There has been some talk about my trip to Vegas and here’s how it played out – I was very lucky. For weeks I bitched and moaned about not being there on opening night or any night for that matter. At the last minute Ms. Midler’s camp came through and invited me to a free preview. It’s like the first run through for industry big wigs, family, friends, hotel staff, etc. What I talk about below was from a preview Sunday night before the official opening on Wednesday the 20th of February.
I’m just going to throw out the song list to you guys…..I had wanted to write about my experience in diary style and I’m just too tired to do it…so this was the set list on Sunday. It changed on Monday. And it will change again.
First, the opening sequence is fabulous. It’s hard to describe but when you walk in the concert hall…the whole back of the stage is a video screen. And on that screen is a giant billboard of Bette (the one on the cover of her new CD, Jackpot!….hey, that’s a plug!) When the show starts the billboard of Bette moves a little and you begin seeing wildlife here and there….buzzards, a donkey….then a tornado, a truck driving up the road towards you…..the theatre almost rattles from the fabu sound system they have going….the tornado is picking up everything and destroying anything in it’s path…it reaches Vegas, people, Wayne Newton, Elvis impersonators…all destroyed and flying around….then you see the heloport for BETTE MIDLER….the stage starts filling up with smoke as the Harlettes and the Caesar Salad Girls (20 dancers “with 42 perfect tits”) come dancing in….then Bette arrives side stage on a donkey of all things (the donkey makes its final appearance Friday, I believe, and a new entrance will prevail….more on that later)….she’s helped down and she starts singing the first of 2 new songs…(the film was shot by Troy Miller who does those great inserts of Billy Crystal into the movies at the Oscars…he will be doing one for this years Oscars as well….)
1. The Show Girl Must Go On (Eric Kornfeld, Bette Sussman, Bette Midler) – Bette wears a silver type pantsuit with a gold top (remember I’m color blind)
2. In The Mood – great version – Bette does her thang with the audience. Starts her rap about all the people who love her…the gays, the Jews, those front row people….
3. She tires out and asks for her transporter…a bright red Lips Chair…the Harlettes push her anywhere she wants to go…She begins singig “I’ve Still Got My Health” and she raps about the bad behaviour and ill health of all the stars lately…Lohan, Hilton, Britney. etc…..then a pic comes up of her Hasty Puddings Acceptance where she twirls and reveals her butt…”I was dressing like a ho before hoes even knew how to dress…
4. She calms down and begins singing one of my favorites – “Some People’s Lives“ by Janis Ian. (I’ve been told this song will be cut from the show). She delivers a dead on performance….just gorgeous. Note perfect.
5. Next a big production number of “Do You Wanna Dance?” with the Harlettes and The Caesar Salad Girls in the rain with their umbrellas….when the song is over, Bette disappears behing a wall of umbrellas…the music continues and all the girls continue to dance until the music for the next number comes….
6. From A Distance – a sheer curtain opens and Bette is at the top of a spiraling staircase dressed in a long orange (some yellow) floor length dress. At our preview, she starts walking down the stairs singing and then you see a little stumble and Bette starts howling laughing; and you realize she has walked right out of her shoes…..she can’t stop laughing…makes joke about the budget of show….and the shoes. She decides to start all over again and runs up to the top of the stairs and proceeds to do a knock out version of the song. She exits
7. Harlettes and dancers do a little dance wearing skimpy outfits…their black hats turn into a beautful array of colored flowers….
8. Delores DeLago segment. The American Idol judges take to the big screen while Delores sleeps in her bed….she’s auditioning, they hate her, and she has some kind of acid dream and the judges heads start making all these contortions til they explode….she wakes up, calls Wayne Newton….tells her she should go to Vegas. She doesn’t do quite well. She sings “My Kind Of Town” with the Harlettes…but they end up at this grimey place called the “Daze Inn – Sunque De So Low” We get to hear parodies or rewrites to “Flipper” “Hooked On A Feeling” “Play That Funky Music White Boy” and “Bad Girls” Bad reviews come in, of course, Delores freaks, freakishly hit by lightning and sees Elvis. He tells her what to do….so we get a combo “Elvis/Delores” thing going….songs sung are It’s Now Or Never, Viva Las Vegas, Luck Be A Lady Tonight, Blue Hawaii, and “My Way” 25 mermaids leave the stage and we’re left to watch the American Idol Judges fight it out as seahorses….very bizarre, but quite funny.
