DIVINE MADNESS -- In 70mm and Dolby stereo at the Uptown; in 35mm at the Fairfax Circle and Pike.
Those whose experience with Bette Midler is limited to humming along with "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" on the car radio, or who only know her as the doomed rock singer of "The Rose," don't have a hint of the woman's extraordinary versatility. Or seemingly limitless energy. Or her wit. Or her masterful comic timing.
All of which are on glorious display in "Divine Madness," a film of highlights from three stage shows at the Pasadean Civic Auditorium last winter. From the trashy, splashy moment of her entrance atop a giant serving platter, to her rousing, emotion-packed rendition of "I Shall Be Released" at the finale, Midler is mesmerizing. The movie is a perfect showcase for her unique, shall we say repertoire -- and, if you've never understood what she's all about, a perfect introduction to the charms of the Divine Miss M.
"I've eschewed vulgarity," Midler announces with dignity at the start of the act, and proceeds to deliver a string of wonderfully raunchy one-liners -- to the audible delight of her audience. Her jokes range from the low comedy of early vaudeville to comments on her recent trip to Europe, where she saw "Her Royal Highnie," the Queen of England.
But Midler is a lot more than a female Henny Youngman. Accompained by the amazing Harlettes, her talented trio of back-up singers, she tosses off '40s boogie, '60s rock'n'roll and '70s-style ballads with equal amounts of skill and artistry. She changes personas just as easily, going from the supertacky lounge singer Dolores DeLago, who dresses up in a mermaid suit and sings a double-entendre "My Way" while spinning around the stage in a whel-chair, to a poignant portrait of an alcoholic old woman on a park bench -- without missing a beat.
All this is interspersed with cheerful comments to the audience, which ends up becoming part of the act, cheering, groaning, begging for favorite routines and singing along. "Do some disco!" they yell. "Do the taco joke!" "The taco joke?" she repeats. "My, you are a buncha lowlife." "Do Shelley Winters!" they plead. "Y'all've seen this 500 times," she sighs, "but all right. . ."
So she does it, and sure enough, they love it.