This year’s season opener at the Cutting Edge Theater will bring to the stage the songs, characters and comedy of the irrepressible icon known to generations of fans as the Divine Miss M.
“Bette Your Bottom Dollar,” a Bette Midler tribute, will honor the legendary stage and screen star with shows at 8 p.m. Jan. 6-7 and Jan. 13-14 in the intimate theater at 767 Robert Blvd. in Slidell.
Singer-performer Mandi Rae performs as Midler, covering her life and songs from the perspective of a lifelong fan. She will be joined on stage by Kimberly Mueller, Arianna Michel and Lexi Salpietra, performing as Midler’s Harlettes.
Rae calls the trio “awesomely talented vocalists.” Michel also contributes to their choreography, which complements the work of show choreographer Chris Grimwood.
“Bette Your Bottom Dollar” is an original production she helped craft with director Brian Fontenot.
“Brian approached me with the idea,” Rae said, and they are collaborating to bring the show to life.
“Midler is fun to perform. My vocal range is similar to hers. I’m really excited and definitely feeling the pressure to do her justice.”
Among the 15 songs in the tribute, and more with “mashups of her hits,” will be “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “The Rose,” “From a Distance,” “I’m a Woman,” “Chapel of Love,” “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “The Glory of Love.”
“We will mimic a couple of her big production numbers” as an homage to Midler’s immense talent, Rae said, and Rae will perform a duet with Fontenot.
As a military veteran — Rae served five years with the Louisiana Air National Guard — she wanted to include a number from Midler’s repertoire that will be dedicated to service members. It’s just one aspect of Midler’s celebrity that she admires.
Rae’s musical roots are in rock ‘n’ roll. She is colead vocalist in the Metairie-based band Kanye Twitty; her father is keyboardist Jim Lockwood.
The LaPlace native performed at the Theater at St. John beginning at age 7. She attended the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts in musical theater. She moved to Slidell with her family 12 years ago.
Rae first joined Cutting Edge in the 2021 production of Grease. She’s performed in the past two seasons of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and in Girl Groups of the 60s.
“I saw an ad for auditions for ‘Grease,’ and I landed the role of Rizzo,” she said. “Now they’re stuck with me.”
The process of reviewing and selecting the numbers for the tribute caused Rae to delve deeper into Midler’s work.
Midler got her start in a cabaret act in a New York City men’s bathhouse, accompanied by Barry Manilow, who would later produce her first hit album, “The Divine Miss M.”
In addition to four Grammy Awards, Midler has won four Golden Globes, one Tony Award and three Emmys, and albums have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Her first chart hit was in 1973 for her cover of the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Her number one hit song “Wind Beneath My Wings” was from the 1988 film “Beaches.”
She received a second nomination for a Best Actress Academy Award and she won a Golden Globe for her role in “For the Boys,” the 1991 WWII-Korea-Vietnam USO show odyssey.
Midler was celebrated for a lifetime of artistic achievements at the 44th Kennedy Center Honors.
Rae said a new generation may be learning about Midler after her recent reprisal of the role of Winifred Sanders in “Hocus Pocus 2.”
“She came up with her character modeled on the Queen of Hearts,” Rae discovered when planning the show. “She’s very creative and philanthropic. I admire that, and it drew me to the idea of the show.”