Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell Revue
Special Book by Bill Hennessy, Bruce Vilanch, Jerry Blatt; Lyrics by Bette Midler, Jerry Blatt.
(Apr 14, 1975 - Jun 21, 1975)
Night Production Credits:
Broadway ought to be girding for the pearl of its season, for Bette Midler's "Clams On The Half Shell Revue" will open there later this month to the certain bedazzlement of La Big Apple. The show, which began a preview run of a week last night at the Erlanger, [in Philadelphia] is a delicious concoction - lavish and brilliantly mounted; rich in atmosphere and antic uplift; here uproarious, there haunting.
The crux of the magic is that "Clams On The Half Shell" places Bette Midler, on the boards again after a year's layoff, in an ideal theatrical environment, one which beautifully underscores her camp-kitsch aura while drawing out the superb substance of her talents as a singer and comedian. If anything, Miss M is a stronger performer than before, having stylized herself to a point where she radiates a full-blown identity without having to resort to any frantic oversell, although the smooth direction and chorography of Joe Layton must be acknowledged.
Shapely, aglow and thoroughly piquant, Miss M is an impeccable delight, weather hatched from a giant clam shell for a wildly kinetic parody of a South Seas tune or seated in the purple palm of a mechanized King-Kong-atop-the-Empire State Building for an absurd "Lullaby Of Broadway." And when she minces across the stage in an awkward skitter of spiked heels, she is the trampy epitome of trash-to-tinsel, the B-girl gone uppity, and a perfect fourth to her soul-sister trio of hip-tilting harmonizers, The Harlettes.
Still, the revue might benefit from some paring-down and tightening-up in the first act, for it wasn't until after intermission that Bette began to set last night's sold-out house on its ears. Following Lionel Hampton's rave-up vibe-drums and-vocal segment with this orchestra, she came back with a wealth of zingy patter - including two very bawdy but very funny jokes attributed to Sophie Tucker - and riveting versions of Tom Waits' "Captain Ahab," Phoebe Show's "I Don't Want The Night To End," and John Prine's "Hello In There."
Indeed, apart from all her high-humored energy, Bette Midler interprets such moody balladry with a breathy bittersweet fragility, a loving vulnerability that raises goose bumps (when she's not raising hell with such tempos as David Bowe's "Young Americans," or Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back). Unquestionably, she has matured into a great pop singer.
the performances and the music. Tony Walton's costumes are glittery, diaphanous
and somehow never a distraction, while his settings are varied and remarkably
effective, particularly a darkened barroom tableau which finds Bette cutting-up
and indulging in a sad series of saloon songs while three stock-still male patrons
pay her no mind. And the opening scene, with the Michael Powell gospel Ensemble
delivering a magnificent and mournful "Old Man River" before Bette-in-the-clamshell
hilariously reverses the mood, is played before a sumptuous riverboat backdrop
and amounts to a splendid introductory eyeful.