even further for a touching rendition of “Tenderly”.

Look out it is bouquets and wedding veils on the Harlettes, this means one thing and that is “Chapel Of Love”, the divine joined the girls but in a huge swan that she rode around the stage strategically. Jumps out of the swan and into the song, so once again the audience could bath in the past for a moment. Then a series of recently failed celebrity married couples appear on the screen, and finally Liza Minnelli and David Gest appear, and she says “I saved the best till last” with that David Gest ends up with a black eye.

The genius of Midler you soon realise is her amazing gift to have you laughing your head off like a lunatic and then two seconds later you’re crying your eyes out. She stood in the light of a single spot and delivered like a true diva the stirring ballad from Beaches “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today”. Now we start to get intimate with her as she pulls us right into her heart and soul, she turned that Superdome into a small cabaret venue and had us all in her palm. A massive switch of gear again and we are reminded of the blues/rock voice Midler has with “When A Man Loves A Woman” she really let go on this and the audience responded accordingly.

The Harlettes then took us for a moment as their leader was preparing for her next entrance, they sang “Walk Right In” whilst wearing their turn of the century bathing suits and setting up the stage for an entrance we had all been waiting for. Suddenly from the door stage right “I will never forget it you know……” Soph has finally appeared. Soph is a character that has been in her shows since the beginning and is based on the late great American vaudeville star Sophie Tucker. Soph has always been the vehicle for her blue jokes, cleverly written by Midler with her writer Erick Kornfeld and formerly Bruce Vilanch. She must have done well over ten jokes and Soph has gotten older in appearance she looked like a tarot reading gypsy lady within the Coney Island theme.

The first act ends with Midler reappearing as herself again singing a heartfelt version of “Shiver Me Timbers” and riding off on the carousel horse she rode in on. Midler showed us her totally youthful earthy self, bare footed running up to the horse like a playful child.

Act two opens in ‘Side Show Alley’ with the freaks, of course Delores De Lago the toast of Chicago is one of the major attractions. Delores is a mermaid and therefore gets around the stage in an electric wheel chair. The art of wheel chair choreography is something Midler has down to a fine art now, Delores like Soph has been in her shows since the early seventies. Delores is almost a tribute to the art of the lounge act, your ultimate Vegas cheap songstress, except this one is a mermaid. Over the years she has been on a constant search for fame and fortune, and has a vicious ego that she inflicts amusingly on her backup girls who are also wheel chair using mermaids.

Delores has a new quest and that is to break out of the Side Show and get on Broadway and so our mad journey begins “Delores De Lago Fish Tails Over Broadway”. She starts with Gypsy’s “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and then it is all out on the show tunes. I sat there thinking this is amazing here we are at an arena FULL of a very mixed demographic and we are all listening to classic show tunes.

We visit “West Side Story”, “Phantom Of The Opera”, “Cabaret”, “Carousel”, “Annie” and “Dreamgirls”, during the turning point in the comic plot she finds herself at a broken down dressing room table to get herself ready for Broadway. She lights a cigarette, has a bitch about her tragic existence before she finds divine inspiration to make that big Broadway debut. Then a fish appears stage left and does the opening trumpet solo from “Chicago”, we are then hit with a final round of genius parody material by Kornfeld with “All That Jazz” becoming “All That Crab” with other hysterical seaside punches that had us in stitches. Dolores’ golden oldies came thick and fast with an amazing spoof on the “Hello Dolly” set, “One” the big tune from “A Chorus Line” became “One Swimmable Sensation”, plus shows “George M” and even “Oklahoma” get a look in.

This really left every audience member awe struck, and it was nice to see some people surprised and shocked like “What is she doing in a wheel chair” and then they would just break up. The time and effort that would have gone into choreographing that piece of stage craft is immense the sheer precision of their movements and timing whilst all the time singing is mind blowing and that discipline is something that is really lacking these days in entertainment. Not to mention the breath taking musical arrangements, that are a total credit to her musicality and professionalism.

After a brief movie feature called “BMTV (Bette Midler Television – All Bette, All the time!)” that showcased her screen and television appearances topped off with an animated boxing match between one of her oldest topics Cher. Midler used to say in her concerts in the seventies “I donated my tits to Cher……And she was so glad to get em, I can’t even begin to tell you” well once again it is Cher’s body that gets the punch. The Bette character is unable to destroy Cher’s face with anything, trying a shovel, jack hammer and blow torch. Then it is decided that after a nuclear war only Cher and Cockroaches will remain on earth.

Midler then comes back out for her final stretch, she talks about the state of the world and how you would think by now we may have found another way other than wars to solve conflict. Touchingly “From A Distance” is delivered with supreme beauty and heavenly vocal ease. We have one more laugh as she tells us “If any of you have a doob left from the last time I was here now is the time to light it up and enjoy the special effects” then delivering with her Harlettes “Do You Want To Dance”.

