Fellow fellow Vince and I decided, on the spur of the moment (relatively speaking), to attend the Bette Midler show at the Palace at Auburn Hills last night. It was the only spontaneity an evening like this can accommodate, because face it: Shows like this cannot do spontaneous. If, like me, you had your formative pop-concert experiences in the ’70s, and somehow believed that people in the audience shouting “Free Bird!” translated into Skynyrd’s performance of that number later in the evening, you may have been led to believe that performers are capable of spontaneity in performance. They are not. At least, they are not in shows like the one at the Palace last night. There is a schedule. There is a computer-controlled carousel horse on wires arriving from the wings in 45 seconds, and you’ve got to get on and fly out, whether you want to or not. There are two dozen more cities to visit. The jokes individually tailored for each city will be written by a professional, and the magic will come in the performer’s delivery of same, making it seem they just popped into her curly little head.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this. It’s theater, not improv. You gotta rock the cheap seats, too, and I appreciate the effort with the scenery, the effects, the everything. You also gotta give Bette her props: This is a girl who can still tear the roof off the sucka when she wants to. I happily believed she made up the snappy patter right there on the spot. (Sample: “Ah, Detroit, home of Joe Louis’ fist. I saw it today; it was wearing a glove. It’s cold out there!”)
It was kind of a poignant evening for me. I loved Bette Midler in the ’70s along with all my gay friends, and then all my gay friends died, and Bette and I lost touch sometime after “The Rose.” You can’t fault someone for making hits where she found them; I’m just not one of those girls who feels the need to stand up with a lit match in hand when she hears “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”
But the first part of the show was fabulous — the Rosemary Clooney homage, the Fishtails Over Broadway bit (whatever else it is, mermaids rolling around the stage in electric wheelchairs is just funny), the Sophie Tucker jokes. The trick to aging well is not taking yourself too seriously, and no one ever accused Bette Midler of that. Speaking of Christina Aguilera performing in little more clothing than would fit in a Barbie doll’s pocket, she said:
“Do these girls ever call and say thank you? Do they? No. And I opened the door for trashy singers with bad taste and big tits!”
She did. And she did it so well.
In conclusion, here’s a Sophie Tucker joke:
“My boyfriend Ernie said, ‘Soph, if you’d learn to cook, we could fire the chef.’ And I said, ‘Ernie, if you’d learn to fuck, we could fire the chauffeur!'”
Thank you very much. Drive carefully. I love you, Detroit!