Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bette Midler: I'll See This First

 When I first read that Bette Midler was going to be playing legendary super-agent Sue Mengers on Broadway, I practically shrieked with delight. I thought, “This is the role she was born to play.”
And now, having seen “I’ll Eat You Last,” I can definitively tell you: This is the role she was born to play.
The curtain opens on a pitch-perfect recreation of Ms. Mengers’ Beverly Hills mansion, decorated in a style that I would call chic but comfortable. The Divine Miss M is stretched out on the couch in a sparkly blue caftan and we are treated to 90 minutes of dish about your favorite stars of the late 70s/early 80s--Diana Ross, Steve McQueen, Julie Harris, Bob Evans, Ali MacGraw, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, and, of course, Barbra Streisand--all delivered in Midler’s trademark Sophie Tucker style.
In addition to being a biography of Sue Mengers, this is a primer on How to Succeed in Hollywood, delivered by the ultimate insider. We travel through the ups and downs of Mengers’ life and career, starting with her humble beginnings as a refugee from Nazi Germany in upstate New York, to her early days in New York City, to her ultimate move to Los Angeles. Her Waterloo was a long-forgotten 1982 film called “All Night Long,” which was directed by her husband and in which she convinced two of her clients, Barbra Streisand and Gene Hackman, to star. A long monologue towards the end of the show about a bullfight she attended in Mexico is an obvious metaphor for the vicissitudes of show business.
I only had two minor complaints about the performance I saw.
First of all, Miss Midler didn’t know all her lines and called out to her prompter several times. Now, granted, this was only the second preview and she’s on stage by herself for 90 minutes (which must be extremely difficult), but people are paying up to $150 for tickets--and that doesn’t include Premium Seating!
Secondly, there are two moments when she calls someone up from the audience to join her on stage and I thought, “Why? Does the playwright not trust his material or is he just pandering to the Broadway audience of celebrity-worshipping tourists?”
Nevertheless, Miss Midler delivers a stellar performance, and the script, by Josh Logan, is funny and clever.
Once Midler learns her lines, she should walk away with a Tony nomination if not an actual Tony.

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