The applause erupted well before Bette Midler’s actual appearance on the Verizon Center stage Monday night as part of her “Divine Intervention” national tour.
The clapping reflected not only the enthusiasm of the crowd—which, if not sold-out, was large — but also a symbolic attempt to “entice” the entertainer out from behind the curtains for a performance that was then running some 15 minutes late.
Midler, commonly known by her informal stage name of “The Divine Miss M,” has done nearly 20 of those tours — most recently between 2008 and 2010, not to mention making movies and recordings and garnering awards and a huge fan following.
The Divine Miss M is definitely uncommon, an appealing combination of abilities that include singing, moving, stand-up comedy, supreme self-confidence, and above all, an uncanny knack of connecting with audiences.
Oh, and yes, she looks damn good, in a glittery blue mini-dress as well as in a glittery red gown. She has a dancer’s legs and moves, if not lightly, then gracefully.
There’s no denying that Midler is a presence.
All that said, the concert kind of left me cold. Well, there was a touch of excitement felt to be in the presence of a world-famous and individualistic performer, and a Jewish one at that. (Clearly not even all her fans know this. Someone from the community I ran into on the Metro, both of us en route to the concert, had no idea.)
Otherwise, the event was garish and sometimes vulgar. It was disconnected, lacking a coherent theme. The rock music was too loud. But surprisingly, when Midler sang ballads rather than early rock, such as “Should I Sing to You” or “When I Think about the Life I Led,” the poignancy one would have expected from her life experience and musicality wasn’t there. Instead she sang with an over-the-top sentimentality, even when she was pleasant to listen to.
There were plenty of sexual and body-part references — some funny, some not. Midler, for example, called the concert a “boob job for the soul.” There were constantly changing lights and screens and even a bizarre sequence about witches that felt glaringly out of place.
There was plenty of kitsch, too, including a bright-red lipped-shape sofa and a facsimile of Michelangelo’s famous “The Creation of Man” painting from the Sistine Chapel in which Midler’s photograph was transposed onto the God figure.
But Midler also threw in some funny — G rated — lines, like attributing the start of Facebook to actor Sally Fields’s often-parodied thank-you at the Oscars, “You like me, you really like me.” Midler’s commentary on social media was biting, as was her lament that she hadn’t become a “billionaire by age 30” by making a sex tape like whichever the Kardashian it was.
Midler was accompanied by three high-stepping, super-buoyant singer-dancers as well as by what looked like a 10-piece band. The bright, sometimes neon, lights and the way the band members were placed backstage made it hard to tell.
When it came to songs, there was no program, except one on sale. The ticketholder who wasn’t a long-time follower of Midler’s musical career would have been at a disadvantage, and of course, it was hard in louder songs to make out all the words.
This was my first live acquaintance with the Hawaiian-born mega-entertainer, but from what everyone around me was saying, she hadn’t lost her touch. It seemed to me that the voice had deepened, become less lyrical, even less distinctive, over time. But no one seemed to mind, especially when Midler returned to such oldies as “Tell Him,” in a tribute to “girl groups” that I wished would have gone on longer.
The audience went nearly wild when she embarked her signature song, “The Rose,” from her debut movie of the same name. They waved flashlights, apparently an accepted ritual by now.
What I can say is that, at 69, the never-“beautiful” Midler is in fantastic shape, probably as thrilled to be onstage and admired as she was at her first gig. The show lasted nearly two hours, with no breaks or intermissions and no opener. She didn’t show a tired bone or even seem to sweat.
Of course, the audience, largely middle-aged and older, lapped up everything Midler sang, did, and said. There’s no denying Midler is talented and indefatigable. Whether you reacted positively to the humor or singing, I suspect she would have gone on unfazed. There’s much to admire there.