PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: I'll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers—I Laughed, You Bette

By Harry Haun
25 Apr 2013

David Webster and Larry Kramer
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"I think I'm the only Harlette in the room," Hairspray's Linda Hart announced to all stunned comers. "I was a Harlett with Bette in Divine Madness, and it was the beginning of my career—my first Broadway show and her last, until now."

Her next project is taking its time getting off the ground: "For two years, I've been doing this workshop on Piece of My Heart—the life story of Bert Berns, based on a song he did for Janis Joplin. He wrote 'Twist and Shout' for the Beatles and 'Hang On, Sloopy.' I play Sloopy. He ends up in real life marrying Sloopy and having three kids."

Director Mantello, never one for opening-night press quizzing, was hanging with (as he always seems to be) Larry Kramer, whom he brilliantly played a version of in The Normal Heart. He was not sure exactly how he extracted such a superb showing from Midler. "She really applied herself. The one thing I said to her early on was: 'You're not going to like this, but you need to show up with the script under your belt, ready to go.' I said, 'It's going to be boring. It's going to be awful, and you're going to curse my name. At the end of the day, it's going to make the difference.'"

Writer and comic Bruce Vilanch, who has kept Midler in funnies for eons, was a Mengers bud. "I knew Sue fairly well. She would have killed to do this herself! She would want to sit there and f*ck Mike Ovitz for 30 minutes and then entertain everybody for 90 minutes. It was a captivating play. John took the best parts of her.

"I'm glad Bette got to show this color on Broadway. It's an interesting piece because it's all about a woman who felt she had to be the biggest bull in the china shop in order to get anywhere. A lot of women are going to go, 'Yeah, I remember when that was what we had to do. It's better now. Now, we lean in and get to run Facebook.'"