Sacramento, CA
ARCO Arena
December 02, 2004

Review: Midler is saucy, driving force in a fun, high-energy evening
By Jim Carnes --
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

(Thanks Deb!)

Photo: Eric W.

"I finally made it! Sacramento!" Bette Midler said to thunderous applause
Thursday evening at Arco Arena. "Home of the Kings! Although I think I can
safely say there will be quite a few queens here as well."

And she was off and running on a 2 1/2-hour (more or less) patented Bette
Midler spree - some singing, some dancing, some saucy patter.

You might think Midler would be tired, or at least slowing down a little, as
she approaches the end of a nearly yearlong tour (only four concerts
remained after this stop). But, no. This was every bit the high-energy,
big-deal production for which the Divine Miss M is known.

Performing on an elaborate stage made up like the Coney Island amusement
park and boardwalk around 1900, accompanied by the Staggering Harlettes (her
trio of backup singer-dancers) and backed by a 12-piece band, she whirled
and twirled through songs and set pieces and talked - a lot.

From the moment she rode onto the stage on a flying carousel horse, she had
the crowd of approximately 10,500 under her spell. She mentioned she'd been
to the Governor's Mansion - "the Hyatt" - and made an unpleasant suggestion
for where a new governor's abode might be put. She had some unkind words for
"poor old, fat, stupid, hypocritical Rush (Limbaugh)," whom she called "not
only a moron, but an oxy-moron," a reference to his admitted addiction to

But it was all in good fun. She aimed digs at pop starlets Britney Spears
and Christina Aguilera - "I opened the door for singers with bad taste and
big (breasts)" - and at herself, saying that, at 59, performing sometimes
has her breathing a little heavy. "That's what happens when you do your own

And sing she did. Her arrival on stage, nearly a half-hour late, was
accompanied by a new song, the tour theme, "Kiss My Brass," which she melded
into the standard "Big Noise From Winnetka."

Maneuvering around what she called the "obstacle course of entertainment,"
she stumbled only a few times as she ran the musical gamut. The sound mix
was initially a problem, leaving her vocals somewhat smothered by the horns.
But she was perfect in more intimate settings: Hoagy Carmichael's delicate
"Skylark"; the Rosemary Clooney songs "Hey There" and "Tenderly," performed
in front of a slide show of the singer, who died in 2002; the touching "From
a Distance"; and an enchanting "Do You Want To Dance?"

An unexpected treat was the lovely "I Like To Be Told," performed as a duet
with a video of the late Fred Rogers (of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood").

The "song that started it all" - "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was performed in
front of a split screen of Midler in the 1970s singing the same tune.

The second half of the show featured one of Midler's most famous creations,
the wheelchair-using mermaid Delores Del Lago, the toast of Chicago. In her
current incarnation, Delores becomes a Broadway star, appearing in
"Fishtails Over Broadway." The show-within-the-show featured Bob Fosse-style
bowler hats and hand gestures to "All That Shad (Jazz)," and takeoffs on
shows as varied as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Hello, Dolly!" and

It was elaborate, clever and perfectly executed, a highlight of an evening
full of highlights.

As Midler said, "Even I don't know how I do it." Fans are just glad she

Bette Midler is storming to town, bigger than life and brassy as ever
By Jim Carnes --
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

Photo: Julia

At 5-foot-1, Bette Midler is no giant. On a stage that is, by her own description, "bigger and more theatrical - 60 feet across, 4 feet high, quite tall and quite imposing," she could be dwarfed.

But this is Bette Midler we're talking about. On stage, she becomes bigger than life.
"I was bitten by the theater bug as a little girl," she said the other day in a telephone interview from Dallas on the Kiss My Brass Tour, which brings her to Arco Arena on Thursday. "I love all things to do with the theater. I really like sets. I love costumes. I love rock 'n' roll, too. I love all forms of music.

"I love the idea that people create a thing and put it on a stage and other people come and see it. They have a communal experience. It's really magical."

