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Imp Jimmy Keys will tickle more than ivories in Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — A little off the wall. A little crazy.

That's how entertainer Jimmy Keys describes his 90-minute show, which incorporates nearly a dozen costume changes. One minute he's crooning a soothing medley of love songs from The Phantom of the Opera; the next he's donning a shoulder-length wig and huge wax lips in a zany imitation of Mick Jagger.

Keys says he'll do just about anything to entertain an audience.

"I want my audiences to feel I've touched all their emotions through both comedy and music," Keys said from his home in Naples. "Audiences crave variety, and that's what I do best."

Keys has taken his one-man act all over the United States, Europe and the Caribbean. At 7 p.m. Saturday, he will make his first appearance at the Hernando High School Performing Arts Center in Brooksville.

For the 58-year-old Brit, the freedom of doing what he wants onstage makes his chosen vocation that much more fun.

"I played in bands for nearly 20 years, and I had fun doing it," Keys said. "But having complete control over what I perform is even better. And it's easy for me because I grew up loving all kinds of music."

An impish figure who dresses in a Union Jack-inspired suit, Keys describes himself as more a master of parody than an impressionist. Like his idol, the late Victor Borge, he blends his considerable skills on the keyboard with a tart wit.

Artists Elton John, Michael Jackson and Joe Cocker are favorite targets for spoofs, as is Prince Charles, whom he pokes fun at by donning a pair of oversized ears.

He draws the line at "blue humor."

"It's not me," he says. "The one thing I don't ever want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable. There isn't much humor in that."

Born James Hewson in Kent, England, Keys studied classical piano for several years with the hope of one day performing on the world's great stages. But the unbridled successes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones changed all that.

By his teens, Keys was playing nightclubs with an R&B band that backed American soul singers Percy Sledge, Ben E. King and Eddie Floyd when they toured Europe. In 1981, he struck out on his own and worked the piano bar circuit for a couple of years before landing a temporary job in a tourist bar in Bermuda.

What was supposed to be a monthlong gig ended up lasting 13 years, including a five-year stint at the famous Southampton Princess Hotel.

"It was interesting because I played for people from all over the world," Keys said. "It made me appreciate how much I enjoy seeing people enjoying themselves."

For the past eight years, Keys has been performing both locally and on the road, averaging more than 120 concerts a year.

"It never seems like a job to me," he said. "What makes it especially wonderful is that the audience is all ages. It's an incredible feeling to be able make an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old laugh."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1435.

if you go

Never a dull moment

The Jimmy Keys Show will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Hernando High School Performing Arts Center, 700 Bell Ave., Brooksville. Tickets are $25. Call (352) 799-5577.

Imp Jimmy Keys will tickle more than ivories in Brooksville 03/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 26, 2009 5:18pm]

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