Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Naughty or Nice.

Original music and lyrics by Ray Jessel with contributions by Cynthia Thompson. The Space. Adelaide Festival centre. Adelaide cabaret Festival. June 20. 2015

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Ray Jessel in Naughty or Nice

I urge everyone to check out the Youtube appearance ofctogenarian composer/lyricist, Ray Jessel, on America’s Got Talent. It is not only a testament to this remarkable cabaret entertainer’s wit and way with words, but an inspiration to all that you are never too old to entertain , or get an amazing thirteen million hits on Youtube for his Penis Song. In his show, Naughty Or Nice,Jessel proves that a wicked sense of humour, a flair for the ridiculous and startling originality are the tools of trade of a master of the racy rhyme and deliciously cheeky ditty.

The 85 year old with his splaying shockof white hair and moustache spreading across his upper lip and whom many still approach for late Albert Einstein’s autograph, shuffles to the piano,  positions himself purposefully and within seconds has his audience in an uproar of laughter at his original Short Term Memory Blues. With his sharp and cheeky Jewish humour, the amazing Jessel tops his opening triumph with the song that floored the judges on America’s Got Talent, She’s Got a Penis. And they just keep coming: Identity Theft , Naughty Or Nice, a Kurt Weill send-up, dedicated to cabaret festival Artistic Director, Barry Humphries and finishing up with The Shakespeare Tragedy Rag.  Closing lyrics in homage to Shirley Temple  sums up Jessel’s sanguine philosophy with a final Oi Weh:

When things are dark and gloomy/I don’t let the dark get to me/But instead I hold my head up high

I don’t wallow in self pity/Ijust sing this little ditty/Life sucks and then you die.

Ray Jessel - victorious at America's Got Talent
Songs are interspersed with anecdote: “It’s taken me eighty five years to get from Old South Wales to New South Wales.”. His struggle with producers when they asked him to write a score for the film, Dennis The Menace is told with wistful humour. Australian crooner, David Campbell has recorded his song Whatever Happened To Melody, and other songs have been recorded by such artsts as Michael Feinstein and Louis Armstrong. Surprisingly, Jessel did not start performing his own songs until he was 75 years old. He continues to write and record songs, often composed with his wife Cynthia Thompson.
Some may compare Jessel to the legendary satirists of song, Tom Lehrer and Alan Sherman, but Jessel is in  class of his own and if you ever have the chance to see him live, be careful not to laugh yourself to death.