Singer, actress and comedienne Bette Midler is a hero of many artists, but none more so than star of Fiddler on the Roof and Wicked, Sue Kelvin.
After a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, Bette Midler… and Me comes to the Highgate venue for a limited number of performances.
Kelvin, along with her counterpart Alex Young present a personal homage and love letter to ‘The Divine Miss M’ as well as reminding the audience of some of the timeless classics she covered. The entire show is accompanied on piano by Sarah Travis who also provides additional vocal harmonies and the occasional spoken input on Midler’s history.
The show depicts how Midler had an impact on Kelvin’s life growing up in rainy Manchester, from listening to her albums and show tunes to joining the world of musical theatre herself. The duo juxtapose Kelvin’s history with Midler’s, from growing up in sunny Hawaii to her torturous run in Fiddler on the Roof and her infamous Bathhouse performances.
The interaction between Kelvin and Young is infectious and comical, often culminating in Midler-style vulgar humour and innuendo. The humour is used well whilst showcasing the lighter moments of Midler’s career like her negative views on former accompanist Barry Manilow and the ‘3 minute 50 second’ puppet show tribute to Beaches.
The death of her sister and struggles with alcoholism are some of the darker topics discussed in the show. The script is brilliantly written during these moments by Chris Burgess who brings a sense of melancholy with his heart-breaking monologues. With a wide range of classics to choose from, the song choice to accompany each story is well thought out and extremely effective.
Kelvin displayed her impressive vocal range and comedic talent, but her backing singer Young stole the show by displaying her impressive harmonising, piano, flute and ukulele skills.
At times, the performance began to feel confused as to what it was trying to achieve; was it a biography of Midler’s career or an autobiographical account of Kelvin’s obsession with her? The switches between the two ideas were often sudden and the relation not fully made clear.
The small set and limited props brought the magic and glamour of a Midler show to the small venue without seeming too tacky or feeling as though it should be performed at Butlins or a cruise ship.
The show is a must-see for Midler fans who wish to reminisce of her ride to stardom, but for me it didn’t overwhelmingly make me want to go home and listen to her music or watch her movies.
Bette Midler… and Me is playing at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 27 September. For more information and tickets, see the Upstairs at The Gatehouse website.