Channelling the divine Bette
Channelling the divine Bette

Catherine Alcorn had one big advantage when she came to create her tribute to American songstress and superstar Bette Midler.

Midler's first booking agent - an opera singer and teacher - lived just around the corner from her Sydney apartment.

So she plucked up the courage to ask Steve Ostrow to give her classical singing lessons, not revealing at first that she wanted to sing the songs of Midler.

"I kind of played dumb at first, and it was only after Steve asked what I wanted to do with my voice that I said I was thinking of making a show based on her music and career," Alcorn says.

It transpired that in the 1970s Ostrow, with a background as an opera singer, was running a cabaret show in New York at the Continental Baths, originally a steam room in the Astoria Hotel. As manager of the venue, he was always on the lookout for new talent, and someone proposed that he check out two young singers - one named Bette Midler, the other Barry Manilow. He booked them for the Continental Baths at $25 each and the rest is show-business history. Both singers went on to fame and fortune in the world of pop music, with Midler moving into film and television and on to superstardom.

Years later, Ostrow moved to Australia and sang for many years with Opera Australia. Now he passes on his knowledge and experience as a vocal teacher in Sydney. Learning from Ostrow has not only sharpened Alcorn's vocal talents, she has also been able to gain an insight into how Midler developed her career - essential for an authentic interpretation of a much-loved artist.

"Steve did tell me that when he booked Midler for the Continental Baths, her response was: "You want me to play in a steam bath'," Alcorn says. "He told me tales of how Bette built up the characters she played, how she used her voice, how she told a joke.

"I've always been a fan, but not a die-hard fan. I love her energy and the way she has grown not only as a singer but as a stand-up comedian.

"I wouldn't say I am trying to mimic her in my cabaret show, although I do call it channelling Bette. She's been such a big influence on many artists, and her career is like a soundtrack to our own lives."

Alcorn grew up in Sydney but trained in drama and music performance at the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University. She met another young singer there and the two women formed a duo to perform dinner theatre music.

For a few years Alcorn put off thoughts of a full-time career as a singer when she graduated as a teacher and taught in England and Canada.

On her return to Sydney she decided to concentrate on show business, creating her Bette Midler show in 2010 for the Slide Lounge in Oxford Street. Its success led her to another role in show business; she is now the artistic director of the Slide Lounge, booking new acts and deciding on the venue's programming.

That's when she's not touring with her show Divine Miss Bette, featuring her dancers The Harlettes.


The West Australian

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