A Divine Musical Experience
Review of KMB – Wednesday 13th April –
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,
‘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
Bette Midler: Kiss My Brass
By John Burfitt
Sydney Star Observer
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
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
“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!
Bette Midler – Kiss My Brass
13 April 2005
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 www.showtune.com.au
for a special online booking offer.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Bette Midler - Kiss My Brass, Sydney SuperDome
By Bryce Hallett
April 15, 2005
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
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
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
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
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.