Scott, Richard, and I saw Bette Midler in concert at Madison Square Garden on 6/26/15. Scott and I had never seen Bette, had never been to The Garden - - Richard had done both many times. We sat in the cheaper seats (which were still not cheap), and I don't think I've ever sat so far away for a show. It took me a while to adapt, but I got over it. I had my binoculars, and they had many huge screens on the sides showing great close-ups of La Midler.
She had three female back-up singers/dancers who were totally workin' it. They did "Da Do Ron Ron" with the back-ups wearing two-piece mini dresses with fringe and they were shaking their little bodies like there was no tomorrow, that fringe had never been worked so hard. Bette started the show in a fabulous little pink minidress with a V-neck and lots of beading and bling along the neckline and cuffs. Showed off her legs, which look fabulous. Bette, in general, looks fabulous. She's had work done, and first-class work it has been.
She said a word about the Supreme Court decision earlier that day, that was very special, and she sang "Going to the chapel" which got me all teary. Who would have imagined, when she recorded that song in 1972, that gay marriage would be legal nationwide today!
The second sequence was a tribute to her character from *Hocus Pocus*. Not one of her best movies, and a strange inclusion in this show. The one thing that made it worthwhile - - she rattled off a list of evil spells she was going to execute. The funniest: "I'll make Staten Island more hip than Brooklyn!"
The next sequence had the back-ups dressed as yellow birds and Bette in a fabulous bird costume, a red and black merry widow sort of bodice, and long, fabulous cock feathers coming out of her backside. A fabulous feathered hat, natch. She told a stream of hilarious moldy old jokes, many of them the Sophie Tucker-style jokes she told back in the day. My favorite: "Was walkin' down the street with my best friend Clementine. She had her doberman, I had my chihuahua. We walked by a bar and she said, 'Hey, let's stop in here for a bit and get some refreshment.' I said, 'We can't go in there, we got these dogs!' She said, 'Follow my lead.' She put on her sunglasses and walked into the bar. The barkeep said, 'Hey lady, you can't come in here with that dog.' She said, 'This is my seeing eye dog.' He said, 'A doberman?' She said, 'Yes, he's very talented.' Sat down and ordered a drink. I put on my sunglasses and walked in. The barkeep said, 'Hey lady, you can't come in here with that dog.' I said, 'This is my seeing eye dog.' He said, 'I don't buy it - - a chihuahua?' " [long, shocked pause] " 'They gave me a f--kin' chihuahua?' "
They showed a video montage of Bette as mermaid Delores del Lago, the toast of Chicago. She retired this character a few years ago, and we were trying to figure out why. My theory is she's just plain tired of it.
The final sequence had Bette in an incredible long sequined gown. The color was sublime, somewhere between pink and red. There I was, at the concert, trying to formulate how I would describe the color in my review. If Catherine Deneuve had played a hooker in a movie in 1975, an American movie, this is the shade of lipstick she would have worn. Bette started with "Beast of burden", talked a little bit about working with Mick Jagger. She did some down and dirty blues number and her voice sounded incredible. She started the show sounding a little covered and adenoidal, sounding more than a bit like Mister Bob Dylan - - but I guess she just needed to warm up, because by the end of the show she was glorious. She sang "The rose" and invited the audience to pull out their Apple devices and light up the auditorium - - and sure enough, a thousand iPhones lit up The Garden, like so many fireflies. Magical!
This is a paraphrase of her intro to "Wind beneath my wings": "People always come up to me and tell me that this song was the first dance at their wedding, or the song they sang at their father's funeral, this song has meant so much to so many people. I'm honored to have played a part in your lives, and I sing this song for you. This is your song. You're going to be tempted to sing along. Don't." Hilarious!
Bette is the most generous performer I’ve ever seen. Just watching her walk across the stage was a thrill, because she was completely present in the moment and giving her all. This is not the case with everyone - - I saw Cher in concert about 15 years ago and she was a pro and in a way put on a good show, but on the other hand she totally phoned it in. I think one or two numbers were phoned in by her assistant. Not a moment of that with Bette. I got the feeling there was nowhere else in the world she would rather be, and that’s a real honor for an audience member.
They wrapped up, took their bows, people started to leave, but of course she sang a few encores, bringing out the great Darlene Love to sing with her for the final encore. Most touching of all, rather than taking solo bows when the show was over, it was staged as a company bow - - Bette in the middle with the band and her back-ups with her. That's class.