Saturday, January 13, 2018

Goodbye, Bette!

I did it. I waited until the last weekend, but I did it. I saw Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly!
Since she’s leaving the show tomorrow, this is more of a post-mortem than a review.
Of course, there’s been a ton of hype about this show, so the question is, “Was it worth it?” The short answer is, “Yes.”
I’ve never been a fan of the show Hello, Dolly! (I only saw the movie a few weeks go). I plunked down my $243 for orchestra seats to see Bette. I thought, “She’s 72. This might be my last chance!” (even though I’ve now seen her on Broadway three times and at Madison Square Garden once).
You see, Bette and I have a history.
The first time I saw Bette Midler on Broadway was 1979. She was doing a concert that was filmed and later released as the movie Divine Madness. But there was more drama involved in my seeing the show than what transpired onstage.
I had bought a standing room ticket (the first and only time I’ve ever stood to see a Broadway show) since that was the only ticket I could afford. But, being the culture vulture that I am, I had also gone to see the movie All That Jazz beforehand. In between the movie and the show, I stopped off at a Beefsteak Charlie’s on East 59th Street and had a steak sandwich. I got so deathly ill from the sandwich (don’t ask), I had to be hospitalized.
But I was determined to see Bette!
So the following weekend I took my standing room ticket and went back to the theater. Fortunately, no one checked my ticket (there are assigned places even for standing room) and I was able to see Bette’s show.
I’ve been in love with her ever since.
My biggest fear upon seeing Hello, Dolly! this late in the run (apart from living up to the hype) was that the actors would be tired of doing the show and/or they wouldn’t have any voices left.
I have to tell you, every time I’ve gone to see a Broadway show, I’ve been amazed at the ability of these people to do eight shows a week. These are professionals and they did not disappoint.
One of the things I liked about Bette’s performance was her ability to poke fun at herself. She’s well aware of the hype surrounding this show and is secure enough in her talent to have a laugh at her (and the show’s) expense. She’s no diva!
There’s one scene where she spends about ten minutes just wordlessly eating a turkey dinner and gets more laughs than she would from ten minutes of dialogue.
She and David Hyde Pierce have, at this point, turned their mugging into an art. Together, they turn scenery chewing into an Olympic sport!
Of course, Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin are also great and in fine voice as the young lovers at the center of the story.
And that’s another thing that’s always impressed me about Bette (and David Hyde Pierce, for that matter). While she may not have the strongest voice, she knows how to make the best of what she has and she’s also a great actor of lyrics. She has an uncanny ability to take even the best-known song and make it her own.
So goodbye, Bette. You’ve got nothing left to prove.
And good luck, Bernadette Peters.