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BWW Reviews: ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL 2015: RAY JESSEL - NAUGHTY OR NICE Is The Result Of Decades Of Unrecognised Brilliance

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 20th June 2015

Ray Jessel has been a songwriter for decades but only began performing cabaret at the age of 72. Now 85, he has just made his first trip to Adelaide with Ray Jessel - Naughty or Nice and, hopefully, he will be back again whenever possible. Jessel himself is both naughty and nice, but the title is actually that of one of his songs.

He grew up in Cardiff and gained his music degree from the University of Wales, before heading to Canada and then the USA. He joked that he grew up in South Wales, and it has taken him 85 years to get from Old South Wales to New South Wales.

In his long and productive career he has written for everybody from Louis Armstrong to Michael Feinstein, the latter's song, Whatever Happened to Melody?, was also recorded by our very own David Campbell, and which Jessel included in this performance. This song was written in collaboration with his lovely wife, Cynthia Thompson, as are many of his songs. Not all of his songs are comedic, and that variety really adds to the performance, and accentuates those that are. His songs have also been recorded by such luminaries as Jimmy Durante, Richard Burton, Sammy Davis, Jr., Vikki Carr, John Pizzarelli and Karen Akers.

Jessel was a TV producer/writer and musical theatre writer before starting his own cabaret show and wrote for such shows as The Love Boat, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Smothers Brothers Show. He was also lyricist for Richard Rodgers, the last to work with him, and was co-composer and lyricist of the Broadway Sherlock Holmes musical, Baker Street.

Jessel began with one of my favourites, The Short Term Memory Loss Blues, to which I can well relate, unfortunately. He then looked at the positive side of Identity Theft, then the very poignant ballad, I'm Alright Now, and into the title song, Naughty or Nice, running through a list of words that can and cannot be used, such as "Richard is nice, Dick is naughty".

His physical resemblance to Einstein, which he increased by dishevelling his hair and putting on an accent, led to I'm a Genius, another clever number, showing his knowledge and wit, as well as proving hilarious. He also has a clever way of throwing the audience, such as starting what seems to be a ballad, then suddenly turns out to be a song called, I Think About Sex.

The song that took him from being somebody that only serious cabaret fans knew about, to somebody world famous, with a Youtube video counting millions of hits, What She's Got, was included and, I suspect, there would have been a riot if had not been. He dedicated a number to Barry Humphries, harking back to the German Kabarett of the Weimar Republic era, featuring his take on Kurt Weill.

Nothing is sacred, even the Bard as we found in The Shakespearian Tragedy Rag, and even Shirley Temple didn't get off lightly with her reference leading into Life Sucks And Then You Die.

From the heights of hilarity, to deeply meaningful ballads, Jessel captivated the audience, with a queue quickly forming after the performance to get a copy of the CD that includes a number of the songs from this show, and to get a photo taken with him. Adelaide took this charming and eloquent man to their hearts and a return visit very soon is definitely needed.

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From This Author Barry Lenny