The Divine Miss M brought her dazzling “Divine Intervention Tour” to the Verizon Center on Monday evening, her first time back in Washington since 2004’s “Kiss My Brass Tour.” Gratefully, not much has changed in 11 years as the 69-year-old legend still has it.
Opening with the tongue-in-cheek “Divine Intervention,” the title song crafted just for this show, Midler enthusiastically welcomed her audience in a blue sequined romper while accompanied by her longtime (and constantly changing) trio of backup singers the Harlettes.
Though she’s promoting her latest album,” It’s the Girls!” — a covers album of hits from famous girl groups — Midler could easily have toured without a new release. Strictly incidental, she performed just three songs from this new album, the most notable being her stripped down and heartbreaking version of TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
Always self-depreciating and in on the joke, she made a few jabs at her own age as well as the age of her typical fan, at one point asking who in the audience drove to the concert and then quipping, “I’m so glad to see that so many of my fans are still able to drive at night.” Though, nearly within the same breath she asked the audience “Don’t I look fabulous?” And she did indeed.
Her voice has held up just as well as her legs. She did not disappoint when delivering her top three signature hits: “The Rose,” “From a Distance” and “Wind Beneath My Wings,” from “Beaches.” Two other “Beaches” cuts also made it into the show, the haunting “I Think it’s Going to Rain Today” and the whimsical “I’ve Still Got My Health.”
Raunchy Sophie Tucker jokes have been a part of Midler’s act since the mid-‘70s. Always beginning a joke in character with the phrase “I will never forget it, ya know…” and ending with a hilariously vulgar punchline, she donned a campy feathered costume (think chicken showgirl) in this well-crafted segment singing “A Bird in the Hand” in between her rapid fire delivery of classic jokes.
While Sophie Tucker jokes remain part of her act today, sadly there is one long running bit she has permanently retired. Delores De Lago, Bette’s mermaid in a wheelchair character, was given a tasteful sendoff a la an Academy Awards Show in memoriam tribute. One imagines Midler is simply no longer up for jumping around in a fish tail.
The biggest surprise of the evening, and a nod to her fans from the Millennial generation, was “I Put a Spell on You” from the film “Hocus Pocus” dressed as the character Winifred Sanderson, with the Harlettes backing her as her sister witches. She has never referenced this movie in any of her live acts, so this was definitely an added treat and proof that she has finally realized the lasting impact of this film.
Further surprises were the inclusions of her cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden” (probably the most rock she’s ever been) and “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” a gem of an album track from her 1990 release “Some People’s Lives” (still her most polished studio album to date). She mentioned how “Beast of Burden” was a flop upon its release in 1983 and joked that she blamed it on the fact that she wore a leather jacket and mullet in the music video with Mick Jagger. Perhaps.
Toward the end of the show, Midler commanded the stage in a sparkling pink sequined gown and delivered a restrained, yet powerfully emotional cover of Lorraine Ellison’s “Stay with Me.” Though not as raw as the version on her “Divine Madness” tour in the late ’70s, it has evolved and changed with her over the years into a softer and more mature performance. She ended the show with one of her earlier hits, the song she said “started it all”: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” an Andrews Sisters cover she has made her own over the years. The only glaring omission from the show was her signature hit “Friends” from her debut album, “The Divine Miss M.”
The way Midler meshes class with trash is a testament to her impressive versatility. One moment she is making a hilarious dirty joke while dropping the F bomb and in the next set belting out an inspirational ballad with unbridled sincerity. Making you laugh one moment and cry the next is a unique ability she has always possessed and is what sets her apart from her diva contemporaries. While her act does not have the production values of a Cher extravaganza, the softness of a Streisand concert or the soul of an Aretha show, it’s effortlessly sincere and incredibly entertaining.