Bette Midler refused to be played offstage with a musical cue during the Tonys

Warning: theater nerd alert

During Sunday night’s Tony Awards, 71-year-old icon Bette Midler became just an Oscar away from achieving EGOT status by winning the Best Actress in a Musical for her role as matchmaker Dolly Levi in the revival of the classic musical Hello, Dolly!. After receiving the award from Glenn Close, Bette delivered a speech for the ages, clocking in at over four minutes.

Bette’s speech opened with her thanking the Tony voters, wisecracking, “many of whom I have actually dated.” She said the revival was “one of the greatest professional experiences of my life” and jokingly admitted, “I can’t remember the last time I had so much smoke up my ass, but there is no more room, so thank you.” Bette was grateful to more people than the Tonys thought she had time to acknowledge (including her drama teachers). The orchestra started playing “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to encourage Bette to leave the stage but, having none of that, Bette commanded the orchestra to “Shut that crap off!”

Surprisingly, the orchestra did stop, allowing Bette to note, “Revival is an interesting word. It means something is near death and was brought back to life. But Hello, Dolly! never went away. It’s in our national DNA…this is a classic, come and see it. This thing has the ability to lift your spirits in these terrible, terrible times.” She wrapped up her speech by paying tribute to the actresses who played Dolly before her, including Pearl Bailey and 96-year-old drag queen inspiration Carol Channing, of whom Bette said, “made my life” and “was a gift to me” as well as “all the hundreds of women who came after me who lit the way.” Fun fact: Pearl, Carol and Bette have all won Tonys for playing the role of Dolly. You can find Bette’s entire speech on CBS’s website.

Sadly, for those of us without the funds to go see the show live on Broadway, Bette did not perform during the ceremony. (David Hyde Pierce, Bette’s Dolly co-star, performed the song, “Penny In My Pocket,” which was originally cut from the stage production.) According to The New York Times, “the producers of Hello, Dolly! and the producers of the awards show reached an impasse over the conditions under which Ms. Midler would sing.” That is truly a shame. TV critic Daniel D’Addario‏ summed up the situation with one pointed tweet, stating, “It would’ve been dope if someone this passionate about her work had allowed her work to be shown to the national TV audience…?”

After accepting her award, Bette continued to rattle off “thank yous” in the press room. She also acknowledged the Hawaiian locals who introduced a young Bette to the theater when she was growing up in Honolulu. Getting a little choked up, she recalled, “I was really, really poor and (they) showed me there was another way, another way of life, and it was really marvelous.” And, wrapping up her second round of appreciation, Bette declared “Bette Midler for President” and walked off the stage. I’d vote for her in a heartbeat.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Bette tweeted her thanks to the cast of the show, writing, “In all the pandemonium tonight I neglected to thank the brilliant ensemble of ‘Hello Dolly,’ whom I adore. Please forgive me kids! I’m old!”

I didn’t watch the Tonys on Sunday. Shame on me, right? But I don’t have cable and I guess CBS and Hulu don’t play nice. I am so glad Bette’s powerhouse performance was acknowledged and her speech(es) made me love her more than I did before. Congrats to you, Miss M. You are still, and always will be divine in my book. Side note: can we have a Glenn Close/Bette Midler musical? Seeing them on stage together makes me want this to happen.

The 71st Annual Tony Awards hosted by Kevin Spacey as seen on CBS.

67th Annual OCC Awards Dinner Departures

71st Annual Tony Awards - Press Room

Photos: Getty Images,

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19 Responses to “Bette Midler refused to be played offstage with a musical cue during the Tonys”

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  1. Bethy says:

    While I didn’t watch the Tonys, a lot of my musical theatre friends did, or so it seemed from my FB feed, and they were unamused with the Divine Miss M’s antics. They thought she was being rude by brushing off the orchestra. The words “entitled diva” got thrown around.

    • Lexilla says:

      That was my impression from reading this post — diva. She probably would have raised a brow if anyone else had shut down the orchestra and made her sit through four minutes. And that tweet makes a good point.

    • Alex says:

      She was rude and as an avid theater person myself I was not amused. You do not deserve more time than anyone else. And I loathe people that think they deserve anything in this world (besides basic needs but you get it)
      Esp since the extra time she used to talk about herself some more. Nope.

      And the whole not performing at the Tonys was another ego fight between the producer and the Tonys. Basically said they could perform the way the stage was. Well those of us in theater know that if The Great Comet could stage their performance Hello Dolly could. But once again egos. No one in the theater geek world was amused by that either.

    • MorningCoffee says:

      I and my theatre friends felt the same. She was a diva about performing and she was rude to the orchestra. She doesn’t deserve more time than anyone else.

  2. Marianne says:

    John Legend is only one away from an EGOT too now. He just needs an Emmy.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yeah, too bad WGN cancelled Underground – it was a chance for him to get an Emmy.

  3. astrid says:

    I didn’t watch the show but this post sort of makes it sound like she was some kind of Diva, not minding the cues. She wasn’t the only person to win an award who deserved their full time on stage.

    • India Rose says:

      She would be the first person to call herself a diva. One of her albums is called “The Divine Miss M”!

      Viva la Diva! What a fabulous career. Go Bette!

  4. Hoopjumper says:

    I’m confused by the tweet. Did she participate in the negotiations with the Tonys? I’m assuming she’s a producer, but why does D’Addario think she stopped herself from performing?

  5. Kristen820 says:

    Midler/Miranda 2020!

  6. boredblond says:

    Aw, you missed Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards character, saying ‘let’s get the hell out of here before Bette Midler thanks anyone else’..his biggest laugh of evening..even with her diva demands, it’s impossible not to adore Ms M

  7. Giddy says:

    When a beloved icon like 71 year old Bette decides to come out and do the work of starring on Broadway, I say she deserves to enjoy her moment in the sun. She was not ranting and raving about politics, she was thanking people with love and humor. I enjoyed watching her express her gratitude to the individuals who had helped her, and to the industry. The audience seemed to love it.

  8. Singtress says:

    Bette owns it. She is one of the rare icons that gets to do whatever the hell she wants.

  9. MaybeTomorrow says:

    As someone who has emceed a dozen large events and participated in even more large scale ensemble programs — it is rude and a major faux pas to go over your allotted time. You negatively impact everyone …. seriously everyone…..the audience, those that come after you, the clean up crew, etc.

    It’s the height of self serving importance and ego. Just no.

    She’s a wonderful talent, Her wit is extraordinary. But just no to this.

  10. Nikki says:

    I adore Bette, but NO NO to going over. The Golden Rule, Bette…

  11. KiddVicious says:

    Classic Bette! She was born a diva. I would love to hang out with her for a day.

  12. KLO says:

    It would have been OK if she would have managed to thank the people who actually worked with her on the thing she got awarded for. Cast and crew.

    She is a talented icon But a no from me this time.

  13. Ozogirl says:

    Bette looks fabulous!

  14. Bella bella says:

    I watched the Tony’s. As I recall there were others just as iconic or special who talked while the band was playing but finally gave in to the pressure and wrapped things up. Midler just ignored the band and they finally stopped playing. Frankly, I found it rude every time the band jumped in — usually it was when someone was in the middle of a heartfelt moment or the best line of their thank-you speech. For the most part, people told anecdotes or honored teachers or organizations that had helped them get where they were now, versus running through a laundry list of names. Shout-outs to the NEA and NEH, pleas for educational scholarships, thank yous to early teachers… that stuff gets me every time!