Winnipeg Free Press
December 8, 1977
Two specials tonight have a touch of magic: “Bette Midlex- 01′Red Hair Is Back” on NBC and “Abide With Me” (Great Performances) on PBS. Would you believe the raucous, vulgar, i ns i s t e n t l y unwholsome Bette Midler turning
i n to a charming, winsome, poignant lady?
Well, credit producers Gary Smith and Dwight Hennon for this extraordinary feat of human alchemy in the surprise variety show of the season.
It starts out in typical Midler fashion with Bette emerging from a sea shell, dressed in skimply outrageous costume, surrounded By Hawaiian-type chorus line, all singing and dancing “Oklahoma,” From there on in for 20 minutes or so Miss Midler bumps, grinds, gestures obscenely, grimaces, bounces, tells borderline jokes and makes contemptuous
remarks about other performers — all in the spirit of bad, dirty “fun,”
If you happen to be amused by this kind of outrageous vulgarity (mixed In with some hoarsely shouted songs) you are in for a surprise, because suddenly the mood changes; Miss Midler appears in tasteful costumes, before charming sets, with a flattering hairdo and does “La Vie en Rose” beautifully.
Then Dustin Hoffman appears and plays a song of his own composition, to which Miss Midler has written the lyrics. They perform with restrained grace after which there is a wild-and-woolly. but somehow tastefully outrageous, Rachmaninoff number. With Mr. Hoffman gone, Miss Midler then performs a bittersweet monologue and song with a depth of emotion so true that she w i l l have you in tears just as she has herself in tears. Thirty minutes of pure show-business magic by a woman who proves that underneath that patina of coarseness lies a golden performer.
Then a finale which reaches back to the old brazen Bette j u s t to prove that respectability isn’t all she has to
o f f e r .
Clown Emmet Kelley, who appears briefly, makes one yearn for more. But it’s Midler’s show, and she’s not about to share i t too graciously.
“The Bette Midler Special” is a kind of entertainment sandwich — two chunks of coarse bread on the o u t s i d e and a slab of exquisite pate in the middle.
It’s an antidote to the glut of seasonal spun sugar which has been enveloping the networks.