***I have to say that during this performance Bette got a little winded and pulled out of the wheelchair line-up….rolling her eyes in exasperation….like Lord give me the strength. After gaining her composure she gets back in line very smoothly….then she had trouble with her headset, and later took a semi-nasty fall that left her bleeding from the knee til the end of the show…HOWEVER, during all these trying moments she kept you laughing. At the end of the Delores bit she got a rousing standing ovation…..**********
9. Hello In There – a beatiful dark sketch of a city is the backdrop…one of the best songs ever written in my opinion….glad to hear her sing this again.
10. When A Man Loves A Woman….what can I say….better than in KMB….you can see her body trembling and she gives this one all she’s got. Of course there was a standing ovation…
11. Soph/The Oldest Living Showgirl….yeah this is where Bette “wears” those 20 foot feathers on her hand. This part of the show is PINK!!!!! And GLlITTERY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Pretty Legs is sung (some new lyrics added…thank you Mr, Kornfeld) Bette wears very little….pink bustier with a long silver cape with about an 18 foot train to it…LOL High heels and sexy legs!!!! A new song is added…”It’s Getting Hot In Here” written by Kornfeld, Sussman, and Midler….interspersed with Soph jokes….Later Bette sits on the front steps of the stage and sings “Glory of Love” while playing the ukelele. She did great and it was a really beautiful moment…can’t describe it. She does flub up one chord and uses the F word, but she gets right back on track….she talks about “finding your light”….she ends singing the rest of Glory Of Love climbing up a ship’s hull … as it floats off side stage…(could not figure why there was a ship’s hull, but it was pretty!)
12 The Rose
13, BWBB….all the dancers come out and are dressed like her singing in unison to the old Bacharach footage (this will change I’ve heard)
14. WBMW’s – Putting more energy into this song, but accidentally messes up at the end and has a less than smooth recovery. You can see she’s bleeding at the knee. She goes into one of her tirades (to be funny) about how big the stage is, nothing working…like her podium which is supposed to lift her up 6 feet, but would only budge to one foot. Very, very funny Ms. Midler. Then she gets back to the song and sings the shit out of it. I haven’t heard her sing it like that before….but I liked it….when finished she walked off the stage….the audience gave her another standing ovation….
She went over 90 minutes so editing will be done. I have the changes that will be made between now and the 29th…nothing major. But in the casino business, I learned, timing is everything and so is money flowing in the casino….
If there’s one thing hurting Bette…it is the shortening of her show….I think it would be tremendously hard to go from 21/2 to 3 hour shows and then whittling it down to 90 minutes….but that’s what she has to do….and she will…..and the critics will Rave!
Love, Mister D
Here are the changes I was told would happen by Saturday, 23, Feb:
- The donkey (burro, ass) or whatever you want to call it will be making his last appearance. Too much trouble and he couldn’t learn his lines! 🙂
- Bette, instead, will be entering on a curved staircase composed of Louis Vuitton luggage. Now that’s more fitting for a Diva!
- “In The Mood” will be cut and BWBB will be the second song with only Bette and the Harlettes. The video, costumes, and showgirls will be cut.
- “I’ve Still Got My Health” and the tabloid bit will remain
- “Some People’s Lives” is out (too bad, one of my favorites) and “The Rose” will be put in it’s place.
- “From A Distance” will be performed barefoot. Also expect a few hula moves in it…
- “Bouly-A-Jada” remains.
- Delores remains, of course, with a few judicious choreography and line cuts.
- “Hello In There” and “WAMLAW” stay put
- Miss Sophie will remain…she’s a trooper!
- “Wind Beneath My Wings” will remain the sole encore. I think we should press for “Friends” as the encore…it’s a much more positive note to me.
by Darron D.
Before I review the new Bette Midler production, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” currently running along with Cher and Elton John (talk about the gay trifecta!) at Celine Dion’s old haunt The Coliseum at Caesar’s palace, I have a confession to make: I am Bette Midler’s biggest fan. Ever since the 7th grade while sitting at home sewing my own Halloween costume (natch) and my sister (a devout lesbian) kept saying “Darron, Darron look at this woman!” and I looked up and saw Bette Midler in one of the greatest concert films of all time, “Divine Madness.” I’ve been completely entranced. I remember the moment perfectly because, as a fat gay kid in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, it felt like the moment Dorothy opened the door to Oz. And watching Midler mince across stage in her peacock dress while powdering her nose with the compact she kept hidden inside her rubber chicken purse suddenly everything in my world was in vibrant, beautiful Technicolor. Ever since that day I have not only followed her career, but as a fellow entertainer, I have studied it.
