By WILLIAM E. SAHMENTO
Sun Drama Critic
June 13, 1975
NEW YORK – Who is the trashiest girl in town wearing the tackiest clothes? The answer may be found nightly on the stage of the new Minskoff Theater where Bette Midler is in command of a spectacular revue entitled! “Clams on the Half Shell”. Whatever else may or may not be said about the show, it is a personal success for the young singer whose followers have christened her “The Divine Miss “M”.
Miss Midler has been packing them in at the Minskoff with even more solidarity than she did a year ago at the Palace. For this time Bette has come prepared to take on Broadway, in her terms to be sure, but then would you have expected less?
THE EVENING GETS off to a flying start as the orchestra plays the overture . . . to “Oklahoma.” The curtain rises and we have a scene from “Showboat” complete with “darkies” lifting those barges and toting that bale. They sing of the troubles that no one knows they have. And then some of the men pull a huge clam shell onto
the center of the stage. It opens And there in a sarong that would have done Dorothy Lamour proud, is Miss Midler crooning “The Moon of Manakoora”. To call it “camp” would be to do it a ‘disservice. It’s downright “tacky.”
The rest of the first act has Miss Midler swapping wise-cracks with the audience and giving out with some of that strong language that has made her a personality. There are not many four-letter words Miss Midler misses but her fans love her for it and they screamed and yelled-for more. Miss Midler is accompanied most of the time by a trio of girls called, “The Harlettes.” You hardly expected the “Chordettes” with Miss Midler. Together they wail up a storm; and if Miss Midler does not sing my kind of music most of the time, I’ll give her her due. She sings music that the young sell-out crowd seems to appreciate.
Her first act final has her clutched in the paw of a giant “King Kong” to whom she croons affectionately, Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein.” It’s wild and hilarious.
The second act brings the big band onto the stage and with it the veteran vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, the big band sound is back and the crowd loves it. They go wild when Miss Midler sings “In the Mood” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” It was the part I liked best myself.
BETTE MIDLER is a talented comedienne whose use of dirty jokes is not really necessary. She doesn’t need them. Her singing is unfortunately undisciplined and without a style all her own.
She has been greatly influenced by black blues and gospel singers. At times-she seems to be trying to imitate Billy Holiday, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin. I wish she would just be Bette Midler.
Even her best work is a copy of the Andrews Sisters.
If Miss Midler decides to stop at being just trashy and tacky she’ll still make a fortune. But I think she has great talent still not correctly displayed. “Clams on the Half Shell” is a big and very entertaining show for Midler fans. But leave your maiden aunt at home unless she’s ready to laugh it up at some of the dirtiest language a pop singer has used on a Broadway stage ever.