BWW Review: The Gays All Go Back To The Baths With Amber Martin's BATHHOUSE BETTE at Joe's Pub… And They Take a few Straights along for the ride.
Heigh-Ho Friends & "Family"! Bobby Patrick your RAINBOW Reviewer here. Putting the silent T in CABARET to bring you all the T.
A tribute show to the Divine Miss Bette Midler at the sublime Joe's Pub, by a singer I had never heard of, sounded either "divine" or disastrous. In either case, my dahlings, Bobby was IN, and what we found ourselves in was the year 1971. As Amber Martin's towel-clad combo of Carmine Covelli - drummer, Jesse Krakow - bass, and Drew Brody - MD/keys came to the stage and took up their positions, one almost expected the color to drain away and leave us looking at a black and white stage through the grainy lens of the 50-minute youtube video we've all seen, where Bette sings for a full house of the naked men who made her a star; a most unexpected pathway to the iconic status Ms. Midler would attain. That aside, Amber Martin's show is equal parts Divine tribute and edgy rock concert. La Martin does NOT "play" Bette in her show, unlike her spot-on Reba, or her Brenda Snell and Daydra Bottums characters. On the F'ING contrary, she is so much herself, she is so much out there, she is so incredibly fierce AND fearless that Bette would be proud to call this lady "sister." She would be elated that this powerhouse of talent was performing music with which Midler made magic many and many a year ago at the Continental Baths.
Oh my dear hearts, opening by belting out FRIENDS as though her life depended on it, the lady's voice proved to have more power, silkiness, and clarity than her idol with rounder trumpet-like tones and less fry, but with the ability to match La Divine's Rock & Roll Growl & Scream vocals when she required it. With her wild mop of strawberry blonde hair, low cut, breast revealing black shift, and unstoppable raw nerve energy, everything about the lady and her performance came across as Bette-like, but with her ballsy personal sense of freedom setting her tribute on fire in ways that were all her own. Expending energy on stage in the way Ms. M did as a 26-year-old in 1971, the 49-year-old Martin is a rock and roll Mama, and a wonder to behold, as well as hear. Brandishing her hero's first 2 vinyl albums, she let the audience know that there would be no Wind Watching Us or God Beneath Our Wings, and that this performance would focus on the early 70's Bette Midler, during her lean and hungry days when she had something to prove and a star to polish, and though the Continental Bathhouse is now the parking lot under The Ansonia, Martin would take us all right back inside those steamy walls filled with dark spaces and darker deeds. Holding nothing back, the audience learned that the lady's resume credits included:
Public School Teacher
AND Gay Sex Party Hostess...
Wait! What did she say? You read that right, my lambs. In partnership with promoter/club owner Daniel Nardicio, Amber Martin hosts a towel party called Bette Bathhouse & Beyond where the patrons check their clothes, and anything can happen while La Martin entertains a-la La Divine. With the success of those party evenings, Joe's Pub decided it was time to get naughty and bring Amber to the stage as in the fashion, but not imitation of Bette, with plenty of singing, comedy stories, and dancing provided by Martin and her HAWT Harlettoes; Valton Jackson, Richard Schieffer, and Eric Schmalenberger. An equally gifted comedienne, Martin's antics on stage had her audience howling with laughter between each of her frenetic musical numbers. Joking that she was trying something new with her show - being off-book - Amber would only occasionally sneak back to the music stand behind the piano for a quick check of her setlist - a move that made us very happy, as you all know how Bobby feels about performers reading their shows to us (grrrr). Midway through her set, all of the magic pouring from the stage got an extra double shot when Martin, joined by Rizo (The Lady Rizo) dueted on EASIER SAID THAN DONE. Their harmonious rapport, an outgrowth of a long and loving friendship, gave way to real chemistry when the music began and, for your rainbow reviewer, this intro to Rizo moved the lady to the top of our "MUST SEE" list.
Making one full costume change on stage, behind a sheet held up by volunteers, and later leaving the stage to allow Drew Brody to take a number (in the fashion of Bette's bathhouse accompanist, Barry Manilow) the lady returned, bourne in the arms of her dancers, completely in the buff. As the Harlettoes poured her onto the stage singing SWEET MARIJUANA, our fave hag, Jan, gave us a smack on the shoulder and said, "OMG She don't give a SH*+!" and it's truth my dearlings. Bearing her all in the altogether, the lady seemed to have ZERO self-consciousness on the stage, and after her nude number, donned a simple and see-through white chiffon poncho for the remainder of her show. The one hitch in the proceedings all night was, near the end of the show, Martin resorted to the music stand to fully read some of Midler's SOPH jokes. Herein is where the show dipped a smidge, but, with the hopes that Joe's will bring back BATHHOUSE BETTE for a full run, Amber should be able to trim these up and be off-book.
Wrapping the show with I SHALL BE RELEASED, Amber gave it all her power and was the most BETTE of all. The audience being unwilling to let her go, she encored with a heart-wrenchingly beautiful HELLO IN THERE, leaving the audience quietly in awe of the lady and her idol. With all the jokes, songs, repartee with friends, and full-on nudie-Judy performance art, Amber Martin's hour-and-45-minute BATHHOUSE BETTE was one fine way to celebrate the new year and we just have to give her 4 ½ out of 5 Rainbows.
And after seeing just one number, I'm recommending we all get tickets to see one of Rizo's 4 Upcoming shows at Joe's. Read all about it and get tickets: HERE
*All Photos By Yours Truly, Bobby Patrick