Review: Jonathan Booth as Bette Midler – from Bathhouse to Broadway at The Kings Arms

Charting the life of one of Hollywood's biggest divas - from humble beginnings at a gay bathhouse to Broadway stardom.

You all know Edinburgh Fringe, but I bet you weren’t aware that at the Kings Arms on a particularly miserable Sunday night, a small group of us were being dazzled at the Manchester Fringe by Jonathan Booth as Bette Midler.

A sell-out show, Bette: Bathhouse to Broadway took us on a musical (and comical) journey through Bette’s stunning back catalogue – a diva we should all be hailing for the revolutionary gay rights advocate that she is and was.

From her early performances at New York City’s Continental Baths (a gay bathhouse located in the basement of a hotel) right through to her record-breaking, Tony-winning turn as Dolly Levi in Broadway’s ‘Hello Dolly!’: Booth masterfully explores Midler’s music, movies, and iconic concert performances.

You’d be entirely forgiven for thinking it was the actual Bette Midler was on the stage in a pub in Salford; Booth’s flawless comedic timing, nuances and mannerisms are spot on. Not to mention – what a bloody voice! Along with piano maestro George Strickland, their harmonies were unrivalled at points in the show.

We were treated to heartfelt renditions of ‘The Rose’ and ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ bringing many a tear to the eyes of the audience whom Booth had eating out of the palm of his hand.

His confidence in the role made it seem as though he was performing to a much larger crowd. Nonetheless, every single person watching was thrilled and moved in equal parts and joined in with most of the well-known songs.

We laughed a lot during the show – Booth’s portrayal of Bette’s vulgar wit was timeless. He even enticed us all to join in with ‘Hawaiian War Chant’ and brought some unwitting members of the audience up on stage with him.

If I was forced to have a think about something to complain about, it would simply be that it had to end!

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