Natalie Douglas returned to Birdland with her stunning tribute series, this time paying homage to the great Dame Shirley Bassey. Entering to a packed house, in a golden dress with large diamond hoop earrings, it was immediately clear that Ms. Douglas had set out to honor Ms. Bassey with every gesture and choice, vocal, physical, and pret-a-porter. And then she sang.
A rousing rendition of Big Spender (Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields) showed off not only the top notch brass section of her band (Danny Hall on Trombone & Tim Wendt on trumpet and Flugelhorn), but also showcased her tone-full voice and refined interpretation. This was no imitation, (although imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery). Through the entire evening Ms. Douglas proved over and over again that this was a heart to heart connection with both the music and the woman who inspired her.
With powerful, and yet intimately personal, deliveries of songs like Something (George Harrison), If You Go Away (Jacque Brel & Rod McKuen), and I Who Have Nothing (Donida, Mogol, Leiber & Stoller) Ms. Douglas transcended her icon’s renditions with a personalization rarely found on many cabaret stages. And, with Bassey anthems like Diamonds Are Forever, and Goldfinger her voice soared through the theater, rivaling Ms. Bassey’s own powerful vocals.
Of particular note is a pairing of two Lionel Bart songs, He Lives In A World Of His Own and As Long As He Needs Me, the latter being well known from the musical Oliver, and the former having been cut from consideration for a James Bond film. The pairing of these two songs provided the most heartfelt moment in the evening with several audience members (and Ms. Douglas herself) moved to tears. And, The evening ended with Jerry Herman’s I Am What I Am, which, during Gay Pride month, brought the house down.
The band was ably led by Music Director Brian Nash, and also included Joe Choroszewski on drums, Mimi Jones on electric and acoustic bass, and Stantawn Kendrick on reeds. Mr. Nash deserves special recognition here for writing arrangements which both recalled the well known Bassey sound, and yet served both Ms. Douglas and the room very well, make the evening a singularly unique event.