Review “Bette, Live At The Continental Baths” (Hell in a Handbag): A Sure Bette!

Bette-3Hell in a Handbag presents a remount of its successful BETTE, LIVE AT THE CONTINENTAL BATHS.

Caitlin Jackson (Bette Midler) takes us back to the beginnings of a legend. An unknown Bette Midler accompanied by an unknown pianist, Barry Manilow (played by Jeremy Ramey), started their careers in a gay bathhouse in 1971.  The effervescent Jackson recreates those lost pre-cell-phone-video performances.  Although YouTube has a few poor quality snippets of this musical history, we don’t need them.  We have Jackson!  She embodies the sassy songstress. Jackson has both the singing and comedy stylings of the diva.     

Bette-1Under the skillful direction of Christopher Pazdernik, this cabaret feels organic. In between belting out songs, Jackson chats to the audience. Her inflections, her enthusiasm, her raunch seem spontaneous. Jackson utters a hilarious ‘your mother is tired.’ She feigns being overwhelmed but than dazzles with another musical number. The 70s flashback gives us plenty of familiar tunes sung with conviction by this reincarnated Bette.  Although I wanted Jackson to slip in a song from her future self (“The Rose” or “Beneath My Wings”), she stays true to the time period. The show does provide us with some singing eye candy. TJ Crawford and Will Wilhelm sport strategically placed towels as Jackson’s back-up singers.

This show is a fun, entertaining diversion from the summer heat. It’s time to get to the bathhouse.  BETTE, LIVE AT THE CONTINENTAL BATHS is a sure Bette!     

SIDENOTE:  The show is in the cabaret space at Stage 773 and open seating.  We arrived 5 minutes before the show started. The place was packed.  We were directed to the center makeshift third row.  It’s actually the second row but the bench seating is behind cabaret tables.  The tables should go with the bench. There isn’t room for tables, chairs and a bench.  We sat on the bench straddling other guests. This may be a fun position in an actual bathhouse but not in a theatre. I spent the performance crammed in between two tables. I saw Bette framed by the two guys’ heads two feet in front of me.  Go early!  Don’t sit in the pretend row.      

Running Time:  One hour and fifteen minutes includes an intermission

At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont

Adapted by David Cerda and Caitlin Jackson

Directed by Christopher Pazdernik

Music direction and arrangement by Jeremy Ramey

Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm

Additional performance on August 25th at 8pm

Thru September 10th

Buy Tickets at www.stage773.com or by calling (773) 327-5252.

Photos by Rick Aguilar Studios

For more information and reviews on Chicago theatre, visit Theater in Chicago.

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