By Colin Douglas
Wrap that towel around you, settle back with a stiff one and get ready to enjoy The Divine Miss M at her holiday best in Hell in a Handbag’s Bette: Xmas at the Continental Baths.
Once again it’s the early 1970’s, and we’re at Manhattan’s popular gay bathhouse where Bette Midler, portrayed at Mary’s Attic by the incomparably talented Caitlin Jackson, came to prominence. Jackson, her tumbler filled with vodka, is cheerfully serving up an hour of some of Midler’s best, most beloved tunes. She also treats the audience to a few of Bette ‘s bawdy Sophie Tucker jokes. The show is all wrapped up in a colorfully festive holiday setting, courtesy of Jeremy Hollis; and Jackson’s wigs, courtesy of Keith Ryan; self-designed costumes assisted by the talent of David Cerda complete the period look.
Caitlin opens her concert with Midler’s signature song, a musical reminder that “You Gotta Have Friends.” She’s accompanied by wonderful Musical Director Tommy Ross (bewigged and costumed to resemble the gifted singer’s famous pianist and musical director). Several holiday songs are interspersed with some of Bette’s best. Jackson delights with “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and then changes the mood with her soulful rendition of “Superstar.” And what would a Better Midler revue be without at least one of her salutes to the Andrew Sisters? Caitlin blows reveille with her bodacious version of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Caitlin is supported by Terry McCarthy as her hair dresser and occasionally joined by Trixie and Laverne, two backup singers from her famous entourage of Harlettes. Played by Allison Petrillo and Sydney Genco, the duo opens the second half of the show, enchanting patrons with such spritely numbers as “Santa Baby” and “Sisters,” from the movie, White Christmas. When Jackson returns in her glittering Act II costume, she beautifully caresses a soulful ballad entitled “River,” before launching into a toe-tapping Phil Spector medley. Finally, after an evening full of fun, the Divine Miss M ends her Continental concert with her dramatic, “I Shall Be Released,” returning to the stage for a final encore of “Friends.”
This show is a relaxing, festive, fun-filled program of both holiday songs and early Bette Midler classics. Theatergoers will enjoy traveling back in time to the more innocent 1970’s, where they’ll enjoy hearing some titillating tales and smoothly sung songs. With a gin and tonic or a brewski in hand, this is the perfect way to ease into the Christmas season in Chicago.
Hell in a Handbag Productions presents “Bette: Xmas at the Continental Baths” through December 31 at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.