My inherited vinyl had provided the pre-show foreplay, the arrival of my handbag provided lubricant. We were seated in the stalls at Her Majesty’s Theatre for ‘Diamonds are for Trevor’ a two act tribute show performed by impersonator Trevor Ashley that celebrates Dame Shirley Bassey’s 8oth birthday. Written by Trevor Ashley and Phil Scott, this acclaimed show is part of Feast’s 21st birthday celebration.
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra tightly assembled on stage, conducted by John Foreman boldly proclaimed the arrival of Shirley Bassey. Advancing from back stage sparkling and shimmering under bright lights to arrive from front and centre stage. A big presence wearing a bejewelled striped gown, big hair, big voice with a big sound behind, belting out (Pink’s) ‘Get this Party Started’! Ending with those expressive hands raised up on arms outstretched in that ‘Bassey pose’. The Star has arrived. There is a Dame in the house!
Dame Shirley performed a wide and varied selection of the many songs Bassey recorded plus some she should have recorded. Between the songs there was a narrative, Dame Shirley told a story. Spoken with Bassey’s distinctive lilt how the singer ‘Climbed every Mountain’ to success.
Born in 1937 the youngest of seven children in the dock area of Cardiff, Wales. Disadvantaged from birth by colour, class and gender Bassey’s career began here. Discovered singing solo in a club aged 16 years she was booked to appear in a show called ‘Hot from Harlem’. Encouraged by her mother to persist as an entertainer she reluctantly left her family and travelled to London to sing in a variety show. Noticed by promoters, revue, theatre and cabaret engagements followed.
Bassey’s rise to stardom had begun and the hit parade recordings followed. Appearances in Scandinavia, France: Paris and Monte Carlo, America: Las Vegas and Hollywood, Australia: Sydney and Melbourne. ‘The Bewitching Miss Bassey’ was the title of her first 12 inch recording; the singer was 21 years old.
Early Bassey hit recordings Dame Shirley sang included ‘Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me,’ ‘As long as he needs me’ ‘I (Who Have Nothing). The narrative between the songs told of Bassey’s life. It was one of highs and lows to extreme. The voice in Bassey sang her story. It is the story of many.’ ‘Where do I begin (Love Story)’ ‘All by myself’ ‘No Regrets’ ‘The Impossible Dream’.
By sleight of hand Dame Shirley’s costume magically changed to a gold sequinned gown glittering beneath a red feathered robe, ‘Goldfinger’ her first big hit in America and a big hit at her Majesty’s. The trumpet wailed, the first touch of that gold finger ensnared the audience in this performer’s web. No-one was left untouched. Seduced, the audience gave the performer a license to thrill. The Audience was Ashley’s. He knew it. They wanted more. He gave it, again and again, stopping abruptly before he went too far, jokingly admitting this mutual complicity. Stopping to allow Dame Shirley to be Bassey.
The audience enjoyed, ‘Big Spender’, ‘Never, Never, Never’ (the Beatles) ‘Something’, ‘ What now my love’ plus many more. The Bassey story continued. The audience learned of the unplanned appearance at the San Remo and unexpected success won her new audiences internationally and revitalized her career. Dame Shirley meant it with ‘Does anybody Miss Me’ and ‘This is my Life’
Yes the audience witnessed the Diva tantrums, amused when she insisted her recordings of a song was the best. They laughed when she declared herself to be a Dame. Dame Shirley Bassey then instructing the audience to confirm her title. Here is Ashley telling his audience what he thinks about this singer, of the challengers for an impersonator and his admiration for an entertainer who has received her nations highest honour.
On Bassey’s behalf Dame Shirley apologized for not recording a song to acknowledge her Australian audiences. Tonight she chose ‘Working Class Man’. With this original and sensitive rendition of the anthem came Dame Shirley’s impersonation of Trevor Ashley! ‘I Capricorn’ explored the astrological connection Ashley shares with Bassey.
The lighting designed by Matthew Marshal projected directional beams of white light from above and below radiating lines and triangles or cones of varying volumes. The effect enlarged the packed stage and enlivened the movements of singer and musicians. A limited palette of saturated primary colours or lighter, softer secondary tones evoked the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. At this time when Bassey, immensely popular in Britain recorded her legendary Live performance at London’s Talk of the Town in 1971. The combination of lights and colour created and maintained a mood of excitement and complimented the bright coloured sparkling costume designs of Tim Chapel. The final part of the show had the singer in a white gown, thin black stripes, wrapped in a lengthy white feather boa. Colour gone, lights low in a quieter intimate reflected mood. On stage a statuesque figure of an inspiring woman. Shirley Bassey a girl of mixed racial heritage from a working class background never let labels stop her. Against all adversity Bassey never stopped believing in herself. She appeared continuously throughout her career. Helped first by radio, then television appearances and recording movie theme songs. Bassey’s popularity was biggest in Britain then Europe and Australia. America was less accepting.
The audience applauded Dame Shirley’s show. Surprise! Removing his big hair, she was gone. Revealed was The Star Trevor Ashley. A most convincing and sincere performer. He remained to enjoy applause from the standing audience. A show they will never, never, never forget.
Spending a little time with Dame Shirley popped my cork! On this opening night, shirley everyone’s cork popped? Thanks Trevor, Happy 80th Birthday Dame Shirley Bassey,Happy 21st Birthday Feast.
With apology these words written by Barking J. Hownd are an attempt to impersonate a reviewer!
A final, personal note to Trevor: As a child growing up I remember our Mum telling us ‘I like Shirley Bassey’ then she would sing a few lines when he wasn’t home. I remember our Mum, the arguments and tears when he was home, she would sing a few lines. Our Mum was strong. She divorced him.