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Monday, June 29, 2015

Bette Midler Grows in Brooklyn

LGBT Pride was extended this year as Bette Midler brought her new show, Divine Intervention, to the stage at Barclay's Center tonight. She even mentioned Pride and congratulated her gay fans on the marriage-equality victory. More than any other single entertainer, Ms Midler -- who started as a chanteuse and comedian at the Continental Baths -- brought a gay camp sensibility into mainstream entertainment. It remains undiminished at age 70.

Gone are the platform shoes and Depression-era dresses, replaced now with chic New Bohemian-styled frocks and stilettos. She looks good! Ok?

Bette was born Paterson, NJ as was I. We met once, when I was working in the box-office at the old Bottom Line in Manhattan. I mentioned the Paterson connection and she lit up with that famous smile of hers, asking if I had something to write on. I slipped her a cocktail napkin (all I had at the time) and she wrote: "Charles, your b.o. is my b.o. -- Bette Midler." We pinned it up on our bulletin board in our b.o.

What a pleasure it was, then, to see The Divine Miss M at Barclay's with her latest act, Divine Intervention! I mean, it's almost like we grew up together!

I met up with my friend Sharon, still very British though having lived in NYC for many years now. Love her accent and UK expressions, like "gob smacked." We haven't seen one another since we worked together at the office. So, this was a special occasion, indeed, as there is also no way of knowing if, after this tour, we'll ever have the chance to see Bette tour again.

Miss M was indeed an indefatigable ball of fire in this two-hour spectacular with no intermission. With only the briefest costume changes, the diva did several numbers included on her new album, It's the Girls as well as a litany of hits, many of which have become standards. Her Barry Manilow-inspired version of Do You Want to Dance? brought tears to our eyes. Has all that time really elapsed since this was a radio hit?

Bette was earnestly moved by the full house in Brooklyn and grateful to us all. "Brooklyn! Who knew! Maybe I'll come back and play the Bronx," she quipped. Twice, she broke into tears thanking us for supporting her.

Bette asked how many of us took the subway, cabbed it or drove in. "Great to see my older fans can can still see in the dark," she snarked to the drivers amongst us. Her patter has lost none of its brassy, bold and bawdy characteristics. Comedy highlight may have been the obviously doctored photos of her in bed with a variety of public figures including Cheney, Putin and Bruce Jenner ("We really just did each others' toenails and sang all my songs together!").

Sophie Tucker jokes were as saucy as ever, and the video tribute to Delores Del Largo (a character Midler is retiring) was oddly moving. Seems like Bette might want a motorized wheelchair at her age but, no, she seems to invite Lady Gaga/ Yumi to inherit the mermaid-in-wheelchair schtick for good.

Bette claimed to the crowd that she had never had work done. This was not intended as a joke. Clearly, the Divine has had some expert nip/ tuck; one only need look at her face in close-up. Taut face/not so taught neck. Still, as I said earlier, she looked good!

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose, after all. Bette's crowd pleaser included the theme song for that film, From a Distance and Wind Beneath My Wings, but also less-mainstream jazz hits like Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most and I've Still Got My Health. The opening number was the clever Divine Intervention, named after the show.

Though Friends and Rose's Turn got overlooked, unfortunately, this was still an enormous performance endeavor. The band and the new Harlettes (women young enough to be Bette's granddaughters) were top-tier and Miss M was in all her divine glory, doing what she does best: Putting on a show; an unforgettable show. We were gob smacked!

Thanks, Sharon, for the drink and the food afterward.

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