Bette Midler … and Me is a touching exploration of one woman and her relationship with her idol. Sue Kelvin bounds on stage demanding her audience to laugh, cry, and pay attention. Like she is pushing buttons, the audience follow her demands with puppy-like attention. Her stage presence is one of immense experience and maturity, she commands with her accomplice in tow, bringing us back to a 70s bathhouse, the suburbs of Manchester and even a beach in Atlantic City circa 1958.
The biography of Bette Midler unfolds in parallel to Kelvin’s intimately personal tales of growing up. Describing Bette Midler’s childhood, Kelvin juxtaposes her parallel world of grotty Manchester; a troublesome parent relationship and an eating problem. The tale is explored, not pushed and the communication between Kelvin and her back up vocalist is collaborative and touching. Armed with Sarah Travis on piano the three divide the stage equally, never overshadowing each other they create an atmosphere of pure reminiscence.
The vocals mesmerizing and always precise, Bette Midler…and Me even features a segment of brilliant puppetry, wonderfully humorous and tongue in cheek. When Kelvin asks the audience if we’ve ever watched ‘Beaches’, the atmosphere becomes one of friendly recollection. The music simple, the play is peppered with moments of joy and sadness, that follow each other in a neat precession, not once seeming too abrupt or inconsistent. Bette’s story is explored with fairness, never overwhelming or self-indulgent the balance between the two tales is fair.
Bette Midler …and Me is a show to watch for those interested in the lives of two remarkable women. The piece is undeniably audience specific but even I, growing increasingly aware of the generational gulf in the room, enjoyed it. The themes and physicality are nothing particularly ground-breaking but it is a neat piece that will retain your attention and make you smile with its sincerity. It is one to watch.
Bette Midler…and Me is playing from 20th -31st August at Gilded Balloon as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Fringe website.