“Wind Beneath My Wings” was the sign that we were definitely coming to the end of our ride, the artistry of this woman is immense with her continually pulling you into her whilst she is sending out the most wonderful energy. Emotions started to flow and fans took flowers to the stage, she gracefully took them saying “How Sweet” then my favourite true Midler moment a girl took a program and a pen up to her and amazingly she signed it. This of course prompted another girl to get up with a program with that she said “Get a grip girls” and moved on, it was beautiful. She then sat on the stage in true Judy Garland fashion and said she had one more song to do.

We all knew it was “The Rose”, the piano had been moved downstage and the mood set for an intimate connection with her audience. She then asked us to sing it and we did for two verses until she joined in and we all sang together like a lost religion found again.

Audience on feet screaming heart felt cheers for a legend that has stayed away from our shores for far to long and she admitted it. She then had some beautiful words about Sydney and Australia and said “Don’t tell anyone; otherwise they will all come here”. Telling us of our great contribution to the music industry worldwide and what a talented nation we are, she set up for a classic song by her friend Peter Allen, “Tenterfield Saddler” which she sang with emotion and great lyrical skill, finishing sitting with her backing singers around the piano as the curtain closed.

She is a major legend and superstar, and one of the few that has kept the art of music theatre and cabaret alive in the main stream for many years. I believe because she has used very strong theatrical traditions to find her voice, she is a true original. Her style is a stirring mix of European Kabarett traditions: with her topical often political social commentary, Broadway: with her stunning musical arrangements design and staging, Vaudeville: with her themes and sketches, and Burlesque: with her raunchy stand up and bawdy language.

Put all those elements together and you end up with a hip, and now artist who has conviction to stay in the moment constantly. Many current artists could take a few lessons by seeing this master class in how to fill a stadium with energy and pure talent. This is not achieved by high tech gadgets although Midler uses plenty as her wild imagination obviously can go crazy now on the budget, but never are these the selling points of the show they are merely the dressing. Under all that theatrical magic you will find a physically tiny lady who has a massive heart for the human race, and she is telling us how she sees it through music, dance, words, laughter, love and hope.

There really is not much more to say except go and see BETTE MIDLER, she is playing two more shows in Sydney, three in Melbourne and one in Adelaide. Go to for a special online booking offer.

The Sydney Morning Herald
Bette Midler - Kiss My Brass, Sydney SuperDome
By Bryce Hallett
April 15, 200

Bette Midler - Kiss My Brass, Sydney SuperDome, April 13

The scene-stealer Bette Midler enters her fantasyland from the gods with all the splendour, whimsy and humour her audiences have come to expect and love.

Amid twinkling lights and painted scenes evoking Coney Island at the turn of the 19th century, Kiss My Brass looks nostalgic and quaint but Midler's vitality, candour and wit makes it liberating and up-to-the-minute.

In terms of energy and chutzpah, the all-round entertainer is in a class all her own, recalling the big belters of Broadway and the sassy dames of the vaudeville stage. At a time when pop stars are flying off the conveyor belt, Midler possesses that rare quality that can't be manufactured no matter how hard producers try: charisma.

Accompanied by an exemplary 13-piece band led by musical director Bette Sussman, and the Harlettes - Carla Duren, Nicolette Hart and Kamilah Martin - Midler's rollercoaster ride is essentially a best-of concert although songs such as Skylark, Tenderly, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Shiver Me Timbers and From a Distance are placed and arranged in such as way as to foil expectations. I never much cared for Wind Beneath My Wings, but Midler conveys its fervour by keeping emotions in check. She proves to be as thoughtful as she is theatrical.

tIn breathless comic mode she sends up her ill-fated TV sitcom Bette, takes a poke at John Howard and George Bush, has a deliriously gleeful time recounting celebrity marriage break-ups and lacerates Pauline Hanson in a single word. The rhythmic and entrancing Kiss My Brass opening sets the production's pace and tone. If there's a trough or two it's because Midler's high-wattage energy level makes her occasional stage absences impossible to disguise no matter the diversionary tactics of the hardworking Harlettes.

One of the highlights was the Divine Miss M's tight, gutsy and exhilarating version of When a Man Loves a Woman. It was a moment to savour.

After interval, Midler's memorably defiant mermaid, Delores de Lago, is plucked from the freak show of Headless Hedda and Fatima to become a splashy Broadway star in the guise of Roxy, Mama Rose and Dolly rolled into one. Even Phantom, Annie and A Chorus Line get the Ethel Mermaid treatment in the fishbowl parody of showstopping tunes.

Kiss My Brass ends on a pensive note for a rousingly communal rendition of The Rose and a low-key tribute to Peter Allen with his fine song Tenterfield Saddler.

It may be true, as Midler quips, that her fans who were once on drugs are now on medication, but she's proof that irreverence, trashy behaviour and sweet songs - not Botox or Viagra - keep you young.