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Midler mayhem

<b>Liz Smith: In New York</b>

BETTE MIDLER is currently rehearsing a big extravaganza she’ll export to Las Vegas to take over from Celine Dion at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. When I was chatting Bette I couldn’t quite understand whether she was saying her show would have “plenty of news” or whether she was saying “plenty of nudes” or whether she was saying “plenty of boobs.” Anyway, she will most likely call it something like “The Showgirl Must Go On” and she’ll bring back some of our favorite characters like Dolores del Lago the Toast of Chicago, the Mermaids, and “Sophie.” She is also going to give the crowds who come to her 20 weeks a year “Night with Bette” a lot of brand new stuff. I asked Bette if she’ll have large pianos flying across the stage overhead in the manner that Celine Dion does, but she just laughed: “That Colosseum — it has lots of fun stuff to fool around with.” Bette takes her rehearsals to Vegas in October and opens in February.

I’M HAPPIER now, I’m sure, than if I’d tried to capitalize on my movie popularity. Look, I’ve always been a theater rat.” That’s Kevin Spacey, who won Oscars in 1996 and 2000, and has brought the Old Vic’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” to Broadway. … Kevin has held his position at the Old Vic since 2004, and he says, “I am the luckiest guy in the world, it is such a joy, what I do.” Has he experienced any of that daunting English cynicism? (They weren’t always supportive of their own beloved Sir Laurence Olivier, during his running the Old Vic.) “Oh, I think fingers up in the air, trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, has passed. Now we’re ready to go ahead and forge a new, younger audience. We’ve been incredibly encouraged, and we have to stay that way, because we raise funds ourselves, there’s no public subsidy.” (Recently Bill Clinton hosted an Old Vic fund-raiser in NYC that brought in $500,000.) Kevin also lured his “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes into a partnership with the Old Vic and BAM. This transatlantic project is called the Bridge and Mendes will direct six plays over three seasons. “This is an extraordinary thing for him to do. This is choosing art over the commercial in the biggest sense.” Of his triumph in “A Moon for the Misbegotten” Kevin admits it is a workout, but “it’s exhilarating to act in something so well-written, so complex, and also, so amusing in many ways. People don’t realize that O’Neill had his funny moments. You know, ‘Moon’ was perceived as a not-very-good play, initially. It was only when Jose Quintero mounted his famous production with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, that it began to be reassessed, and it has grown in perception ever since.” … My first appreciation of Spacey came in the CBS series “Wiseguy,” starring Ken Wahl. Kevin played Mel Profitt. He was a villain, but very funny in a totally demented way — shooting up drugs between his toes. Kevin laughs, “I think the censors were asleep at the switch. I don’t remember what else CBS had on at the time, but they certainly left us alone.” Kevin is committed to eight or nine years in England, but “I’m still all-American. I’ll vote in 2008 by proxy and my friends congratulate me that I have not turned up with a faux British accent.”

THE HOTTEST secret in television is the wrap NBC has thrown over Matt Lauer’s coming sensational and very exclusive interview with Great Britain’s princes — William and Harry. The princes spoke in conjunction with a coming big concert set to honor their mother, Princess Diana, sometime in June. The interview took place within the last 10 days and these young men speaking frankly, I’m told, about absolutely everything — their mother’s untimely death, Harry’s going to war in Iraq, and how they feel about the press and paparazzi.

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)