On Wednesday, August 1, 2012, I was transported back to a time when two artists were just starting out on their path to a legendary career! It was the late 1960s/early 1970s when Bette Midler and Barry Manilow met in the famous Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse that featured a disco dance floor, a cabaret lounge, sauna rooms, an Olympic "blue" swimming pool, and could serve nearly 1,000 men 24 hours a day.
Co-written by Donna Maxon and Michael Schralli, "Bette and Barry: Back to the Bathouse" takes place in modern day as if Bette Midler and Barry Manilow have been invited back to the Continental Baths for one last concert together for old time sakes. Performed by Donna Maxon (as "Bette Midler") and Fonda Feingold (as "Barry Manilow"), with Jake Lemmenes and Matthew Parker as "Bette's Boys" and Ivan Bodley and Mike Marble as "Team Manilow," this was an evening of pure fun and joy, getting to hear the songs that made Bette and Barry who they are.
Mixing songs and comedy, I truly felt as if I were watching Bette Midler herself on that stage. The reason Donna has made a career out of being a tribute artist to Bette Midler is because she embodies The Divine Miss M, from her mannerisms to her voice to her costumes. No detail was left out! I really enjoyed the way Donna flirted with the bawdy/sometimes risque comedy bits in between songs, just like Bette herself does. It was great to hear many of the early songs in Bette's career, which were sung beautifully by Donna. I especially liked Donna's vocals on "Beast of Burden, " "Friends," "Leader of the Pack," "One For My Baby (And One For The Road)," and "In My Life."
As "Barry Manilow," Fonda hit all the right notes! I was very impressed with her skills as a pianist. She was brilliant! Fonda had her moments to shine alone during "Copacabana," "I Write The Songs," and "Could It Be Magic."
The other aspect of the show I fully enjoyed was the history lesson I learned about Bette and Barry's career. The story focused more on Bette's career, which for me was perfect. I knew some of it, but I did learn quite a bit. "Bette and Barry: Back to the Bathhouse" was probably the closet thing I'll ever get to seeing Bette and Barry together on stage. I think it's a clever, well written show. It left me wanting more.
With just two evenings left, August 15 and 29 at 7:30pm, this is one musical journey worth taking! "Bette and Barry: Back to the Bathhouse" plays at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue). Click here for tickets!