Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Sat 20 Jun
Octogenerian Ray Jessel made a flying visit to Adelaide to perform only two shows at the Cabaret Festival, but what a performance it was! Having enjoyed ‘overnight success’ as a result of his hilarious stint on America’s Got Talent last year and the subsequent viral YouTube clip enjoyed by millions all over the world, Jessel is keen to capitalise on his ‘instant’ fame.
However audiences may be surprised to realise that Jessel has in fact been thoroughly immersed in show business since graduating from the University of Wales with a Music Degree. Cue Hollywood, writing first musical material then comedy sketches for The Dean Martin Show, The Carol Burnett Show and a long stint with The Love Boat before enjoying many years as a composer and writer on Broadway.
Taking to the stage himself has proven to be a fabulous move, enabling Jessel to showcase his music and lyric writing talents whilst sharing his unique persona with audiences worldwide. In Naughty Or Nice, Jessel performs his own compositions, a mix of comedy pieces, show tunes and romantic (if tragic) ballads.
Sitting at the piano he opens with Short-Term Memory Loss Blues, quickly establishing the tone of the evening and his own ability to poke fun at himself and the perils of ageing. What followed was a delightful series of witty songs including Identity Theft, Einstein Snap (why fight the resemblance?)and of course the infamous What She’s Got (better known as the Penis Song on YouTube).
When singing his ballad material, there was something inherently touching and sweet in his performance, particularly in his piece What Happened To You And Me. He played the piano with a gentle touch that perfectly complemented these moments but then of course hit us with another set of pure Jessel material – The Shakespearian Tragedy Rag and an ode to Shirley Temple in Life Sucks And Then You Die were particular highlights.
Naughty Or Nice was a wholly enjoyable experience with a mix of bawdy and beautiful songs made all the more appealing by watching Ray Jessel perform live himself. Giving credit to his wife of 35 years, Christine Thompson, for much of his material, Jessel is obviously enjoying his time in the theatric sun, the partnership clearly working enough magic to win over his Cabaret audience in fine style.
Rosie van Heerde