Jennifer Leigh Warren and Shirley Bassey are a match made in entertainment heaven, or so you will discover in Diamonds Are Forever: The Songs Of Dame Shirley Bassey, Warren’s one-woman tribute to Britain’s most successful female artist ever.


Playing tonight through Sunday at the Renberg Theatre under the inspired direction of Richard Jay-Alexander, Diamonds Are Forever takes fifteen of Dame Shirley’s greatest hits, backs them with a sensational six-piece band, and has Broadway’s and L.A.’s Warren perform them with Bassey’s trademark elegance, theatricality, glamour, and vocal pizzazz.

This is no celebrity impersonation. The fabulous Warren isn’t pretending to be Shirley Bassey, simply paying tribute to her in a voice and style reminiscent of the original’s, yet still very much her own.

Warren gives us a bit of Jennifer/Shirley trivia between song sets (both she and Bassey are 5’3” in their stocking feet and both divorced their first husband) along with childhood reminiscences (she grew up in Texas watching Dame Shirley on the Ed Sullivan Show). Mostly, however, Diamonds Are Forever is about the music.

From 1971’s “I’d Like To Hate Myself In The Morning” to 1957’s “Puh-Leeze! Mister Brown” to 1968’s “This Is My Life,” Warren takes us on a journey through Dame Shirley’s musical life. There’s Bassey’s very first single, 1956’s “Burn My Candle (At Both Ends),” recorded when Shirley was a mere nineteen and so suggestive it was banned by the BBC; the George Harrison-penned “Something,” Bassey’s single of which sold better than The Beatles’ in the UK; and Sweet Charity’s “Hey Big Spender,” which has front row fans stuffing (fake) dollar bills into Warren’s sexy beaded gown. There are, of course, Bassey’s Bond hits “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever,” along with the even more Bondesque “The Liquidator,” which Warren dubs “delicious and crazy all rolled into one.” Musical rhythms range from the bossa nova rhythms of “Going Going Gone” to the late ’60s/early ‘70s à-Go-Go beats of “What About Today” and “History Repeating.”

Looking glamorous and singing with some of the biggest and best pipes around, Warren wows her audience with as sensational a one-woman show as you’re likely to see all year. Her Vegas-ready backup band (musical director/conductor Kenneth Crouch on keyboards, Matt Lucich on drums, Aron Forbes on guitar, Carter Wallace on bass, Wesley Smith on woodwinds, Christopher Bautista on trumpet, and Dave Bass on clarinet, sax, and flute) are a treat for both ears and eyes. Crouch’s and Wesley Smith’s musical arrangements, James Smith III’s lighting, Judi Lewin’s wigs, Ali Rahimi for Mon Atelier’s gowns, and Drini’s make-up all contribute to one dazzling evening of musical entertainment. Ronn Goswick is production manager.

Warren concludes her Bassey tribute with a trio of particularly stunning performances: Jerry Herman’s gay anthem “I Am What I Am” (an ideal choice for the Renberg audience), a dramatic “The Greatest Performance Of My Life,” and an intimate “And I Love You So,” leaving her audience on their feet and wishing for a few more songs.

Diamonds Are Forever: The Songs Of Dame Shirley Bassey was conceived by Chris Isaacson, Warren, and Jay-Alexander. As performed to perfection by Jennifer Leigh Warren, it’s a show that begs to be taken on the road. Audiences from Southern California to New York are likely to be every bit as dazzled as was the Opening Night home crowd last night.

Renberg Theatre, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood.
–Steven Stanley
June 16, 2011
Photos: Chad Hill

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