Bette (Midler) and Barry (Manilow): Back To The Bathhouse

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Donna Maxon and Fonda Feingold star as Bette Midler and Barry Manilow in
Donna Maxon and Fonda Feingold star as Bette Midler and Barry Manilow in

Special to the Journal

Although fans of both Barry Manilow and Bette Midler are aware that the duo worked together at the Continental Baths in New York, few will recall seeing them perform together back in 1971. Those moments are recreated by Midler tribute artist Donna Maxon and singer/songwriter Fonda Feingold, who will team up as the duo in "Bette and Barry: Back To The Bathhouse" at the Combined Jewish Women’s event January 28 at Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody. "This is a unique cabaret show in which the audience will share the birth of the magic that made both Bette and Barry blossom into stars," said the 51-year-old, Brooklyn-born Maxon, who has been playing Bette Midler for over 25 years.

"The premise of the show is that Barry and Bette are invited back by the Continental Baths for one last concert together. Fonda and I not only perform 30-35 songs that made the duo famous, but exchange in the comic dialogue and banter that made them a wonderful team."

The show has been a hit in New York for the past three months. In the show, Maxon sings the early hits Midler performed at the Continental Baths, such as "Leader Of The Pack" and "Friends," as well as her later hits such as "The Rose" and "Wind Beneath My Wings." Feingold, dressed in a suit and shag wig as Barry Manilow, does early Manilow tunes such as "Could It Be Magic" and "I Write The Songs," in addition to later hits such as "Copacabana."

The Continental Baths was a sophisticated New York gay bathhouse that was famous-not just for its informality, but also for creating a buzz about the bawdy humor of Bette Midler, who went on to perform in Carnegie Hall within two years.

"I love the Sophie Tucker kind of persona Bette is famous for, and although I will tone it down for the Jewish Women’s event, the audience will quickly pick up on the talent Bette has in all areas — singing, dancing, telling jokes, and a personality that is unique," Maxon added.

Bette Midler and Barry Manilow perfectly complemented each other. Bette worked with Barry as her musical director. In 1971, Manilow committed to make her a star — viewing himself more as a behind-thescenes musician.

"Bette and I loved working together, but we were so different. I was an upright, uptight musician who wore a suit, and she was so uninhibited. But we jelled together, and I always believed in Bette as a one-of-a-kind performer that would become a star, because there is no one like her," Manilow wrote in his 1985 autobiography, "Sweet Life."

Manilow continued to write songs and found stardom of his own — landing a recording deal in 1971 that allowed him to forge his own career as a singer/ songwriter.

Like Midler and Manilow, Maxon and singer/songwriter Fonda Feingold are very different personalities in blending their talents as Bette and Barry.

Feingold is the consummate musician. She was born in Winthrop, but moved to Ocala, Fla., by age seven. She studied to be a concert pianist under the guidance of her two brothers, who were also musicians. By 1972, Feingold had a recording contract with Polygram Records and was known for writing and singing her own songs. She has recorded three CDs.

"Although I respect and admire Barry Manilow, I never thought of singing his songs, let alone becoming him on stage. But Donna thought I look so much like Barry, I decided to be part of the show as Barry. It is so much fun to play his music to the many people in the audience who are Barry fans," said the 60-year-old Feingold, who resides in New York.

In contrast, Maxon never aspired for a career on the stage. She worked as a human resource director at a bank for 15 years before "becoming" Bette Midler.

"It was my uncanny resemblance to Bette, that so many people remarked on since I was age 12. So in my late 20s, I took singing lessons and learned all I could to become a tribute Bette Midler artist. I was even encouraged by Bette herself, who said ‘you go, girl’ when we met on the set of her film ‘Outrageous Fortune’ in 1989."

Feingold and Maxon met walking their dogs in a park, and decided to work together. They say they have a ball each night doing the show. Both are looking forward to the upcoming Combined JewishWomen’s Organizations performance.

"There are so many of my relatives still based in Massachusetts that I lost track of since I moved from Winthrop. I am looking forward to reconnecting with many of them at the show," Feingold said.

"We are going to sing one or two songs in Hebrew. Fonda and I both love that we will be performing for a Jewish organization," added Maxon.

"Bette & Barry: Back To The Bathhouse" will take place Monday, January 28, at 7:30 p.m., at Temple Ner Tamid, 368 Lowell St., Peabody. It is free. Call 978-224-4903.

STAGE

Last modified on Monday, January 14, 2013 - 15:54

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Donna Maxon and Fonda Feingold star as Bette Midler and Barry Manilow in

Donna Maxon and Fonda Feingold star as Bette Midler and Barry Manilow in

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