New York, NY
Radio City Music Hall
October 13, 2004

Radio City Music Hall
Ain't Ya Got A Vase?
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Review by The Always Divine Miss P

Photo: BaltoBoy Steve Weiner

Last night was just splendid. Full of surprises, as many twists and turns as Billy Joel on a country road. But I digress...I was sitting in row BBB in the pit pit pit. Unbelievably close, just the way I like it. I will get the celeb sightings out of the way first: Candice Bergen, Bernadette Peters, Paul Schaffer, and Kim Catrall. There may have been more, but that's who I saw.

The show started late and the crowd was tough to her in the beginning (which I also found at Madison Square Garden last time around). New Yorkers are difficult and really make you work for the applause, even though you would think they would behave just the opposite for Miss M. I must say, the mezzanines were very enthusiastic, but in the front where I was people seem to be very afraid to show any excitement at all.

I can't remember all the new jokes because I was going nuts, but once I hear them again tonight, I'll report in. I know she acknowledged us up front as those who had also seen Barbra Streisand every night of her farewell tour. And she said hello to her Chelsea boys in the back and did the bit about matrimony replacing disco for all her gay fans.

And she introduced all the brass of KMB and the parts of Manhattan they are from. All New Yorkers!

I thought she seemed nervous in the beginning, playing her hometown. Her voice, even speaking, sounded deep and throaty, maybe tired, maybe nerves- I can't explain, but you would know if you heard it. But, boy did she loosen up as the evening went on! Right after "Skylark" is when I think she became really comfortable.

For the first time, she was able to see herself in the two screens erected on either side of the theatre, due to the setup of Radio City. She looked at herself several times, strutted her stuff, and said, "I look fabulous!" Which she does. The other difference from an arena versus theatre performance was that there are footlights on the stage, acting as a barrier between her and the front row. She stepped over them several times to get closer and have audience interaction.

It was BY FAR the best "When A Man Loves A Woman" I have ever heard. Oy Vey, she was on! She got so lost in that song- I can't think of anyone else who can do that. She hit those notes clear and strong. You know the ones I'm talking about.

I made nice with all the security and ushers and learned that they did allow flowers, so, like a maniac, I ran out during intermission to get Miss M some roses. Four city blocks in heels, people! I actually made it back before Act II started, shvitzing and panting like a lunatic.

The Harlettes have new costumes for "Do You Want to Dance" and throughout the end of the show! They are bright turquoise, blue, and green satiny corset dresses with itty bitty skirts. Think Harlette ballerinas. After "WBMW" and "FAD", the crowd was very responsive and really gave her what she deserves! Not my section of course, to which she said, "but the people in the front can't stand me". Well, I leapt to my feet to show her that someone in the front does love her and I gave her the roses. It was difficult to get her attention and the security guard was holding me back, so by the time she got to me I was literally on my knees holding the bouquet in the air- well you are supposed to bow for the queen, right? So I gave her the flowers and she was very appreciative and told me that I LOOK GOOD!!! Isn't that fabulous??? Well I don't know what possessed me (perhaps the two dozen roses I had just given her), but I said to her, "Ain't ya got a vase?" And she repeated it to the audience and laughed. I got her to laugh! She looked back at the band and said, "She's got me", and then asked if the audience knew the joke and not many did.

She also talked about how pooped she was and that it was the mermaid tail that did it. She said she thinks it's Delores' swan song. She thanked the audience for being so great and took many bows to standing ovations. She mentioned the "bulge" in her dress- the battery pack for the mic-referring to Bush's "bulge" telling him the answers at the debate. It was hilarious. She said she had a great time and was going to do "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" for the first time and couldn't guarantee if it would work. But it did- it was flawless.

The one thing I'm really missing is "Keep On Rockin" which I think has now been eliminated for good- or at least at Radio City. I love that part of the show! But it's probably a good decision because I can't imagine any of the people sitting around me getting up and dancing to a rock song.

People assembled afterwards at the back stage door to see her. I waited for about an hour, but my parking garage closed at 12, so I had to go. I'm going to try again tonight. I'm sure there are a million people backstage that she has to chat with. Why can't I be one of those people???

