Bradley Center, Milwaukee
November 5, 1999
Story and Photo by Phil Bonyata"When I was young I used to lay on my back and look up at the stars above me. I didn't know any of their names, but you know that was very early in my career."
She's still got it.
The raucous Bette Midler in person makes up for all of her run-of-the-mill movies and sometimes uninspired albums.
The Divine One let the faithful feel her grip at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee last week. She would never let go.
Bette, dressed in a form fitting Mae West style, black and white striped gown, opened the show by ever so slowly raising herself out of a giant mother earth-like orb. After the first few lines of "From a Distance" she changed course with a jumpy rendition of "I'm Beautiful" from her latest CD. Midway through the third song Bette casually interrupted "You guys must've been buying stock since the last time I saw you. I mean how else could you afford your seats? I can't even afford one of your seats. That's why I'm standing here." Actually Bette did everything but stand in her three hours plus concert. Her live shows are all about energy, be it explosive or refined.
Bette Midler was born for the stage. This middle-aged Jewish woman from Hawaii brilliantly melds bad taste and racy humor with colorful theater along with her special brand of music. A music which culls form the styles of some of the 20th century's most recognized artists like Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Al Jolson and the Andrew Sisters. In which she and her colorful "Vegas style" dancers performed a rousing and very patriotic rendition of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". It was so red, white and blue that the auditorium would have emptied after the song had they been selling war bonds at the concession stands.
In songs like "The Rose," "Sunrise, Sunset" and "Wind Beneath My Wings" there was no need for anything other than Bette's velvety and passionate voice which is still one of the best among female singers today.
Of course it wouldn't be a Bette Midler show without numerous references of her rather large breasts. In one extended production Bette and her dancers dramatized the life of Otto Titsling, the inventor of the bra.
It was vintage kitsch served on a platter by Bette.
One of Bette's signature characters is Delores Delago, the mermaid in the wheelchair. This version had Delores running for president of the United States. Hopping around the stage in her green mermaid suit and flowing long golden locks and spewing one-liners like a machine gun Bette showed herself to be a very funny political satirist. The long production, which included 'cameos' by Bill Clinton, Pope John Paul II, Woody Allen, Queen Elizabeth and many more impersonators in rubber masks, featured an extravagant dance routine with the twisting and turning wheelchair bound mermaids. It was all a bit strange if you don't know Bette Midler, but who cares, you don't always have to understand why you're having fun to have fun.
Bette's unique version of 'My Way," made famous by Frank Sinatra, closed rather appropriately with "The record shows; though my taste blows; I did it my way." "Stay With Me" had Midler's raw vocals and energy infect the entire audience with a foot stompin', rafter shakin' virus that only a slow song would surely cure.
A radiant Bette, who obviously adores performing for a live audience and looked like she could perform for another three hours, closed the night with "One For My Baby (And One More For the Road)."
The song brought back emotional memories of Bette serenading a tearful Johnny Carson on his last ever TV show.
"For all the years
for the laughs, for the tears,
for the class that showed,
make it one for my baby
and one more for the road.
That long, long road."
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