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Pop Review : Bassey Sticks To Her Way

July 19, 1986|CONNIE JOHNSON

You expect a lot from Shirley Bassey. For the last 20 years, the slinky, glamorous performer has been taking the most frail pop melodies and infusing them with enough cheek and chutzpah to distinguish her from countless other female pop singers.

Often bombastic, always dramatic, she's not quite in the heavyweight category of fellow Londoner Cleo Laine; she is, nevertheless, a consistent crowd-pleaser.

So why was she mostly boring Thursday night at the Greek Theatre?

The extravagant sequined gowns and grandiose gestures were still a staple of her one hour-plus act--as was her lovely, thousand-watt smile. But rather than try anything different or challenging, Bassey stuck to the tried-and-true. Which meant yet another rendition of "New York, New York," "Send In the Clowns" and--horror of horrors--"My Way."

That those songs have been sung with mind-numbing regularity by every lounge singer in the world is bad enough. What's worse is that Bassey didn't take them to any new levels of expression and meaning. A difficult task, at this point, but not impossible.

Bassey also omitted many of her own signature tunes, including "Goldfinger" and "I Capricorn." Bassey is capable of doing a sultry, serio-comic version of "Hey, Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity" that's frisky enough to kick both Debbie Allen and Gwen Verdon out of the running--but she didn't sing that, either.

Her survival is admirable. But what you want Bassey to do is continue to grow, to thrive--and knock your socks off with a style that's fresh, heartfelt and challenging.

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