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Review Roundup: ‘I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers’

I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers by John Logan (Tony winner for Red), opened April 24 at the Booth Theatre. The solo play stars Bette Midler as superagent Sue Mengers in an evening of dish and dirt. Directed by two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello (Take Me Out, Assassins), the play marks Midler’s return to Broadway after 33 years. Her last appearance was in the concert show Divine Madness in 1980. The last time she was on Broadway playing someone other than herself was when she replaced one of the daughters in Fiddler on the Roof in the late 1960s. Mengers, who died in 2011, had a star-studded client list including Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, Ali McGraw, Michael Caine, Julie Harris, Bob Fosse, Candace Bergen, and Ryan O’Neal. Most of the critics found the 85-minute gossip session juicy and fun. Here are excerpts from the major outlets:

 

Bette Midler in I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers (Photo: Richard Termine)

Bette Midler in ‘I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers’ (Photo: Richard Termine)

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times

“Dropping names as if to the rhythm of a disco beat, snapping out wisecracks like acid-tipped darts that find the sweet spot every time, proffering profanity-laden advice about how to get ahead in show business: as the frank, brassy, foul-mouthed Mengers, who died in 2011, Ms. Midler cradles a spellbound audience in the palm of her hand from first joke to last toke.”

 

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News

“For 85 minutes, the caftan-clad Midler, back on Broadway after 30-plus years, remains rooted to a salmon-colored sofa. It’s central in Scott Pask’s rendering of Mengers’ deluxe Beverly Hills digs. Fortunately, Midler is a riot simply sitting still and dishing the dirt. Mengers dug doing that. Midler has Rolex-precise comic timing and, as she proved in her own bawdy revues, is fearless; she’ll say anything.”

 

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post

“This isn’t much of a departure from the outsize stage persona Midler created for herself over the decades, but so what? I’ll Eat You Last is wickedly entertaining precisely because performer and material are so perfectly matched.”

 

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

“Joe Mantello directs with something of a challenge: A seasoned pro in Midler and yet a character who doesn’t really move off the couch. So he expertly paces the whole thing like an audience with a blousy, foul-mouthed queen.”

 

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“Midler’s consummate ability to deliver brassy chutzpah, fierceness and silky comic seduction at the same time is harnessed to perfection, allowing just a judicious whisper of vulnerability. Infusing her performance with equal parts Sue and Bette, plus a dash of her old Sophie Tucker routines, she makes this role her bitch.”

 

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

“With dynamic direction from Joe Mantello, the star makes lounging and smoking look both lazy and athletic—the very opposite approach to monologue from Fiona Shaw’s showy exertions in The Testament of Mary. Which is fine because, kiddies, Mengers has much to say and all the time in the world to say it.”

 

Matt Windman, AM New York

“The role fits Midler like a glove and she does not disappoint under Joe Mantello’s direction. And anyone who likes both Midler and gossip about 1970s Hollywood ought to have a good time. But in light of this rare opportunity to catch Midler onstage, a more substantial meal would have been nice instead of 90 minutes of pure dessert.”

 

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York

“A live-action piece of Vanity Fair puffery, littered with boldfaced name-dropping, I’ll Eat You Last exists primarily as a platform for Midler’s return to the Broadway stage in her first nonsinging role. The part itself—brassy, bossy, warmly outré—fits neatly into her comfort zone, and it’s enjoyable at first to watch her hold court in tinted glasses and a powder-blue muumuu, drawing out her consonants like slingshots for her vowels, gabbing about whatever pops into her Beverly Hills kop. But Midler never quite settles into character. The jokes, tossed off with a hint of Sophie Tucker, sound like concert patter minus the songs; dramatic moments sink into labored schmaltz. Perhaps her performance will improve with time, but for now it’s a shticky wicket.”

 

Elysa Gardner, USA Today

“Briskly witty, deeply dishy, delightfully profane and at times surprisingly poignant, I’ll Eat You Last captures a woman with no regrets—at least none that she’ll tell you about.

Under Joe Mantello’s pitch-perfect direction, Midler dives into the role with predictable relish—which is not to say that she chews the scenery. However brassy her persona, Mengers clearly valued taste and discretion, as Pask’s spacious, elegant scenic reminds us. Holding court over an audience whose members, as she repeatedly informs us, aren’t nearly distinguished enough to warrant an invitation to her house, the actress brings an element of wry detachment to even some more personal observations.”

 

Erik Haagensen, Backstage

“John Logan’s solo show I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers skips as lightly across its subject as a shard of shale whipping across a pond. Bette Midler, making her first Broadway appearance as someone other than herself in more than 40 years (she replaced as Tzeitel in the original production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in the late 1960s), is disappointingly content to reprise the Divine Miss M persona that she delivered so successfully in three Broadway concerts in the 1970s. Thanks to the lazy writing and acting, Mengers goes missing.”

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