Before Beaches, before Wind Beneath My Wings and before her mammoth two-year Las Vegas residency, Bette Midler was a saucy, sassy 20-something, singing torch songs and cracking off-colour jokes to appreciative near-nude queers at the iconic Continental Baths in New York.
Fans yearning for a bit of classic ’70s-era Bette can look no further than Catherine Alcorn’s sell-out tribute show, The Divine Miss Bette, written and directed by cabaret veteran Peter Cox. The audiences have to keep their clothes on, but otherwise it’s a faithful recreation of Midler’s early stage act.
“The show is what you would’ve seen if you’d gone to a 1970s concert by Bette — the Sophie Tucker jokes, the Harlettes [Midler’s backing singers], the bawdy humour,” Alcorn told the Star Observer.
“I’m turning 30 this year, so I don’t want to play the First Wives Club Bette, I want to play her when she was my age.
“A lot of my mates had no idea she was so risqué, that she’d get on stage and do these bawdy routines. Without a show like this, you might never know that Bette was once this sassy foul-mouthed chick who did these awesome rock’n’roll shows in her 20s.”
A woman of many talents, Alcorn is also an accomplished producer, having masterminded Sydney’s recent Flood Light benefit, raising $22,000 for Queensland’s flood victims in the process.
She also worked as a producer on Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure, and has played several sell-out performances of The Divine Miss Bette in Sydney ahead of the show’s season at the iconic Butterfly Club next month. There’s also been interest from the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
“This was all in my three-year plan, but it’s just exploded in about two months,” she laughed.
The Divine Miss Bette also comes with an impressive pedigree — Alcorn sought out the man credited with kickstarting Midler’s career to be her vocal coach.
“I was working with a cellist from the Brandenburg Orchestra back in 2009 on some of my original music, and telling him about the Bette show. He said to me, ‘You know the guy who discovered Bette Midler lives just around the corner from you?’ Steve Ostrow, who owned the Continental Baths, discovered her in a café and offered her $25 a night to sing for him.”
Brassy as the real Bette, Alcorn contacted Ostrow and asked for vocal training, mentioning that she was working on a Bette Midler show.
“He said, ‘Bette, Bette, I remember Bette. She started in my club and now she’s makin’ 100 million a year. Come over, I’ll tell ya all about it’. ”
And don’t worry, Beaches fans — Alcorn bends the rules to allow a couple of Midler’s later hits to sneak into the setlist.
“I do sing Otto Titsling from Beaches, because it fits in with that bawdy feel — it’s all about tits! And of course I do Wind Beneath My Wings. I think I’d be shot if I didn’t sing that.”
info: The Divine Miss Bette plays at the Butterfly Club from May 19-22. Visit www.thedivinemissbette.com