Chicago Theatre Review
Bette Bathes You in Songs and Laughter
Bette, Live at the Continental Baths – Hell in a Handbag Productions at Stage 773
It was a hot rainy night and I ducked into the Continental Baths, in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, as I had done so many times before. I moved through the locker room, donned my towel and finally made my way to cabaret lounge area. The air was hot, and heavy and just can’t get high……
If only – it was a place and experience the world can never return too. Until now, well sort of.
Hell in a Handbag’s Production of “Bette Live at the Continental Baths” brings us closer to the woman who famously performed at the New York bathhouse in 70’s. Although in this version of the Continental Baths there are only two men on stage in towels; the audience is fully clothed. (There was a patron who attended in a tight wrestling singlet – no one protested at all)
The heart and soul of this show is of course the star of the show, Caitlin Jackson. She does a terrific job at capturing Bette Midler without doing an intense impersonation of her. It was a great directorial choice by Christopher Pazdernick. She moves through some signature Bette songs like, “Do You Wanna Dance?”, “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Friends”; tackling all with the required energy and movement. She brings all the fun and naughtiness of Bette’s early years. Caitlin has a fantastic voice, but her talent for great comedic timing and banter is very entertaining too. She is fearless with the audience and not afraid to interact with those patrons that she makes eye contact in the audience. She keeps the pace fast and moves from song to song like a pro. I loved a few of the unscripted moments as well, peppering the performance with a few expletives that seem familiar if you have ever seen the real Bette perform.
While having seen Bette Midler live at least a dozen times, I was nervous I would not like the interpretations or arrangements, but I had nothing to be nervous about. Ms. Jackson brought Bette to life for me. She captures her spirit and energy. She brings joy and and obvious love for the performer she is channeling.
The music arrangements and accompaniment by Barry (Jeremy Ramey) Manilow were great. He was not only a part of the show, but a part of making us all comfortable and confident in his talents.
While the Bathhouse Boys (TJ Crawford and Will Wilhelm) were a cute addition, and they gave it their all, it seemed awkward to me. I can completely see why they were added and part of the show, but they seem unnecessary for the success of the show. And does there HAVE to be an intermission?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mr. Gerard. Chad was our time machine. His persona and look was perfect. He was the White Rabbit of sorts leading us down the rabbit hole for a great experience.
A diva can’t just wear any old thing, but thanks to Kate Setzer Kamphausen, the cast looked great, and Miss Midler second act dress was a smash.
Anyone that loves Bette Midler and some amazing singing and cabaret fun, should put this show on their list to see. You don’t even have to wear a towel, but I don’t think anyone would stop you if you did. They may even ask you to join the bathhouse fun.
Reviewed by Lazlo Collins
Bette, Live at the Continental Baths runs Aug, 19, 20, 25, and 26. Sept. 2, 3, 9, and 10 at Stage 773. For tickets go to www.stage773.com or call 773-327-5252.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com