Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
Ray Jessel, Wales-born songster who migrated to Canada where he wrote hit musical revues and wrote the score for the Broadway musical spectacle “Baker Street” which starred Fritz Weaver, Inga Swenson, Martin Gabel and had in its dancing chorus Christopher Walken and Tommy Tune, now lives in California. He writes for TV series and has won five MAC Awards for Original Songs. He is equally adept at sad ballads as he is at very special comic songs.
His current engagement opened Wednesday, October 16, at Don’t Tell Mama and he had a small but very enthusiastic crowd. Jessel had appeared at the Cabaret Convention Friday event at the Cutting Room singing his MAC Award winning “What She’s Got” and his Shirley Temple send up, “Life Sucks.” Both selections were featured tonight.
Jessel opened with special material about how contrary he is, hating everything that everyone else likes (personalities, songs, operas). Then he changed pace with a song he said was inspired by the glamorous thirties and forties, a love song entitled “Poor Little Heart,” and you could imagine Astaire and Rogers singing and dancing it.
His other MAC Award winning song, “Short Term Memory Loss Blues” did not disappoint us – he sang it as if he were singing it for the first time, even with the false second beginning! Then he fluffed up his hair and told how he is often called Albert Einstein, singing the clever “I’m A Genius” and donning a beret for his Parisian spoof, “Mon Amour.”
The great ballad was the sad song he wrote with his wife Cynthia Thompson “Since She’s No Longer In My Life.” Although Jessel is a great clown, he is able, like some of the great clowns, to do a serious song and bring tears to your eyes.
His encore was the special Irish song for an Irishman in the audience. It was his ode to “Shirley Levine,” an Irish colleen who does every Irish event with a Jewish twist!
All performers should flock to see Ray Jessel who is still writing fresh novelty songs and heart-breaking ballads.
Ray Jessel repeats Thursday, October 24 and Wednesday October 30 at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46 Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenue) both shows at 9:30 PM. Call (212) 757-0788 for reservations.