“For all its touching human empathy, Bette: Xmas at the Continental Baths is anything but maudlin. For this iteration of Hell in a Handbag’s celebrated cabaret production, Jackson’s Bette Midler is supported by an energetic cast that includes Terry McCarthy as Continental Baths proprietor and king of one-liners, Mr. Gerard. Sydney Genco and Allison Petrillo supply abundant adorableness and powerful vocals as Bette’s ditzy backup singers, Trixie and Laverne. And Tommy Ross is back as The Man Who Writes the songs, Midler’s one-time musical director Barry Manilow.
This team collaboration results in an 80-minute bowl of chicken soup for the humorless, weary holiday soul. The combination of historical context, production precedence and 2019 invention allows for an experience that is both familiar and fresh. We know Bette Midler and her songbook. Older audience members can still remember when being gay meant forced basement retreats to ensure safety and self-expression. LGBTQ Americans are still fighting for equality in the workplace and other public spaces every day. But it’s not all joyless slog – and it never was.
The needle has moved since Better Midler first shimmied her way through the Continental Baths, and certain freedoms have become enshrined in public law. But the holidays and strained family relationships are unmoored from time, and the deliciously dangerous experience of loudly and proudly finding communion in the arts is evergreen. Caitlin Jackson and her collaborators understand this and have gifted Chicago theatergoers with another winning Bathhouse Betty production.”