Although I have tried desperately to be the complete die hard fan and to blindly adore her and all that, I must admit there have been some rough patches along the way. “Beaches” and that horrid “Wind Beneath My Wings” song quickly comes to mind. At the time I thought since Miss M. had recently had a baby she had gone soft on us and this kind of mush was what she was gonna be serving up for us after that. Luckily I was wrong and Bette proved she truly was Divine and soon came out with more of the brass that has made her such a national treasure and gay icon. The point I am trying to make is, although I adore her and my fag flag really flies when it comes to her, I can look objectively at her and her work; which brings us to her new show “The Showgirl Must Go On” currently tearing up Las Vegas’ and Billboard’s Box Office sales.
In the past, I have had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Midler in concert, ever since 1984’s “De-Tour” (which is available for rent re-titled as “Art or Bust”), and every show thereafter. Her shows, dating all the way back to “The Bette Midler Show” (also available for rent or on album as “Live at Last”), have been filmed and either aired on HBO or in theaters. However, her most recent tour “Kiss My Brass” was not and when I heard that, along with the Las Vegas rumors years ago, I knew it did not bid well for the current show. My way of thinking was she was probably gonna try and use a lot of the same material in Vegas and if it aired on TV then it wouldn’t be a commodity any longer. My fears were confirmed when, as one of Bette Midler’s biggest fans, according to Oprah, I got to fly to Chicago and go to Harpo studios and be in the audience when Bette appeared on Oprah along with her opening number from “Showgirl” (from here on out referred to as “TSMGO.”) Sure enough from the opening drum beats on Oprah’s stage to the Harlette’s yelling “Hey! Bette Midler” and then transitioning into “Big Noise from Winnetka” it was the same opening number from “Brass.” A slightly altered (and I think better) version of this song was also the same opening number from the aforementioned film “Divine Madness.” Ironically in that film when an audience member yells out a request Midler complies by saying “Well this is the time capsule version of my show.” However in that show Midler did introduce new songs and new material. In her latest Production it seems Ms. Midler truly has brought us the time capsule version of her show. And what a small, easy to swallow capsule it is.
From the opening mini-movie using the largest LCD screen in North America to Bette’s entrance atop 2,000 pounds of Louis Vuitton luggage the TSGMGO has probably one of the greatest opening sequences in a staged production ever known to man. It succeeds with jaw-dropping over the top-ness that ends with a shower of gold coin confetti over the standing, screaming crowd. Miss M and the Harlettes (not the old trashy kind but young pretty girls, — yawn) and the “Caesar Salad” girls, a line up of 20 showgirls, come out and perform “Big Noise” and “The Showgirl Must Go On” a song Midler co-wrote. From here on out we are treated to 90 minutes of pure Midler, even though it does feel mighty familiar.
Most Midler concerts run 2 to 2 Â½ hours with an intermission and no opening act so 90 minutes feels a bit skimpy. I think the real magic to a Midler concert is she takes her audience on a roller coaster ride of emotions. She purposely doesn’t rely on an opening act to warm up the crowd because as she says she likes to “whip the crowd into a frenzy” with her opening. Then, after having the crowd sufficiently “whipped” she usually then does her famous rat step walk back and forth across the stage sharing some of her quick witted banter, most of which has been supplied by the now famous Bruce Vilanch who before ever writing an Oscar telecast or appearing on Hollywood Squares was backstage writing for Midler. Miss M traditionally then does a complete 180 and before the audience is done wiping away the tears from laughing so hard find themselves wiping away tears from a song this incredibly versatile entertainer has just sung. Then the show carries on back and forth this way from rockers to ballads, both old and new, with more madness in between. It is because of this formula, as well as Midler’s immense talent, that she still holds Broadway records for the fastest ticket sales in history.