Will report back after tonight's show....

Radio City Crowd TIVO'd Debates to See Bette
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Review by Rich B.

Photo: BaltoBoy Steve Weiner

Well there I was in my orch seat at Radio City Music Hall. This is just about the best place to see Bette. As I waited for the lights to dim in this glorious theatre I reminisced about taking my mom to see her 10 years ago during the “Experience the Divine” engagement. I am taking her again for her 81rst b-day to the Philly show.

Seeing KMB 4 times I wondered what would be different. Couldn’t wait to hear some of Eric Kornfeld and Bruce Vilanch words come out of The Divine Miss M.

The show started about 20 minutes late. The lights dimmed and the audience began to clap in unison.

Bette arrived on stage riding the carousel horse smiling and proud to be performing on her own turf. “Hello New York City!”, and away we went. She stayed pretty much on course as far as the set list goes. “Kiss My Brass”, “Big Noise”, I Think it’s Gonna Rain Today”. The audience lapped it up.

The Bush jokes about him seeing her in concert, (coke dealer paid for his seats) and Laura selling marijuana brownies drew cheers.. She said she was glad everyone decided to TIVO the debate and come see her. The place was sold out.

Everything seemed to go as planned and the audience loved it. The screens showed Judge Judy convicting her for bad TV and mentioning for Bette to be quiet or she would be punished again for the Jackie Susann movie.

“Chapel of Love” worked fine which segued into The Britney Bunch, which I loved.

When Mr. Rogers came on the screen the audience started to laugh, thinking it was another fun bit. But as she sang "I like to be Told" the audience quieted down.

Soph jokes pretty standard. Although there was a one about a character coincidently named Mr. Kornfeld that had me in hysterics.

“Shiver Me Timbers” brought chills to me, I love that song. The horse carried her away.

Act II

Delores on B’way worked just fine with a new bit from "Phantom of the Opera" that had Bette “hooked, lined and sinker”. (nuf said), very funny.

Then came ballads, “From a Distance” and my personal faaavoritte, “Do You Want to Dance?" After she sang “Wind Beneath My Wings”, an audience member gave her flowers. Bette lamented aloud, “Where should I put them?” Audience member said, “Aint you got a vase? Bette responded with something like, "you know my jokes better than me". I love unplanned stuff.

She put them on the piano and told the band to continue with ballads, which meant no “Keep on Rockin”. Bette went into “The Rose” (sing-a-long, and left the stage. The audience had been on it’s feet for most of the second half.

Bette returned still wearing the wonderful pink dress and told the audience she would sing a new number, which was still being worked on. “In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening” was a welcome way to end the show.

Since it was NYC, opening night at Radio City there were a few celebs. Paul Shaeffer and Bernadette Peters.

The icing on the cake came when I was lucky enough to go backstage. I met Martin, Toni, and of course Bette, who commented, what happened to your hair (it’s shaved)? I responded, “That’s what you said 10 years ago at the New Years Eve after party in SF. She bounced back with, “gee I guess I have to get a new line”. I loved it..Bette was gracious and happy.

A perfect evening. So much for the debate!:>)

Bette Midler: Kiss My Brass
(Radio City Music Hall; 6,000 seats; $254 top)A Clear Channel Entertainment presentation of a musical revue in two acts, written by Eric Kornfeld. Choreography, Toni Basil. Musical director, Bette Sussman.


(Photo: BaltoBoy Steve Weiner)

Early on in her show, Bette Midler kvetches that Christina and Britney have never phoned to thank her for her pioneering work. "I opened the door for trashy singers with big tits, and don't you forget it," she declares. Miss M., however, has taken a cue from the behemoth arena shows of those junior upstarts with the elaborate staging of her "Kiss My Brass" tour. The singer remains a supremely skilled entertainer whose richly characterful voice has lost none of its warmth. But it's in the scaled-back moments, free from production pyrotechnics, that Midler really shines, separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of the distance between this consummate pro and today's pop tarts.
Midler began the second leg of her tour Sept. 30 in New Hampshire, adding an additional 28 cities to the 40 U.S. stops of the show's initial outing, which ran from December 2003 through March. Current leg wraps Dec. 12 in Minneapolis.

