Review: ‘Bette Midler — Kiss My Brass’

The divine Miss M. returned to the Big Apple in typical gaudy grandeur. To the sounds of crashing surf and soaring seagulls, Bette Midler descended from high above, riding a merry-go-round stallion, to land upon a seaside boardwalk. "New York, I'm home," she proclaimed, and it appeared a hungry Gotham crowd couldn't ask for anything more.

The divine Miss M. returned to the Big Apple in typical gaudy grandeur. To the sounds of crashing surf and soaring seagulls, Bette Midler descended from high above, riding a merry-go-round stallion, to land upon a seaside boardwalk. Her fevered fans loved every minute of it. Met by her beguiling Harlettes as bathing beauties, and a crackerjack brass section, the lady launched into “Kiss My Brass.” “New York, I’m home,” she proclaimed, and it appeared a hungry Gotham crowd couldn’t ask for anything more.

Launching a 40-city tour, the queen of class and crass could do no wrong. From outrageously ballsy humor to sensitive serenading, Midler was at the top of her game, seducing a near-capacity aud into her particular world of raunch and remembrance.

From the hot G.I. ’40s jitterbug “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” the song that started it all, to her trademark ballads “The Rose,” “Do You Want to Dance,” “Friends” and “Wind Beneath My Wings,” Midler again proved she can switch from sentiment to slapstick with inimitable know-how. She displayed an uncanny sense of timing, balancing glamour and sophistication with guts and clowning.

An all-too-brief nod to her latest Columbia CD, “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” is set against stunning pics of the beloved late singer. Midler sings Clooney classics “Hey There” and “Tenderly” with an affectionate sense of warmth and remembrance. The Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael classic “Skylark” is on the slate as well, and Midler makes it a picturesque remembrance.

Also recalled is beloved kiddie show host Mister Rogers, with a warmly shared film duet of “I Like to Be Told.” It was a sweetly defined, sentimental sidebar.

Of course, there’s nothing quite so outrageous as Midler’s salty humor and delightfully wicked barbs. Noting that Britney is wearing pasties and G-strings, the queen of bad taste boasted, “I opened the door for them!” She also quipped, “Now that Saddam is cleaned up, they’ll likely cast him on ‘Queer Eye for the Dictator.’ ” Her unprintable Viagra jokes prompted huge yuks.

The biggest and longest second-act skit found Midler and the Harlettes as seductive mermaids in flapping fins touring a pre-Broadway musical revue, “Fishtails Over Broadway.” From “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “One” and “Hello, Dolly!” to “All That Shad” (in lieu of “All That Jazz”), it was a concept that peaked much too early. Also off-key was a brief filmed court session with Judge Judy focusing on the demise of Midler’s short-lived CBS sitcom “Bette.” Why bother to dredge up a career mishap with sour-grapes comedy?

Band was tight and crisp. Special effects and lighting were effectively glitzy and served as impressively glorified accents. Sound often was muffled by excessive volume in some corners of the arena.

Tour rolls on through dates in Dallas (Jan. 29), Denver (Jan. 31), Vegas on Valentine’s Day and L.A. on Feb 24.

Bette Midler -- Kiss My Brass

Madison Square Garden; 20,000 capacity; $200

Production

Musical director, Bette Sussman; choreography, Toni Basil; writer, Eric Kornfeld, lighting, Peter Morse; sound, Timothy Winters, Richard Schoenadel, Christopher Fulton; video, Carol Dodds; stage manager, Richard Bray. Opened and reviewed Jan 17, 2004. Closed Jan. 18.

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