She's Bette-r than ever
BY DAVID SPRAGUE
DAILY NEWS WRITER
Friday, October 15th, 2004
Photo: BaltoBoy Steve Weiner
Summer may be over, but there's still plenty of time for camp.
That message was delivered loud and clear last night as Bette Midler
blew through Radio City Music Hall accompanied by a coterie of dancing
mermaids, zoot-suited horn players and enough cleavage jokes to
stoke a year's worth of Dean Martin roasts.
Swinging through the metropolitan area for the second time on her
oft-extended "Kiss My Brass" tour, Midler showed none
of the wear one might expect from a performer who's spent most of
the past year on the road. In fact, the roadwork has probably sharpened
her up even more - particularly the comic timing that's such a central
part of the two-hour show.
The yuks flew fast and furious, particularly during her trademark
channeling of the ghost of Sophie Tucker - who mastered the art
of working blue before Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor were born.
Midler threw herself headlong into the set's raunchiest material,
but, typically, seemed equally at home singing "I Like to Be
Told," a duet of sorts with the late Fred (Mister) Rogers.
Mood swings were the order of the night, with Midler changing personae
as readily as she did costumes - donning sailor-girl threads for
a sassy set of early hits such as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy"
and segueing readily into a Rosemary Clooney tribute (highlighted
by "Tenderly") that saw her decked out in perfectly demure
Although she repeated a fair bit of shtick - notably petulant snipes
at Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera - Midler's punchlines were
by and large on target, connecting on such topics as Billy Joel's
driving skills and Dubya's debate wardrobe malfunctions.
More importantly, Bette hit paydirt with her voice, an instrument
surprisingly undimmed by the passage of time, as evidenced by versions
of "Skylark" and "Chapel of Love." While she
spent a bit too much time delving into the intricacies of her Delores
Del Lago character, the digressions into that fictional second-tier
Broadway Baby go a long way toward illuminating Midler's character.
Delores, like Bette, is happy to go the extra mile to entertain,
but self-aware enough to stop before she becomes a total caricature.
That's a tough line to walk, but even as her peers opt for retirement,
Midler manages to tiptoe along it with a gymnast's agility.
Here's to the harlot with a heart of gold and the grace of a ballerina.
by The Divine Debbie
Photo: BaltoBoy Steve Weiner
I made the trek from California to New York to see Bette on Thursday
and Saturday nights and it was well worth the trip. A great place
to see her in her home town and a smaller venue.
On Thursday afternoon I took the RCMH back stage tour which I highly
recommend. It included watching the Rockettes rehearse and getting
to meet a Rockette. The have a wall of etched glass pictures including
one of Bette during her 30 night sold out run there.
Bette was fabulous on Thursday night, she sounded and looked great.
The show was tight running a little over two hours, but this was
the second night in a row for them to perform instead of having
the usual night off between shows. The Rose video and Keep On A
Rockin were cut and there wasn't an encore. With or without those
numbers Bette gives her all and more when she stands up on the stage
and performs. She has a great band and group of girls. She even
meets her goal of singing louder than the brass section. She received
standing ovations for When A Man Loves A Woman, Wind Beneath My
Wings and of course The Rose. When she came back out to sing The
Rose she asked the audience to sing along, we were a pretty weak
bunch and even with her encouragement didn't get much louder.
Most of the people sitting around me had never seen Bette live.
They all seemed to enjoy the show. A few of the women were practically
rolling on the floor during the Soph jokes. The "gentleman"
behind me threatened to boo her if she made any political comments
he didn't approve of. Thankfully he kept his mouth shut. He did
do a fair amount of whining at the intermission about the show being
too political?!! The big discussion at the intermission was her
age - the general consensus was 40-45!!
The meet and greet group that left out the stage door was pretty
extensive including Glenn Close and her daughter, Josh Grobin and
Ahmet Ertegan. It was well after 11:30pm before Bette came out and
KMB II Review:
October 14, 2004
It's fascinating to compare the careers of Bette Midler and Barbra
Streisand, since they might well have been expected to follow similar
paths but most certainly did not. Both performers began to make
a name for themselves in New York in the '60s: Streisand sang mostly
for gay men in small clubs in Greenwich Village, Midler sang specifically
for gay men in, shall we say, other venues. Both appeared on Broadway:
Streisand was featured in I Can Get It For You Wholesale and starred
in Funny Girl, Midler played Tzeitel during the marathon run of
Fiddler on the Roof. Both had succcess in recordings and films:
Midler's major, Streisand's phenomenal. Ah, but there the similarities
end. Though Streisand virtually ceased performing before live audiences
as soon as she became a film star, Midler has continued to appear
regularly in concert venues. And though Streisand
came across as cool, remote, and humorless when she finally did
deign to return to live concerts (at ridiculously inflated ticket
prices), Midler's shows have always been warm, wacky love-fests.
Her current show at Radio City Music Hall, Bette Midler: Kiss My
Brass, fits that description perfectly.
According to some reports, this engagement has not been selling
well, probably due mostly to the fact that Midler did the same show
in cavernous Madison Square Garden earlier this year. But the Music
Hall looked pretty full last night, and it can be said with confidence
that every paying customer got much more than his or her money's
worth. With the background of a bright, colorful set meant to represent
Coney Island at the end of the 19th century, Bette and her Harlettes
-- and her terrific band -- offered the kind of entertainment that
must be seen to be believed.
Bette and company opened with the show's title song, and then the
quips began -- fast, furious, and irreverent. (For example: "My
story has more twists and turns than Billy Joel on a country road.")
In a generous two-hour program, the star seemed to leave none of
her hits unsung; she did an equally amazing job with the up-tempo
rousers ("Stuff Like That There," "Boogie Woogie
Bugle Boy), the thrillingly belted show-stoppers ("When a Man
Loves a Woman"), and the ballads ("Skylark," "From
a Distance," "Wind Beneath My Wings.") The evening
also encompassed touching tributes to Mister Rogers and Rosemary
Clooney. (If you don't already own Midler's album of covers of that
great singer's greatest hits, get it!)
Kiss My Brass contains a number of side-splitting "Soph"
jokes, based on the style of Sophie Tucker but far more blue than
anything that would ever have come out of that legend's mouth on
stage. There's also a dash of political humor in the proceedings,
and I'm sure I don't have to tell you who the targets are. But,
for many in the audience, the highlight of the show was the lengthy
yet consistently hilarious sequence that opened the second half:
Charting the ascension to Broadway stardom of Delores De Lago, Midler's
zany mermaid character, it included performances of more than a
dozen musical theater standards -- from "Everything's Coming
Up Roses" to "You'll Never Walk Alone" to "And
I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" -- with hysterically funny
The finale, a group sing-a-long to "The Rose," ended the
evening on a sweet, heartfelt note. Only a performer as brilliantly
versatile as Bette Midler could make such a choice seem exactly
right -- moving rather than cloying, sincere rather than manipulative.
Kiss My Brass continues at Radio City Music Hall through Sunday,
and it's not to be missed.