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October 24, 2014

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Midler’s stellar voice at MGM outshines some dated material

If You Go

Who: Bette Midler.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Rating (out of 5 stars): ***

Looking to offend critics and please her rabid fan base, Bette Midler dove in with both fins -- er, feet -- for the Las Vegas leg of her "Kiss My Brass" tour Saturday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena..

And the near-capacity crowd responded with often-polite applause (for some of Midler's oldest routines) and laughter (at some of mankind's oldest dirty jokes).

Despite a high energy level and some topical humor, Midler's show, a revamping of her "Divine Miss M" tour three decades removed, mostly seems like a museum piece -- even if Midler, looking pretty good for a woman two years shy of her 60s, is not.

It seems remarkable that a woman of Midler's still-inestimable talent would want to go back to being a mermaid and doing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" for the 5,000th time.

Chalk it up to giving the people what they want, but judging from the faces in the audience, that wasn't what some folks wanted at all.

Midler performed under a Coney Island-themed set. A heart in the center of the piece with the words, "Break It Not," inscribed into it seemed entirely appropriate, given that the show was on Valentine's Day.

A 13-piece orchestra provided solid support throughout the three-hour show, and Midler was at full tilt from the moment she arrived onstage on a merry-go-round horse. ("I love him, but I think he's bipolar. He's up, he's down," was the first of many groaners Midler would revel in throughout the evening.)

After a rousing swing number to open the show, Midler, clad in a sailor suit, immediately launched into as much name-dropping as she could achieve before the next number, firing barbs at Winona Ryder, President Bush and Elton John.

"I understand there's another diva in town. Did you know Elton was here tonight?" Midler cooed. "I had to fight him for this costume. I got the suit, he got the sailor."

The jokes ran the gamut throughout the evening:

On Las Vegas: "This is the only place gay couples don't want to get married."

On her age: "I've sung two songs and I need CPR. What's gonna happen when I turn 40?"

On her critics: "I'm not retired, and you can't make me."

On President Bush: "They're saying George may win the election this year the old-fashioned way -- with votes."

On Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson, et al: "I opened the door for trashy singers with bad taste and big (breasts)!"

Midler took full advantage of video screens behind her, showing a mildly amusing "Judge Judy" skit (CBS vs. Midler over the failed sitcom "Bette"), interacting with Mr. Rogers, and flashing glamour shots of Rosemary Clooney while she sang songs from her Grammy-nominated tribute album to Clooney, including "Come On-A My House" and "Hey There."

While most of Midler's show moved quickly, other bits fell completely flat, including one where Midler, imitating a 90-year-old woman, told 10 minutes worth of jokes unprintable in a family newspaper.

Her mermaid number, in which she goes from a freak show to Broadway, went on completely too long-- nearly 20 minutes -- and its intermittent pleasures weren't worth the time spent. Other numbers -- "Going to the Chapel," "Do You Wanna Dance" and "Boogie Woogie" -- seemed completely obligatory and uninspired.

The finest moments came when Midler performed her hits from the past 25 years, most of them from her movies. "From a Distance," "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "The Rose" were crowd favorites, and Miss M. actually got caught up in the lyrics of "Distance," letting out an authentic-sounding sob at the end.com

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