NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – Bette Midler may not have been up for a full concert series at the Avalon Ballroom, but she knew she couldn’t get away without singing at all.
Two quick numbers, one freshly learned and one famous, closed out her hourlong “Conversation with Bette Midler” at the Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort on Sunday night. And yes, the crowd went wild.
Before that, the singer/actor played it fairly straight while being interviewed by Canadian talk show host Ben Mulroney. If it was a little too straight, the blame largely belongs to the interviewer, who constantly voiced his admiration for the star and came off as far more fanboy than friend.
This put the still-divine Miss Midler in the position of regularly deflecting his compliments while answering a fairly prosaic set of questions. That said, she did make the most of what she had to work with.
Wearing a baby-doll top over black leggings and silver heels, Midler was serious, sassy and thoughtful when reflecting on her career on records, stage and in film. The TV part, she said quite frankly, was not something she wanted to talk about much.
Except for that one night in May 1992, when she helped America say good night to Johnny Carson one last time and won an Emmy in the process.
“I knew it was a big deal, but I didn’t want to think about it too much,” she said, and then explained how they rehearsed her main number. But she said her “Here’s That Rainy Day” duet with the one true king of late night was spontaneous.
“I wish I had known him better, but I’m happy for what I had. I tied it with a bow!”
She dished it up more about her “Beaches” costar, Barbara Hershey.
“I shouldn’t tell this ... but I’m a terrible gossip,” she chuckled before going into a story about how Hershey was one of the first people to have her lips injected with collagen.
“We were saying, ‘what happened to her mouth?’ and they said it was just makeup, but nobody had ever seen anything like it,” Midler said, her own mouth agape in recalling the scene.
“Anyway, it was so much fun. She’s a great girl. The lips went down.”
She shared a host of personal information that, if it didn’t rise to the level of intimacy, certainly made the setting feel warm. For instance:
She doesn’t like horror movies, and she turned down the lead in “Misery” because of it.
As a little girl, she knew she could sing, but she really wanted to act.
Her “adopt a highway” reputation, as lampooned on “The Simpsons,” is well-deserved.
Her favorite creative outlet is her live shows, “because I’m the boss!”
And she doesn’t read reviews or even the comments on her Twitter feed, because too many anonymous people are nasty and it makes her sick.
She spoke fondly of her “First Wives Club” co-stars Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn, and of how they keep looking for another film to do together.
“We thought, ‘We’ve got a franchise now!’ ”
And she really became animated when asked about the kinds of work available to “older” female performers like herself.
“Acting? I don’t think the world is set up for opportunities for older people. That’s not the way it is.”
As she put it, you’re supposed to be born, look fabulous, procreate and then get off the stage.
“I’m 67 years old, I’m not retiring, and you can’t make me.”
But she is up for playing grandmas.
And then, after some nice questions from the audience, it was time for the finale.
The singer-songwriter-actor has also learned to strum the ukulele, and she kicked out a cute little “That’s the Story of Love” before her closer.
“I know this is a song you love to sing” she told the audience, “but please don’t.”
And then the Divine Miss M gave her fans a “Rose.”
The show repeats tonight, and it could be even better now that the star and interviewer have broken the ice.
A Conversation with Bette Midler
Sunday evening at 8:30 p.m. and today in the Fallsview Casino Resort, Niagara Falls, Ont.