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Sunday, August 14, 2016

BetteBack September 11, 1973: Bette Midler – Wonderful Bananas!

Press Telegram September 11, 1973 5f818eb885d437bd283f723906654f1755afdf13 Lights dimmed. Ripples of excited hush crackled through the audience like electricity. A frazzle-red haired latter day Fanny Brice boogied on stage; peered through “Los Angeles Glaze” and invited the crowd to take “a trek into tastelessness with her.” The Divine Miss M – Bette Midler – had arrived. The audience with cultish devotion and some with just plain curiosity, was out in full force to make her opening night at the Universal Amphitheater Monday an exercise in excitement. “I never played the semi-round before,” she quipped from the bowl shaped stage. She’s sharp, cool, zingy and as quick with her wit as she is with her 1940 choreography and high camp talk. Bette Midler reminded me of Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and walked across the stage like a character out of a Betty Hoop cartoon. With all this nostalgia and 1940-50 ricky-ticky tack thrown in, Bette Midler also reminds me of Bette Midler. She is refreshingly herself – and if she takes the best from other performers and molds them to her buxom body, she does it with fantasia flare. She walked around the stage in her high spike heeled shoes with ankle straps, shook her tousled hair and said, “Just this morning I was demonstrating Vegamatics at Woolworths.” The crowd ate it up. They gorged themselves on her fast-hitting lines. The excitement power plus pace she sets began with a “Philadelphia Medley” of “two and a half tunes, because you couldn’t stand it if we did three at once,” she told the audience. The medley included the dredges of 1960s rock and roll with “Uptown” and “A Do Run Run A Do Run Run.” “I’m really out to lunch today folks,” the Divine Miss M related as she crawled under the piano. After introducing the Harlettes, her back-up singing trio, they got into a vocal version of Glen Miller‘s “In the Mood” something she dubbed “hubba-hubba music.” If you’re thinking that “In the Mood” never had words, you’re right. Undaunted, Bette Midler launched the new lyrical version and as the person sitting next to me mummered, “This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone sing the trombone part to a song.” Next came a version of “Delta Dawn” which makes the current Helen Reddy version – which is number one on national pop charts – sound like an advertisement for Burma Shave. Midler has her stuff together. Before climbing back into 60s nostalgia and “Music to Bash Your Heads in By,” Miss M sang a convincing “Am I Blue” and a sensitive and moody John Prine composition, “Hello in There.” Her gown was white with a heart cut out in the center and red droplets – the bleeding heart. And then it was Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance” before the intermission lights went up. Part two began with a slow interlude featuring Barry Manilow on piano. Manilow gathers the material for Bette Midler, turns it into her jingle-jolt style and also serves as musical director on her concert tour. Out bounded the Harlettes in neb waitress uniforms with pink sequins for “A Lullaby of Broadway.” Joined on stage with the Divine Miss M, “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” snapped into action. Maxine Andrews – one of the Andrews Sisters whose version of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” made money and fame for them in the 40s – was sitting across the aisle from me. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself. The song ended with a smart salute, with the Harlettes opening their waitress dresses to reveal American Flags on the inside. Patriotism forever. What do you do for an encore when you’ve already sung “Leader of the Pack” (a true 50s scourge) and told the audience your big dream is to be Sanitation Commissioner for New York City while standing on stage in your slip? You rush into a version of “Chapel of Love” and blow kisses to an audience who is standing on its feet, hands swaying wildly and bodies moving to the music. The whole thing was bananas. Wonderful bananas.
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Thursday, December 24, 2015

BetteBack July 16, 1993: Enchanting Witch’s Brew Is Mix Of Sorcery, Slapstick

Philadelphia Inquirer Enchanting Witch’s Brew Is Mix Of Sorcery, Slapstick By Carrie Rickey, INQUIRER MOVIE CRITIC POSTED: July 16, 1993 12120478_1504610806529590_1368509345_n Who are these broads on brooms, the witches of Westwood? Although they look like hell – and raise it – they’ll put a spell on you. Silly but irresistible Hocus Pocus stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as 17th-century sorceresses whose spirits are raised on a modern-day Halloween night in Salem, Mass. Naturally, they think that they’ve died and gone to the devil’s playground while all around them, trick-or- treaters can’t stop admiring their way-cool costumes. (Girl, did that ratty purple velvet gown really come from your broom closet?) What only three of those young trick-or-treaters know is that in order to ensure temporary youth, these witches plan to (literally) “suck the life” out of Salem children. Can 16-year-old Max (Omri Katz) keep his kid sister, Dani (Thora Birch), from the clutches of these greedy gals while also impressing his pretty schoolmate, Allison (Vinessa Shaw)? Perhaps, if he lets Allison and Dani – and a clever talking cat named Binx – help cream these crones. Hocus Pocus is diverting, PG-rated fun that works on two levels. For children, it’s a Halloween adventure that suggests, yes, witches do exist but that enterprising youths can outwit them. For adults, it’s a tongue-in-cheek romp through jack-o-lantern-lit graveyards. Forget, for the moment, the question of why Disney is releasing this seasonal feature during the summer. Also forget wondering why, despite the considerable gifts of cinematographer Hiro Narita (Never Cry Wolf), this movie – like so many Disney and Touchstone features – looks muddy, as though photographed through a jug of apple-cider sludge. (Might it be that choreographer-turned-director Kenny Ortega has a keener spatial sense than a pictorial one?) Let’s just be happy for a family movie – essentially this summer’s Sister Act – that entertains without destroying brain cells. The Sanderson Sisters – kind of like the Andrews Sisters in corsets and fright wigs – are the scourges of 1693 Salem. They kidnap some children and put curses on others. One young boy, Thackery (Sean Murray), trying to save his kid sister from becoming the prime ingredient in the Sandersons’ Youth Dew formula, is turned into Binx, the enterprising black cat. When the elders hang the three sisters, the eldest, Winifred (Midler), vows they’ll be back. Sure enough, in 1993 Salem, Max – a newcomer who thinks he’s too old to believe in “all that Halloween hocus-pocus” – takes the dare and lights an enchanted candle that brings those Sanderson gals back from the dead. Like many movies about sorcery – The Witches of Eastwick comes to mind – Hocus Pocus does not always make a great deal of sense, yet it makes for a great deal of fun. Midler’s fans might be disappointed that she doesn’t have a whole lot to do beyond puckering her kewpie-doll lips and flouncing onto her broom. But the witches have an amusing, Three-Stooges rapport, with a lot of bonking, slapping and cursing (of the witch rather than the profane variety) that make them particularly satisfying villains. Director Ortega successfully fuses their slapstick onto a teen adventure that, by the way, encourages moody big brothers to watch out for their pesky kid sisters – and vice versa. HOCUS POCUS * * * Produced by David Kirschner and Steven Haft, directed by Kenny Ortega, written by Mick Garris and Neil Cuthbert, photography by Hiro Narita, music by John Debney, distributed by Buena Vista Pictures. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Winifred – Bette Midler Sarah – Sarah Jessica Parker Mary – Kathy Najimy Max – Omri Katz Dani – Thora Birch Allison – Vinessa Shaw Parent’s guide: PG (mild profanity, sexual innuendo, may be too intense for children under 8) Showing at: area theaters

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