On Wednesday night, the Divine Miss M launched her latest extravaganza, “The Showgirl Must Go On,” and she was brassy and raunchy as ever.
The 90-minute show takes off with a “Wizard of Oz”-like film clip in which a swirling tornado tears through the desert and down the Vegas strip, sweeping up everything in its path, including Bette on a billboard and a bug-eyed burro. The twister crashes into the Colosseum in Caesars Palace, where Midler emerges on the donkey and opens the show with a cheeky quip: “Boy, is my ass tired.”
A trim and sexy 62-year-old Midler told the crowd of nearly 4,300 to “Get a load of me” and to expect a show of “hits, glitz and (another word I can’t use here)” and the audience roared their approval. First-nighters included die-hard fans from across the country, friends and Broadway stars Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, “Hairspray” songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and Taye Diggs and Idina Menzel, as well as Angela Bassett and Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Along for the ride on stage is a crack 13-piece band led by music director Bette Sussman, Midler’s Harlettes and 20 scantily clad ladies she calls the Caesar Salad Girls. “Each one of them is a hot tomato,” cracked the Divine One, “and served with as little dressing as possible.”
Midler says she’s always dreamed of being a showgirl and Toni Basil’s choreography pays homage to these glamorous performers and includes a Busby Berkeley-style number in which Midler wears a gigantic Carmen Miranda-like pink feather headpiece.
Midler has called this production at the Colosseum, the massive theater built for Celine Dion, her biggest ever. The show, which reportedly cost $10 million, combines concert and Broadway-style costumes and scenic effects, including a gigantic video screen that could eat an IMAX, a seedy motel and an Art Deco chrome staircase that morph into a boat. The show written by Eric Kornfeld and Bruce Vilanch is classic Midler material tweaked and brought up to date. There’s naughty jokes, big dance numbers, and signature songs and characters.
One highlight is a splashy production number in which Dolores Delago and 23 other mermaids flip, kick and motor around in wheelchairs. Imagine the Rockettes on wheels. In another sequence, Midler rides a lips-shaped couch from side to side of the huge stage, railing about scandal-ridden starlets, before ultimately confessing that at one time she could have been the leader of the bad-girl pack. “American Idol” judges Randy, Paula and Simon appear in a video sequence in which their faces and voices become bloated and distorted. Fans of the reality TV show will love it.
Midler closed with “Wind Beneath My Wings.” She and the song sounded better than ever. There was no encore on Wednesday, but like the tornado that blew into Caesars at the start of the show, she was gone with the wind. But don’t worry, “The Showgirl Must Go On” goes on for two years.