A Cabaret Christmas with Craig Jessup at the Aurora

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Harley Jessup
Craig Jessup

Craig Jessup has found that to really do actor and composer Sir Noël Coward's work, he needs to do it in a British accent. So that's what he did with his three-month sold out show at Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, as well as at other shows at the Exit and Eureka Theatres.

Now Jessup, who recently released an album of original work, "Vantage Point," is back with a Christmas show, "A Swell Noël," at the Aurora Theatre, which features some of Coward's work as well as Jacques Brel, Stephen Sondheim, the Gershwins, and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

Jessup, who has been interested in Coward's life and work for more than a decade, says that he has a lot of fun doing his songs.

"He had a way of turning a phrase that was hysterical," he said. "He was sarcastic and biting and satirical. He was big in World War II, and did songs like "Bad Times Just Around the Corner."

Coward has a particular connection to the holiday being born on Dec.16 and named after the holiday, Jessup says, but the songs Jessup's doing for "A Swell Noël" are not all holiday songs.

"There's a few traditional Christmas songs," he said. "But I'm aware the holidays mean different things to different people, so I put in all kinds of songs."

Jessup, who has performed at more than 30 nightclubs and cabarets all over San Francisco, calls this show an overview of his career with a holiday slant. He says being at the Aurora's upstairs venue, Harry's UpStage, will make it special.

"They'll serve wine and beer and create a cabaret atmosphere we don't see much these days," he said. "It's a very specific art form that lends itself to bringing audience along with you in a dramatic way, so I'm really looking forward to it. It's up close and personal and adds a different layer of meaning to everything, so people become more involved."

Jessup says he is looking forward to doing the show for six nights.

"You get a chance to get into the material," he said. "There's a different emotional layer. The holidays bring out so many emotions anyway and not always positive ones, and my songs deal with all of that."

"A Swell Noel" plays Dec. 17-22, at Aurora Theatre Company's second stage cabaret performance space, Harry's UpStage in Berkeley. Tickets are $23-32. For more information, call (510) 843-4822 or go to auroratheatre.org.

To get you in the mood, check out Craig Jessup singing "This Christmas Eve":

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