Kim Sheard provides an essential tribute to Bette Midler, which, although entertaining, is targeted specifically at Midler fans. The show does not cater for those like me who are aware of the Divine Miss M but would not understand jokes about her personal life. She gives us a mixture of glitzy, sexy songs, and banter and chat-up lines to link her numbers.
Although Sheard bears an incredible resemblance to Midler and has a similar gravelly voice, her singing is occasionally off key and is slightly drowned out by imbalances in the sound mixing between the backing track and the microphone, although this is a factor that is out of her control. She makes up for this with plenty of pizzazz, not seeming to care if she gets it slightly wrong but simply giving a from-the-heart high energy performance of tapping feet and jazz hands. Her costume changes from an sparkly army uniform to a revealing black dress are done without any subtlety, and plenty of ‘ooh, I’m getting changed’ humour, so that you cannot help but find her endearing.
Sheard does particularly well on the song about the invention of the bra (what else!?), singing about how the idea for the bra was stolen off the German inventor Otto Titsling by a French scientist called Brassiere. Sheard appears very physically comfortable on the stage and seems to enjoy her time in the spotlight, although the stage Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Camden is far too large for her one-woman act. Despite her fantastic energy, she was drowned in such a large space and appears to be constantly fighting for the audience’s attention because the seating rig is spread out wider than is practical for a one-woman show. Sheard’s conversations between songs with the audience have great enthusiasm but little substance behind them. Once more, with little knowledge of the real Bette Midler, this caters for the niche audience as many of her jokes are very specifically targeted towards only hard-core Midler aficionados.
Sheard’s best asset, however, has to be her self-deprecating humour. Although her banter as the superficial Midler can go on for perhaps too long, her own humour is far more dry and engaging. She takes her imperfections with good grace and is particularly good at staging jokes about sings about Midler’s weight difficulties and her two constantly bickering friends Soph and Ernie.
Overall this is a mildly entertaining show for a non-Midler fan, but for someone who really understood her canon of music and found her as a person funny, this show would be a treat.
Divinely Bette is running Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 6 August. For more information and tickets, please visit the Upstairs at the Gatehouse website.