Shirley Bassey meets Mrs Worthington's daughter - and, boy, does she deliver

Judi Connelli

The Talk of London, WC2

"Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd!" she sang, or, more accurately, commanded. And we did. You have to be pretty damn sure of yourself to open the second half of a cabaret set with selections from Sondheim's musical thriller, but having slayed her audience throughout the first half, had nothing to fear.

Connelli throws caution to the winds from the word go. Not for her some bland, bright uptempo "hello-isn't-this nice-I'm-so-glad-we're-all-here" opener favoured by lounge acts of legend. She launches, and I mean launches, herself into a medley from Michel Legrand/ Marilyn & Alan Bergman's riskily overripe score for Yentl. "There's no storm but I feel thunder," she quivers. One minute in and she's already in the danger-zone, teetering on the borders of territory belonging to the overwrought and over-the-top. Peggy Lee, she ain't. For one ghastly moment you think you're witnessing a cross between Shirley Bassey and Mrs Worthington's daughter - "It's a loud voice, and though it's not exactly flat/ She'll need a little more than that to earn a living wage" - but her conviction and power win you over.

There are times when you think she's Australia's answer to Bea Arthur - a marvellously resonant low voice topped off with smartly cut grey hair - but Arthur never even attempted this kind of emotional outpouring, let alone pulled it off. The voice is dramatic rather than beautiful and she uses it to underline meaning. Some of the songs are Streisand hand-me- downs (her version of "Down with Love" is an actionable steal) but whereas the latter long ago sacrificed meaning for golden tone, Connelli consistently goes for the emotional solar plexus.

"Every one of my numbers is a finale," she announces, self-mockingly, and there is a danger of repetition once you've cracked the Connelli code: build to a big finish as soon as possible then suddenly snatch it back and turn the final phrase into a whispered embrace. I'm exaggerating, but then so does she sometimes. "Send in the Clowns" has too many melodramatic pauses which tell us nothing new, but then she wipes you out with a little- known number from Ballroom or a selection from Dear World and all is forgiven.

There's a refreshing frankness about her which only adds to her appeal. If she wants to sing a song about a woman she will. As the icing on the cake she has the thing that nearly all the egos-with-lungs on the circuit lack: irony. Boy, does that pay dividends when singing such demanding material as this. The Frank Loesser medley is brilliantly put together and Thomas Helm plays the beautifully tailored arrangements with flair. Tomorrow she flies home to sing Phyllis in Sondheim's Follies. Lucky Sydney. Come back soon.

To 23 Jan 0171-420 0000.

David Benedict

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