Sashaying into New York for a four-night stand at Radio City, the star shows no sign of flagging energy. As the Divine one herself says, with some justification, "I remain tireless, ageless and relentless. I am not retiring and you can't make me."

Last seen in Gotham earlier this year at 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden, the switch to this comparatively intimate venue made some of the stadium accoutrements seem superfluous. Many of the video projections that run during numbers, though they may be a bonus to the far-flung audience in more cavernous halls, add little to the perf. The Coney Island and boardwalk sets otherwise endure the transition remarkably well and the spectacular lighting provides a vibrantly energized color palette.

But on this smaller stage, it's the cleaner, simpler ideas that are the most captivating. "Do You Wanna Dance" is a high point, performed under a canopy of bobbing lanterns with backup girls the Staggering Harlettes in illuminated skirts.

Of the more complex set pieces, a fussy preamble to Midler's seasoned Sophie Tucker routine of salty jokes, with the Harlettes as bathing beauties in color-coordinated striped beach cabanas, seems like protracted padding, not helped by uneven writing of the bawdy material.

Much more successful is the return of wheelchair-using mermaid Dolores De Lago in her "Fishtails Over Broadway" revue. Descending from the ceiling on a fish-hook to the title song from "The Phantom of the Opera," the extended sketch serves up cleverly reworked showtunes from "Chicago," "Gypsy," "A Chorus Line" and "Oklahoma!," among others, along with a rousing yet lighthearted rendition of "Dreamgirls" power ballad "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." The physical rigors of mincing around the stage in a tail prompt Midler later to remark of Dolores, "She's not long for this world. I'm making a California roll out of her."

While the crowd was wild for sentimental hits "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "I Think It's Going to Rain Today" from 1988 treaclefest "Beaches," Midler's vocals were at their most engaging in the less cosmeticized ballads that pre-date her Disney period --"Skylark," "Shiver Me Timbers," "The Rose" and "When a Man Loves a Woman," the latter packing an especially raw emotional punch. The more recent cover "Tenderly" -- one of three numbers from Midler's Rosemary Clooney tribute album -- also hits its mark.

The video assist is usefully employed during a costume change with a filmed mock-"Judge Judy" segment, in which Midler takes the stand to defend her aborted sitcom "Bette," also wryly alluding to the train wreck of her Jacqueline Susann biopic "Isn't She Great." Acknowledging the limited audience for the CBS series, Midler amusingly sings, "Nobody but the Jews, nobody but the queens."

Also funny is a video nod to short-lived celeb marriages -- the main raison d'etre for a routine walk-through of "Chapel of Love" -- that skewers Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, Liza Minnelli and David Gest ("At least we were spared the sex tapes"), Anna Nicole Smith and Colonel Sanders.

For those of us old enough to have seen her concerts in the '70s, Midler has tempered her more outrageous instincts with time and her standard standup jokes about the Internet and Viagra lack the bite and joyful trashiness of some of her vintage rants. But the performer remains a truly wired, distinctive personality with wicked timing and rare versatility.

When she takes command of the stage, her unique brass, sass and generosity radiate forth intact during even the most overproduced numbers. (Sound mix was initially problematic on opening night, particularly in the kickoff "Kiss My Brass" song, in which Midler's vocals were somewhat suffocated by the orchestra.)

Performing Wednesday during the final Bush-Kerry debate before going home "to throw shoes at the TV screen all night," Midler spiked the evening with plenty of political barbs. Rush Limbaugh was pithily described as a "poor, fat, stupid, hypocritical, drug-addicted motherfucker," while on George W., Midler offered, "He came to see me in the '70s. His coke dealer got him really good seats."

No matter how much she's mellowed ("These are the Lipitor years, folks, and they ain't easy"), Miss M. will never be entirely tamed.

Sets, Michael Cotton; costumes, Constance Hoffman, Martin Pakledinz; lighting, Peter Morse; sound, Dave Morgan, Glen Collett; production stage manager, Seanne Farmer. Opened, reviewed Oct. 13, 2004. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.