Unfortunately, TSGMGO, unlike Divine Madness, is not only the time capsule version of her show but also only the highlights. Because of the short length this time out we see Midler trying to encompass all of the elements of her shows, as well as trying to please all of the tourists, first timers, gays and “Beach Bags” (the 40 -50 year old women in the crowd who brought their best friends, made it through a cancer scare together, and have seen “Beaches” 12 times but know little else of Midler) in the audience. By losing the 40 to 60 minutes of extra time with Midler, transitions from act to act are too clunky with no through line or theme and rather than a smooth carousel ride under Midler’s Big Top we are instead given a more jerky bumper car ride with mermaids in wheel chairs crashing into disjointed showgirl routines. But it is still a carnival ride.
As for entering each of the Fun House rooms Midler usually creates in her shows, from beautiful to bizarre, allowing us to get comfortable in them before moving on it’s more like she merely opens the door to them and lets us peek in before quickly ushering us off to the next one. Even she doesn’t seem completely at home in her immense new home.
For example, one of the most beautiful things about Midler when she sings a particularly moving song is watching how she expresses herself through her gestures. Having been raised in Hawaii and schooled in Hula Midler knows how to tell a story with her hands. Watching her delicate fingers grasp at her leaving lover in front of her begging him to “stay with me”, or create ocean waves in a setting sunset as she’s “sailing away” her microphone is usually firmly planted in front of her on a solid iron microphone stand leaving her hands free to articulate. The stand too, when needed, can become a prop in the illusion she creates while singing in which she can caress and hold like that same lost lover or carry on her back as she tells us she won’t be our beast of burden. However, in TSGMGO there seems to be no time to get that settled into a song, we’re just peaking inside and not visiting remember? So there is no microphone stand to be found any time during the show. Now I know this seems like a weird criticism but believe me throughout the entire show a voice kept screaming in my head “Would someone PLEASE get this woman a microphone stand?” Seeing her walk about the stage holding her mic and dutifully getting through all the required songs made me feel like we were all, including Midler, guests of the Coliseum. I am used to Midler making whatever theater she is in her own and as her guests we are asked to sit down and stay awhile; she’s got something to say. In Vegas, where you can rent just about anything by the hour it definitely feels like the meter is running.
Lastly in doing my best as an honest reporter and telling you as a possible paying customer what to expect the other big disappointment is that ever single Sophie Tucker joke, usually one of the highlights of her already glittering shows, are old. EVERY one. Now I am used to her telling some of the classics, (“Ain’t you got a Vase?”) but along with these gems are at least one or two new ones. Unfortunately, not this time out. Not only does she tell all old Tucker jokes but they are one by one, in order, the exact same line up as “Kiss My Brass” (which can currently be seen on YouTube) As a matter of a fact, in KMB, at one point she tells a particularly vulgar joke and turns to the audience and, breaking character, says “My daughter went to private school, now she’s in college so forgive me; it’s the tuition talking.” Well the night we saw her in Vegas she delivered the same joke, then I guess being so used to the old script having toured with Brass for so long got as far as “Now she’s in college” and caught herself in the mistake and went on to quickly cover it up by saying “Oh! I need some coffee.” and went right into the next joke.
Now probably no one else in the audience would have noticed that except me. No one else in the audience might not notice any of this stuff except me as everyone else leaving the show seemed to be on Cloud 9 from that experience and then immediately ready for the next or to get back at those slots. To sum up my issues with the show (and so as to leave The Divine One blameless,) I really feel it is Vegas’ fault. When Bette comes to your town it is the event of the month and is talked about for months after. When you goto Vegas she is one of thousands of over the top, amazing things to see or do and as tourist we rush from this casino to that trying to experience as much hedonistic delights as possible before returning back to our gray little worlds. Unfortunately for me, I went to Vegas just to see Bette. So, this mini-stop on everyone else’s world wind tour of Sin City was my destination and just not enough for me, especially at $275.00 a ticket.
Okay, so now that I have that off my chest I do want to close with this: Take away the other 75 minutes of the show, leave off the giant headdresses and the 200,000 hand painted gold coin curtains, forget the JumboTron, the opening number, the mermaid routines, the old Sophie Tucker jokes and ESPECIALLY all of that American Idol crap in the middle. Let’s say it doesn’t exist. Even without all of this to go see, just to spend the 10 minutes it takes Bette Midler to stand center stage and sing “When a Man Loves a Woman” or to sit on the edge of the stage and sing “Glory of Love” all alone and accompanied by only herself on a ukulele in that giant theater with no more magic, lights or glitter than what Miss Midler can muster with just that voice and her smile is worth every last gawdamned penny.