Midler was born Dec. 1, 1945, and grew up in Honolulu. She graduated from Radford High School there and studied drama for a year at the University of Hawaii. She began her acting career in 1966, when she got a bit part in the movie "Hawaii." She moved to the mainland at 20 and appeared on Broadway, assuming the role of Tzeitel (one of the three daughters of Tevye) in "Fiddler on the Roof." She kept the part for three years.

She started singing - accompanied by pianist Barry Manilow - at New York's Continental Baths for audiences of gay men and quickly became a sensation. She released her first album, "The Divine Miss M," in 1972. Gay audiences helped launch her career, and gays remain a mainstay of her fan base.

The theatricality of her performance, the bawdy jokes and double entendres, and the sentimentality of the lyrics of many of her biggest hits contribute to her appeal, as well as the honesty of her emotion and the all-out energetic attack of her performances.

"I get them straight. I get them gay. I get all classes and ages and from all walks of life," Midler said. "I'm proud that they all see me as an entertainer.

"People who come to see me are really looking to be entertained. They don't want to think about the bills to pay at home or that they're stuck in a bad job that they had to take. They just want to have a good time."

Midler compared her concert appeal with that of some of her contemporaries - Cher, Bob Dylan and "the two Pauls ..." (McCartney and Simon). "Kids have grown up through our music," she said. "They've formed relationships, had families and are starting to get old. But they see us entertainers differently.

"When I think of Paul McCartney and Paul Simon, people who grew up with them don't often bring their kids to the concerts. They come themselves to relive some experience.

"People who come to see Cher or Dylan or me, they bring the kids, bring the grandkids. They want to share something.

"I think one reason Bob Dylan tours so much - and God bless him for it - is he sees not just the people who grew up with him, but their children and their grandchildren. He likes to connect, too."

These days, Midler is connecting via the midway. The Kiss My Brass stage is "loosely based on Coney Island at the end of the 19th century," she said. "It's an amusement park at the shore, with thrill rides, the sideshow freaks of nature and all the music and activity that can take place there."

Midler rides in on a carousel horse.

She said the idea for the set came - as many of them do - from a photograph.

"A lot of it starts with a picture," she said. "I had an old picture of a girl on a carousel horse, and it all came from that, daydreaming and pondering on it."

Midler said her 2000 Millennium Tour was suggested by a telescopic photograph of the cosmos.

"It was so beautiful to look at, and it reminded me of the impermanence of life, the fragility of humanity and the necessity of relationships," she said.

Through songs such as "From a Distance," "Hello in There" and "Wind Beneath My Wings," Midler hopes to encourage her audiences to think about "our interdependence," she said.

"Society seems quite fractured. There's not a lot of joy around. People are peddling grimness. It's not a happy time.

"Communities are disintegrating faster than you can rebuild them," she said. "I travel around, and ... downtowns are so forlorn. Downtown is where humans reside - at least they used to. But people have moved to gated communities where there's no real community."

The entertainer is a founder and active member of the New York Restoration Project, an environmental charity that has built a boathouse in Harlem and 55 community gardens. She's also active in AIDS Project Los Angeles and in the Adopt-a-Highway road cleanup project.

"I like doing things for the community," she said. "I like doing stuff for the planet. The planet never did me any harm.

"I think I've found my calling - other than entertaining," she said.

Unlike Cher, Midler has no plans to retire. "I don't think she does either," she said. "I won't announce that I'm going to quit, because I keep changing my mind. When it's time to say goodbye, I'll do it in my own way. Until then, it's kind of silly to say you're going to quit if you might not.

"When you feel strong, you feel like you can do stuff. When your health is good, you feel like you can go forever. Right now, I'm going on.

"I still enjoy the shows. I find them amusing myself. Parts I look forward to and parts I dread.

"I'm tired at the end of it, but I'm not so tired that I don't want to do it again.

"When that time comes, I'll let you know."

And then?

"There's so much left to do. There's plenty of dog poop to shovel before we shuffle off this mortal coil. So, let's get busy."