A Diva DVD Christmas

Chances are your favorite diva has got a concert DVD to sell you this year, but only one can be the best

Who’s your favorite pop diva?

Well, as long as it’s not Madonna or Robyn or Rihanna — or, God help you, Ke$ha — chances are, she’s got a concert DVD she’s trying to sell you as a perfect stocking stuffer for your friends. Or maybe just for you — some gifts are too good to give away.

Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Shakira, Cyndi Lauper — all present and accounted for. The highest profile? Lady Gaga, of course. The best? Well, that depends in part of what you’re looking for. But it’s probably not Gaga. In fact, my biggest surprise in reviewing the latest crop of diva DVDs is that Gaga’s Monster Ball DVD doesn’t even offer the greatest spectacle.

I don’t mean to suggest Gaga’s show isn’t a spectacle. From her outrageous and ever-changing costumes, to the splashy special effects, to the aggressively erotic moves and appeal of her dancers, to the way she belts out tunes or pounds and straddles her piano — Gaga is a master (a monster) at grabbing your attention and beating it for all it’s worth.

But Gaga doesn’t really offer anything more than what you probably already saw on HBO — the only ”bonus content” is a rather bland backstage documentary, just 11 minutes long. The black and white short doesn’t even come to life with a visit from Liza Minnelli, in which the two battle to see who can stroke the other’s ego the hardest.

So unless you or yours is absolutely goo-goo for Gaga and must have this as a souvenir, you’ll get more satisfying spectacle per minute from a certain Aussie, woefully underappreciated in America.

In fact, for the longest time I underappreciated Kylie Minogue — until I saw her perform at the Patriot Center over the summer. Minogue has far more vocal power than I had been led to believe. Her high-pitched voice can be a little shrill and sharp live, but the fact that she doesn’t lip-synch or stammer was revelatory. And while she’s not a hyper-active club dancer in the style of Madonna or Gaga, Minogue moves around the stage with grace, in elegant costumes designed by Dolce & Gabbana. She leads a large crew of limber, artful dancers with finesse — and I should also note that the male dancers are often dressed in various stages of leather, when not in Speedos.

Aphrodite Les Folies is yet another revelation: This is not simply a keepsake of Minogue’s American tour. Shot at London’s massive 02 Arena, the DVD captures the ancient Greece-inspired show’s far-more extravagant European staging, with various moving parts and a secondary thrust stage connected to the main stage by two catwalks. There are more aerial performers on DVD than there were in D.C., too, and water comes splashing and shooting from jets at various points in the show. The DVD is sure to leave you all wet — and I didn’t even mention the high-definition camera angles, often showing you the action from on high.

Those gays of a certain age are likely to find favor with Bette Midler’s The Showgirl Must Go On. The DVD captures Bathhouse Bette’s three-year run of her high-production ribald show in Las Vegas. She relates her 40-year career through her standard ”salty songs and dirty jokes” — as well as a few borderline treacly ballads you no doubt know.

ADELE
Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Columbia
$19.98
starstarstarstarstar

KYLIE MINOGUE
Aphrodite Les Folies
Astralwerks
$20.99
starstarstarstarstar

LADY GAGA
The Monster Ball Tour at Madison Square Garden
Interscope
$19.99
starstarstar

BETTE MIDLER
The Showgirl Must Go On
Image Entertainment
$19.98
starstarstar

But would you believe Adele gives Midler a run for her money as the funniest diva at the moment? Yes, the funniest. Oh sure, one can’t say enough about the British superstar’s voice or her dazzling, dramatic tunes — both of which are in full effect on Live at the Royal Albert Hall. The DVD was recorded in September, or about a month before Adele suffered vocal hemmoraging that led to surgery and a prolonged silent recovery period, likely to last many more months.

What you might not expect is just how bawdy and hysterical the 23-year-old is, or how comfortable the notoriously stage-shy singer seems bantering, even badgering the capacity crowd in the huge auditorium in her London hometown. ”Royal Albert ‘Fucking’ Hall” she says early, then apologizes for her language. Later she playfully flips off the crowd, which includes a couple of her best friends since childhood. She relates funny anecdotes about them, softening any zingers with her regular contagious bursts of laughter.

There may not be much spectacle to speak of, save for a confetti drop at the end, but in every way Adele’s DVD/CD set shines as the best of the diva lot this year. Nothing else approaches the unalloyed power of watching her perform her achingly personal songs. You’re as likely to be in tears as she is after hearing the fully engaged crowd sing perfectly back to her ”Someone Like You.”

Sometimes dreams do come true.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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