STEVE ROSS ON BROADWAY - STEVE ROSS TRANSPORTS BIRDLAND
The urbane Steve Ross has been one of our preeminent cabaret artists for so long, you would think he might relax and preen. This is very far from a truth that finds the virtuoso pianist/arranger/interpreter of song in better voice than ever, creating new shows that reflect artistry and singular taste. Though no one presents the work of several iconic authors better, Ross continues to broaden his base (and ours) and to hone his craft as well as entertain.
Steve Ross on Broadway is a mélange of organically grouped songs = suites mixing such as the Gershwins, Weil, Dietz & Schwartz, Kern, Loesser, Rodgers & Hart, Herman, Kander & Ebb...The performer offers both early material and that which is more familiar/recent as well as two adroit, notably arranged instrumentals. Part of the great pleasure of a Ross show is deft manipulation of our feelings, stilling hearts for only so long before emerging playful; coupling songs which create an emotional path.
We begin and end with a snappy “Call Me Back” (Frank Underwood/Stan Freeman from Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen), the anthem of a showman who longs for an encore. It’s a piano roll/music hall tune, ebullient, but not without message. “Sweet and Lowdown” follows conjuring Busby Berkeley tappers. (George and Ira Gershwin from Tip-Toes.) Ross and his piano remember when. (Few performers more ably execute numbers in musical context.)
Bob Merrill’s Carnival is represented by several numbers beginning with “Mira” during which years fall away from Ross in seconds. Just as we’re set drifting to the poignant “Always You,” (you can hear a pin drop), the performer rebounds with an infectiously happy “Once in a Lifetime” (Comden & Green/Jule Stein from Subways Are For Sleeping) presented in perfect tandem with “Shine On Your Shoes” (Dietz and Schwartz from Flying Colors). Remembering Fred Astaire’s beguiling performance of the latter, one notices that Ross and Astaire both phrase with elegance, awareness, and innate brio.
Not content with temporary grins, Ross then proceeds with “Nobody’s Chasing Me,” poor Juno’s amusing lament about her philandering husband from Mount Olympus: The flood is chasing the levy/The wolf is out on a spree/The Ford is chasing the Chevy/But nobody’s chasing me...(Cole Porter from Out of This World). Though his eyebrows meet in a puzzled peak, the performer remains piquantly deadpan.
“I met our special guest years ago. I don’t remember the date, but I remember the time. We met at nine...” We met at eight, corrects Lilian Montevecchi entering with a bejeweled and feathered flourish. (“I Remember It Well”-Lerner and Lowe from Gigi.) When Ross plaintively asks Am I getting old? and she responds On, no, not you, the exchange brims with real time affection. The song has resonance.
Montevecchi then performs “Si Vous Aimez Les Poitrines” (Cole Porter from Nymph Errant) with a little French, a rolled ‘r,’ distinct growl and the seductive luster of a woman who could teach the art. She even gets us all to sing la-las between verses. (Ah those articulate hands.)
Next is Maury Yeston’s “Bonjour L’Amour” (from the actress’s role as prima ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya in Grand Hotel.) I had the pleasure of seeing Montevecchi both in the original production and recently, in a concert version at 54Below. The passion, joy, hope, and disbelief with which she invests the song continues to be visceral, perhaps even more so now. Watch for her own show at 54Below in February. The artist delivers. And she’s fun!
“There aren’t many ballads that deal lyrically and existentially with our state in the world” is Ross’s introduction to “Adrift On a Star” (E.Y. Harburg/Jacques Offenbach from The Happiest Girl in the World.) It’s a slow, delicate waltz. “Kiss Her Now” (Jerry Herman from Dear World) emerges from the hush: Before you half remember what her smile was like,/Before you half recall the day you found her,/Kiss her now, while she’s young, Kiss her now, while she’s yours...literally evoking sighs. Ross’s vocals are deceptively simple. He communicates the authentic essence of a song as if sitting inside looking out.
Steve Ross is a master uncomfortable with laurels, ever enriching music.
Join Ross for the simply wonderful “Mischa, Marlene and Me” at the Neue Galerie on East 86th Street October 1 and 8, 2015.
Alix Cohen, Woman Around Town, July 29, 2015
STEVE ROSS ON BROADWAY - the Prince of Cabaret is perfection at Birdland
When I think about writing a review about Steve Ross, it’s akin to writing a review for Marilyn Maye. Now that I’ve used every superlative and adjective known to mankind, what can I say?
He’s always a Prince . . . Steve Ross, is the acknowledged Prince of Cabaret, but has taken on an additional title in many a cabaret aficionado’s book . . . Prince of Perfection!
