BetteBack April 30, 1975: Bette Midler Is Back Rashy And Gimmicky (‘Clams’)

Lawton Constitiution
April 30, 1975

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NEW YORK (AP ) — A strenuous comeback bid is being made in “Bette Midler‘s Clams on the Half Shell Revue” by one of the most highly publicized maybe-stars of showbiz.

Flashy, brassy and gimmicky, the production has moved into Broadway’s Minskoff Theater for a run until June 21. Management asked reviews be delayed until after the Thursday performance, but to make deadlines most of the press attended the late starting, 2 1/2 hour fray on Wednesday.

For those who have forgotten or never cared , the chubby little singer-comic disappeared about a year ago after a short but impressive eruption from the gay entertainment scene into a more general public round of concerts, and a couple of golden records. A Paris sortie flopped, followed by retreat for career reappraisal.

“Clams,” to get the title down to size, is much more elaborately staged than a stand at the Palace in December 1973. The professionally chaotic grabbag tends to make Miss Midler’s own limitations more obvious.

She is on almost nonstop with a hybrid assortment of tunes past and present — “Moon of Manakoora” at one end. “Young Americans” at the other — coupled with raunchy comments and low wisecracks. A couple of the most obscene, and hoary, she attributed to Sophie Tucker.

Front-row spectators were sprayed with scurrilous insults, a night club technique that needs a long rest. Costarred in the billing but allowed only 1-i minutes in the postimermission spotlight is Lionel Hampton. The grand old jazz pro brought the crowd to its feet in the only show-stopping ovation of the affair with his sheer artistry on vibes, piano and drums.

A Motown-style trio, the Harletles, back up the occasional, raspy Midler notes and heavy breathing with chic vocalizing. On the bill also is the Michael Powell Ensemble.

Everything centers on the yenta from Honolulu, with Joe Layton keeping the tempo fast and furious as director-choreographer. Tony Walton has provided some preposterously ponderous scenery, including gigantic dancing puppets, a moody barroom, massive jukebox’ and a mechanized King Kong clutching you know who in his hand.

Miss Midler likes to be known as “the Divine Miss M.” Dismal more accurately describes some of her work for the noncultist. At the end of the show, however, committed fans engaged in a screaming frenzy of acclaim.

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