PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 20-26: Alan Cumming, Fiona Shaw, Cicely Tyson, Bette Midler and Pippin Return to Broadway

By Robert Simonson
26 Apr 2013

Bette Midler
Photo by Richard Termine
Like Tyson, it took decades to get Bette Midler to return to the Broadway stage. Her vehicle, I'll Eat You Last, opened April 25 at the Booth Theatre, with Midler playing legendary 1970s Hollywood agent Sue Mengers.

Most critics liked Midler more than John Logan's bio-play, and some commented that Logan's piece wouldn't be much at all if not for the actress' presence.

"Tangy and funny as much of Mr. Logan's writing is, the play would hardly transmit the contact high it does without the presence of Ms. Midler," declared the Times. "As a performer she shares certain qualities associated with her subject: an ability to make the crassest vulgarities sound like crystalline repartee, an earthy glamour and a preening, kittenish imperiousness that's somehow warmly endearing. It is hard to imagine any other actor imbuing the character with the same seductive effervescence—or giving a feeling of perpetual motion to a 90-minute monologue without even standing up."

"The role fits Midler like a glove and she does not disappoint under Joe Mantello's direction," wrote AMNY. "And anyone who likes both Midler and gossip about 1970s Hollywood ought to have a good time. But in light of this rare opportunity to catch Midler onstage, a more substantial meal would have been nice instead of 90 minutes of pure dessert."



"How much fun is it to have Bette Midler curled up barefoot on a sofa on a Broadway stage, chatting at us in a periwinkle blue caftan with silver sparkles to match her long fingernails?" asked Newsday. "So much fun that, even when the script doesn't scintillate as much as it intends to, a happy contentment seems to permeate the theater."

Others weren't so charitable. "Those who come knowing Midler but not Mengers will be disappointed by this weightless valedictory," wrote Bloomberg News, "for there's no swan, and no song."

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The final, and splashiest, opening of the week—and the final opening of the 2012-13 Broadway season period, was Diana Paulus' circus-themed, acrobatics-strewn, jacked-up revival of Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson's '60s-flavored fable of self-discovery, Pippin.

Reviews were exultant—perhaps as ecstatic as those that greeted Matilda—but not without qualification. In its intensity, this was indeed "a Pippin for the 21st Century," wrote the Times. "Paulus has transformed the players into a troupe of circus performers, and it's a stroke of genius," said AP.

However, noted the Times, there was a price to pay for holding "a restless, sensation-hungry audience…Ms. Paulus' Pippin is often fun, but it's almost never stirring in the way her revival of Hair was… I would argue that in courting its audience, this Pippin is ultimately more cynical than Fosse's."

Hollywood Reporter noted, too, that "its audacious razzle-dazzle doesn't mask the limitations of the book. Still, fans of this much-loved show couldn't ask for a more energized production."

Still, for all the reservations, the general reception would be summarized by Time Out's double-edged, but enthusiastic declaration: "Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to the greatest show of the Broadway season… Here, in all its grand and dubious glory, is musical-theater showmanship at its best, a thrilling evening of art and craftiness spooked with ambivalence about the nature of entertainment."

All of which could be seen by the avalanche of flash and awe that is the crescendo of any Broadway season. That's entertainment. For better and for worse.