Legit Review: ‘I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers’

Bette Midler.

Wouldn’t we all kill to be invited to a dinner party at Sue Mengers’? But, as Bette Midler puts it so plainly to the auds at her solo show, “Of course I would ask you to stay but … well … look at you.” The legendary Hollywood superagent reportedly made beaucoup enemies during her reign on earth, but scribe John Logan overlooks all that bile to pen an affectionate homage to a singular woman who loved the movie business back in the days when the movie business was still fun.

So. Bette. Is she still divine? Diviner than ever. And completely in her element, posed like a queen on the plump couch cushions of Scott Pask’s tastefully elegant set of the Mengers’ house in Beverly Hills.

She doesn’t appear to be an imposter, either. That thick mane of silver-blonde hair is Sue’s hair. The tinted glasses — hers. And if Ann Roth didn’t design that billowing aquamarine caftan for Sue, she certainly might have. But of course, it’s the attitude that completes the impersonation, that supreme self-confidence that allows her to shoot off her filthy mouth at Hollywood royalty — her good friends.

To put it more pithily: the casting of Bette Midler as Sue Mengers is genius.

The dating of the play is important. It’s 1981, when Sue is still on the game as powerhouse superagent. But not so many years off, she’ll be out of player position and watching the game from the sidelines. Having one of the smartest and quickest minds in Hollywood, she probably already knows what’s up ahead.

So Logan is already signaling that this won’t be one of Sue’s typical dinner parties. If we watch closely, there might also be portents of the fall of an empire, or at least, the changing of the palace guard. The first brick drops when she keeps eyeing the telephone and finally admits to be waiting for the Call. The call from her oldest and dearest friend, Barbra Streisand, who fired her earlier in the day.

Before the guests arrive, there will be other calls, other intimations of mortality. But for now, she’s content to sharpen her claws and dazzle us with her bountiful store of gossip, her wicked wit, her opinionated views and the story of her unorthodox life.

Some of her bon mots go for huge belly laughs. Discussing her marriage, she claims that she and her husband are a typical Hollywood couple. “On a good night we’re Nick and Nora Charles. On a bad night we’re Nick and Nora Charles Manson.” She shares the secret of her famously successful dinner parties: “Only invite movie stars.” Following her own advice, she admits, “My own mother couldn’t get in if she were standing outside in the rain.”

But here’s the real secret of those parties: “It’s all business. Everything in this town is business,” and by the time coffee is served, she’s landed one more job for one more client.

Not only is it all business, it’s all show business. (“Don’t talk to me about politics, science, sports, or animal husbandry.”) And never being up foreign politics, like Vanessa Redgrave. (“Is there anything more dreary than Cambodia? No one shoots a movie there.”)

But it’s not all fun and games and filthy stories. Once she starts going on about clients she honestly loves — Streisand, Ali McGraw, Julie Harris — a tender look softens her face and we realize that all those stories about her fierce loyalty to her friends are all true.

There will be betrayals before this party even begin, and there will be more after it ends. But for now, just let this great dame park her keister on her couch, puffing away on a cigarette in one hand and a joint in the other, and tell you what she misses most about the old Hollywood. “We used to laugh more. Honey, we used to have fun.”

Legit Review: 'I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers'

(Booth Theater; 777 seats; $135 top)

Production: A Graydon Carter, Arielle Tepper Madover, James L. Nederlander, the Shubert Organization, Terry Allen Kramer, Stephanie P. McClelland, Jeffrey Finn, Ruth Hendel, Larry Magid, John B. Platt, and Scott & Brian Zeilinger presentation of a play in one act by John Logan.

Creative: Directed by Joe Mantello. Set, Scott Pask; costume, Ann Roth; lighting, Hugh Vanstone; sound, Fitz Patton; production stage manager, William Joseph Barnes. Opened April 24, 2013. Reviewed April 23. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

Cast: Bette Midler.

More Legit

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Warner Music Group Logo

    Warner Music Acquires Musical Theater Indie First Night Records

    Warner Music Group has acquired First Night Record, an independent record label for West End and Broadway musical theatre cast recordings. The company will be overseen by WMG’s Arts Music Division, led by President Kevin Gore. First Night co-founder John Craig will join the Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement to identify and record musical theatre productions in [...]

  • Broadway

    Broadway Back In Biz After Power Outage Ends

    The bright lights of Broadway were back on Sunday morning as midtown Manhattan recovered from a power outage that lasted nearly seven hours in some areas. Social media was full of examples of how New Yorkers rose to the occasion after the power went out on a hot Saturday night shortly before 7 p.m. ET. [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    Power Restored in New York City After Massive Outage Hits Broadway

    UPDATED: Power has gradually been restored to Midtown Manhattan and the theater district after what New York City officials described as a rolling blackout that darkened Times Square and other high-traffic areas on Saturday night. Officials said all power should be restored to the 73,000 customers affected by the outage by midnight ET. Local media [...]

  • Slave Play

    Controversial 'Slave Play' Is Broadway Bound

    “Slave Play,” a controversial drama that examined race and sexuality, is moving to Broadway for a limited run. Written by theatrical wunderkind Jeremy O. Harris, “Slave Play” was a sensation when it ran at the New York Theatre Workshop, drawing such bold-faced names as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Kushner. The show will debut at [...]

  • Mary Said What She Said

    Critic's Notebook: Seeing Isabelle Huppert and Dimitris Papaioannou in Paris

    “Do you miss Paris?” I get that question a lot, but never know what to say. How could I not? The two years I spent in that splendid city covering international cinema for Variety changed my life. “What do you miss most about Paris?” That’s a tough one too. The booksellers on the sidewalk in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content