The show begins with a kitschy opening sequence where a twister sweeps up everything in its path and lands 2,200 pounds of Louis Viutton luggage on the massive Coliseum stage. The Divine Miss M emerges from the luggage in great spirits, wearing a saucy silver pant suit.
Vocally, Midler is in top form, remaining the breathy, raspy goddess she's been for decades. She sings several of her favorite tunes, including "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "In The Mood." And when she strips away the shtick to focus on a ballad like "When A Man Loves A Woman" or her signature song "Wind Beneath My Wings," -- aided by the fine 13-piece band led by Bette Sussman -- she commands the house. Her Sophie Tucker routine, though familiar territory, still emerges as an oldie but goodie.
Yet one of her early jokes is telling in how often the show's humor doesn't succeed. "30 years ago my audience was on drugs. Now they're on medication." Who wants Bette Midler for the AARP generation? One of the numbers that falters most features her mermaid lounge singer character, Delores Delago; it includes a tired American Idol spoof and a Busby Berkeley routine that would have been more at home on Donny and Marie than at Caesars in the new millennium. One half expects Rip Taylor and Paul Lynde to pop out for some quips.
Designers Carol Dodds and Michael Levine conjure up some lovely visuals, aided by a massive video screen. For example, Midler sings the touching "Hello In There" amidst multi-layered scrim projections of vintage New York engulfed by fog. The gold coin curtains also become a character in the show, forming objects such as trees, clouds, and rain for several numbers. Costume designer Constance Hoffman has crafted some eye-popping outfits, including reversible clothing that gives the illusion that Midler's back-up singers -- here dubbed the Caesar Salad -- clad in black have instantly exploded into bright floral colors.
Any opportunity to see Bette Midler should not be missed. It's just a shame that she wasn't packaged in a show more worthy of her talents.
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