Shirley Bassey, who seems to have sung everywhere in the last 20 years except on Broadway, whooped for joy at finally being there on Monday night when she opened a 10-evening engagement at the Minskoff Theater. At the Minskoff, she is more literally "on Broadway" than she would be in most so-called Broadway theaters, since the Minskoff's second-floor lobby looks directly out on what was once the Great White Way.
Inside the theater, however, it seemed more like Las Vegas. Miss Bassey's evening opened in traditional Las Vegas fashion with a comedian, Freddie Roman, who paced the stage, talking garrulously about the Carter family, school days in New York, losing weight and demonstrating his idea of equal time for various ethnic jokes.
And then came Miss Bassey in a stunning, well-filled white gown, bubbling with energy and with a program of songs that were either designed to show off the power of her voice, which is considerable, or were subjected to that power, willy-nilly.
Miss Bassey has an engaging, relaxed, readily communicative manner when she banters with her listeners between songs. But once the music starts, she seizes her song firmly, fills it with growing tension and tests its resilience to her sometimes startling verbal resources. When it is a fair match between voice and song, such as "This Is My Life," in which the dramatic structure of the song can support the dramatic projection of her voice, she builds a very valid bit of showbiz frenzy. And on a rhythmic song, she can trim her vocal power to clipped, staccato, shouted phrases that give the music a lively jump.
But on a gentle ballad such as "All the Sad Young Men" or "The Shadow of Your Smile" - try as she may to hold her instinctive waves of emotional projection in check, Miss Bassey overpowers the songs, bringing them to border of parody. At the Minskoff, she also frequently overpowers the sound system, which turns some of her stronger moments into shrill, ear-shattering climaxes.