Your Best Bette for New Year’s Eve: Midler’s Vegas Show on HBO

Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On (HBO/Kevin Mazur)

Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On (HBO/Kevin Mazur)

Can’t get to Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve? Then why not hunker down at home to watch an authentic Vegas stage show on TV?

This one stars Bette Midler, runs for 70 minutes, and airs on HBO (Friday night at 9/8c). It’s Bette’s Vegas show, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” which she performed for two exhausting years at Caesar’s Palace, ending her run last January, shortly after this particular performance was filmed on New Year’s Eve.

The show features The Divine Miss M (her moniker ever since the release of her first best-selling album of the same name in 1972) performing her signature songs, accompanied by an orchestra and a chorus line of Las Vegas showgirls – the Caesar Salad Girls, “each and every one a tomato,” says Bette in the show, “and always served with as little dressing as possible!”

In a phone interview, Midler, 65, talked about the show, the instrument she plays that reminds her of her native Hawaii (yes, Bette Midler was born and raised there), and the gift she cherishes that was given to her by the Andrews Sisters.

So this show, ‘The Showgirl Must Go On,’ has run its course, right?
I did it for two years. It took me about a year to put it together and we rehearsed it for a year. I finished last January and I’m just sitting around waiting for the muse to strike.

If the muse strikes again, would you go back and mount another Vegas show?
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s done. I did it. I wanted to know what the experience was like and it was a terrific experience, but I’d like to move on. Everybody wants to move on. People don’t want to stay in one place.

What do you think the next thing will be for you?
I have no idea. I think what I’m going to do is see what it’s like to be out in front of an audience without any safety net, you know, with no band, no girls, no sets, no clothes, and just see what happens. I just want to speak for a while and see how I do.

You mean do something autobiographical on stage?
Maybe, maybe.

So if your show ended its run last January, then this New Year’s Eve show (filmed a year ago) was one of the last shows, right
We had two New Year’s Eves there. We had a New Year’s Eve 2009 and we had one last [Dec. 31]. New Year’s Eve shows are always so much fun because they have a little extra material and everybody gets excited about the new costumes and the new songs and everything, so that seemed to be a good time to shoot it.

It was fascinating to see you playing a ukulele [on a preview DVD of the show]. That wasn’t some kind of an illusion, was it? That was you playing it, right?
That was me playing [and singing ‘The Glory of Love.’]. I can’t say I play it particularly well, but I’m enthusiastic.

Does your interest in the uke stem from your origins in Hawaii?
Yes, it’s an instrument that I’ve always loved. I’ve always loved the way they play it at home. It’s kind of required now [in Hawaii] – I think the fourth graders all have to learn how to play it. They also take a year of Hawaiian. All of this happened in this ‘Hawaiian Renaissance’ [a statewide movement in the 1960s and ’70s to expand recognition and teaching of native Hawaiian culture]. So I go back, and you see from to time these gigantic ukulele orchestras and it’s fantastic. I have a real weakness for that kind of music and especially the stuff that I grew up with.

Like many other of your signature songs, ‘The Glory of Love’ [from the movie “Beaches”] is an old song that’s been around for a while. So is ‘Do You Wanna Dance.’ That’s the old Bobby Freeman song from the ’50s, isn’t it?
That’s the Bobby Freeman song and he sends me flowers every year on my birthday [Dec. 1]. It’s so great because I guess he remembers me [when] the checks come in [for royalties every time she sings the song]. That song was on my first record and it remains a favorite. Everybody is always happy to hear it again.

I understand you’re named after Bette Davis and yet you don’t pronounce your name the same way. Why is that?
Well, my mom thought Bette was ‘bet.’ She never called me Betty, I was always Bet.

Interesting thing about you: You’re named after an old-time movie star, and you’re famous for your version of the old wartime Andrews Sisters song, ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and other older songs. Would you call yourself an ‘old-school’ entertainer?
I’m not sure about ‘old school.’ I took what was available to me and I’m not a writer myself and the [music] publishers never sent me things. I love all kinds of music and I have so much respect for people who can play and can do more than one thing at one time.

Did you ever meet the Andrews Sisters? What did they think of you and your version of their iconic song?
I met two of ’em [Maxene and Patty – LaVerne Andrews died in 1967]. They came and they gave me a bugle with my name on it, which I cherish, and they were wonderful. But they didn’t get along – that was kind of distressing. I remember feeling that it was too bad.

In your show, you call yourself ‘the people’s diva.’ Is that a newly coined designation or have you been using it for years?
No, that’s new. It’s very timely, I think. I’m sure Sarah Palin will pick it up and run with it!

“Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On” premieres Friday night — New Year’s Eve — at 9/8c on HBO.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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