Wednesday, April 22, 2020


Lionel Hampton, Bette Midler.
"In Lieu of Reviews"

For background on how this previously unpublished series—introducing all mainstream New York shows between 1970 and 1975—came to be and its relationship to my three The Encyclopedia of the New York Stage volumes (covering every New York play, musical, revue, and revival between 1920 and 1950), please check the prefaces to any of the earlier entries beginning with the letter “A.” See the list at the end of the current entry.

BETTE MIDLER’S CLAMS ON THE HALF-SHELL REVUE [Musical Revue/Star Concert] D/CH; Joe Layton; S/C: Tony Walton; L: Beverly Emmons; P: Aaron Russo i/a/w Ron Delsener; T: Minskoff Theatre; 4/14/75-6/22/75 (80)

Bette Midler, kitsch queen of the 70s, had made a brief concert appearance (12/3/73-12/23/73; 19 performances, Palace Theatre) in New York before returning with this campy revue centering on her dazzling virtuosity as singer and comedienne. Her entrance was made during a Showboat-like number in which a group of black fishermen, singing “Old Man River,” hauled in a huge clamshell from which the star emerged to tumultuous squeals of pleasure from a gay-dominated audience.

John Simon described what followed as “a swamp of bad taste,” and Clive Barnes called “an overblown, overstaged and overdressed cabaret act.” Nevertheless, these critics, and all the others, could not disguise their admiration for the star’s outrageousness and unique gifts. The Divine Miss M” succeeded in drawing audiences to the huge Minskoff for a two months' limited engagement.

Midler’s elaborately produced show, with lavish and amusing sets, was supported by the Harlettes, a female trio that often worked with the star, by the great jazz xylophonist Lionel Hampton, and by a black gospel group, the Michael Powell Ensemble. “Tacky,” “trashy,” and “flashy,” were some of the epithets earned by the show with its frequent recourse to insult and sexual humor but the star’s dynamic presence, nostalgic and hilarious references to the 40s, playing directly to the audience, and sensational way with a wide range of pop musical styles, ensured her of a warmly appreciative reception.

Midler offered renditions of such great and not so great oldies as “Sentimental Journey,” “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy,” “We’ll Be Together Again,” “If Love Were All,” “Delta Dawn,” “Strangers in the Night,” and “Do You Wanna Dance,” among others. “Oddly,” noted Douglas Watt, “with all her bumps and grinds and naughty talk, she creates a prevailing impression of wholesomeness.” Her show, concluded Jack Kroll,” “confirms [Midler’s] status as the ultimate parodist of Total Entertainment in a freaked-out society.”

Previous entries:

Abelard and Heloise
Absurd Person Singular
“Acrobats” and “Line”
The Advertisement/
All My Sons
All Over
All Over Town
All the Girls Came Out to Play
Alpha Beta
L’Amante Anglais         
American Gothics
And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little       
And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers
And Whose Little Boy Are You?
Anna K.
Anne of Green Gables
Any Resemblance to Persons Living or Dead
As You Like It
The Au Pair Man

Baba Goya [Nourish the Beast]
The Ballad of Johnny Pot
Barbary Shore
The Bar that Never Closes
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel
The Beauty Part
The Beggar’s Opera
Behold! Cometh the Vanderkellens
Be Kind to People Week
Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill