The odds are against the vast majority of Lubbockites ever seeing a Bette Midler concert in person. But thanks to the miracles of that still controversial technical advance known as Home Box Office commercial-free television, the South Plains will be able to view one of her greatest shows four more times this month.
And what a show It is.
Completely mesmerizirtg, this show — which was recorded and filmed at the Cleveland Music Hall in February 1976 — is a brilliant conception of showmanship. Indeed, it is the sort of musical entertainment which quickly inspires the viewer to turn out the lights, strike a match to a candle, turn up the sound and wish he was there.
Associated Press critic Bob Thomas has already labeled Bette Midler “the most remarkable talent to emerge since Barbra Streisand.” He may very well be right since all who tune in to this concert can see there is much, much more to this songstress than the hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Sure, Bette is still primarily known for singing the old songs. She likes to groove into what she labels “hubba hubba music,” that is, music from the 1940s. But one only has to listen to her rousing tempo with Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood” to realize the excellence she’s achieved with that decade’s music.
Even her naughty stories come straight out of a Sophie Tucker jokebook.
And yes, her show does possess a goodly amount of blue material Many concerts do nowadays. But the four letter words in Miss M’s act come off more hilarious than pornographic. Few people can add charm to vulgar innuendo with the skill of a Bette Midler…as evidenced by the crowd’s reaction in the Cleveland Music Hall those nights.
Nevertheless, it remains her singing to be the foundation upon which her act is built.
Bette Midler, after all, is one of the least attractive performers ever to grace a stage. As for her wardrobe, well, she works out of rags and it’s easy to see why she’s won numerous Worst Dressed Woman awards. But her talent and energy more than make up for all of this.
She has an uncanny ability to lend respectability to the hits of the big band era, then zoom forward 30 years and draw every ounce of feeling from a couple John Prine ballads. She’ll sing a song from Disney’s “Snow White,” tell a few jokes, then add more oomph to “Delta Dawn” than Helen Reddy could dream possible.
Miss M is constantly moving on stage.
Dancing, skipping, acting out her tunes, she performs with a consistency and style that would exhaust an Olympic gymnast And yet her timing remains on key, especially apparent with the best number in the show when she picks up a barroom telephone, dials area code 202 and proceeds to croon a love song to Nelson Rockefeller.
Her performance is totally unpredictable and totally entertaining. In fact, it’s more a happening than a concert. She works with constantly changing sets (making an appearance in the hand of a lifesize King Kong long before Jessica Lange) and makes excellent use of a full scale orchestra and a talented background trio called, not surprisingly, the Harlettes.
But special recognition should also be aimed toward director Tom Trbovich, editor Bill Breshears and Home Box Office for making “The Divine Miss M” a truly memorable TV concert For once music lovers could witness an actual two hour and fifteen minute live performance without having to watch Wolfman Jack push pimple paste between sets.
Naturally, the Bette Midler extravaganza is a show which would be even better viewed in person. But that West Texas is able to view it at all is one of the best Christinas presents the season has offered. The show first aired on Home Box Office in June and popular reaction is what brings it back this time.
And why not? After all, it could very well be the first gift a television-watching music lover would ever express a desire to receive twice…or even more. Indeed, I doubt that the Divine Miss M has ever been more divine. Don’t miss it!