In his latest elegant and sophisticated interpretation at Birdland on July 27th, Mr. Ross, once again, proved why he will never relinquish his much deserved crown as he spent 90 minutes at the piano giving bountiful pleasure to a packed house on a trip up and down the Great White Way beginning with an obscure tune from Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen (Underwood/Freeman) “Call Me Back” (call me flash in the pan, trash in the can but . . . Call Me Back), opening a night of joyful songs from Cole Porter patter (“Nobody’s Chasing Me” from Out of This World 1950) to delicious Gershwin (Sweet and Low-Down, Fascinating Rhythm, Soon) and more.
The always haunting refrains of Kurt Weill – “Here I’ll Stay” (music by Alan Jay Lerner from Love Life 1948) was juxtaposed with a novelty written in 1943 with Ogden Nash lyrics from One Touch of Venus – “How Much I Love You” – love you more than a wasp can sting, more than a grapefruit squirts . . . (talk about patter words!)
Bob Merrill’s enticingly lovely 1961 Carnival produced some of the most luscious songs including “Mira” and “Always You,” enhanced by the grandeur of sound and style of Mr. Ross. At one point, I thought Rudy Vallee had been reincarnated for the occasion.
There were so many highlights but one that immediately comes to mind is Yip Harburg/Jacques Offenbach’s 1961 poignant ballad “Adrift On A Star” from The Happiest Girl in the World.
A well thought out pairing of Jerry Herman’s “Kiss Her Now (Dear World-1968) and Kander & Ebb’s “Nowadays (Chicago – 1975) was filled with wondrous piano swirls.
No show is ever complete without a Sondheim tune that included “Buddy’s Blues” from Follies 1971, leading into the introduction of guest artist, Lilliane Montevecchi looking svelte and sexy as they dueted on Lerner & Loewe’s 1973 “I Remember It Well” (Gigi), then giving the very dramatic Ms. Montevecchi her moment in the spotlight performing “Bonjour, Amour,” reprising her Broadway role from Maury Yeston’s 1989 Grand Hotel.
More fun and novelty patter was in store with “Unrequited Lover’s March”(New Faces of 1968, Ronny Graham) followed by some of the most romantic songs ever written “Falling In Love With Love (The Boys From Syracuse – Rodgers & Hart, 1938); “All The Things You Are “(Very Warm For May, Hammerstein/Kern – 1939); “My Heart Is So Full of You” (Most Happy Fella, Loesser 1956) – each reinterpreted with a magic that only a Prince can bring to an entrancing, enthralling evening of song.
Yes, we did call him back for more as the evening came to a close all to soon.
Accompanying on bass was Jesse Bielenberg.
The audience read like a who’s who of Broadway including Joan Copeland, Lee Roy Reams, Joe Sirola and more.
Photo by Russ Weatherford
Sandi Durell, Theater Pizzazz, July 29, 2015
AN EVENING WITH STEVE ROSS
Steve Ross’s most recent show at Birdland shared a collection of his favorites, past and present. It included songs by Cole Porter, Noël Coward (nobody interprets these more authentically), and “Russia’s greatest export” Irving Berlin, as well as a sumptuous musical medley of Piaf songs, a number written for Eddie Cantor (trust Ross to unearth little gems), and a handful of more contemporary selections. Ross continues to define the word “brio.”
Through some kind of alchemy, he makes even that which is well known sound fresh. In a group of what he calls “people who are, how shall I say this, riddled with sophistication,” those familiar with classic material, the artist both elicits laughter and stills our hearts.
Part of this is sensitive comprehension of both lyrics and, more elusively, style. (Ross is an old soul.) Part is the excellence and originality of textural piano arrangements which embellish surely, but, subtly, and their adroit execution. Part is the infectious ardor with which he communicates, never, like Bobby Short, going over the top.
Opening with two by Berlin, Ross conjures Busby Berkeley production numbers. Next, is the Cantor ditty, “Hungry Women” (Milton Ager/Jack Yellen from Florenz Ziegfeld’s Whoopee ): “I feed ’em and weep/They never eat cheap….” He has a way with comic timing best described as “droll,” a lost sensibility. More Berlin includes a rendition of “I Love a Piano” which, Ross quips, was “written for me in 1915.” Several classical themes are embedded. “17 years of piano lessons and that’s all that’s left. I think it’s tragic.” Not.
The gift of being droll is further epitomized by “And Her Mother Came, Too” (Dion Titheradge/Ivor Novello) and “The Tale of the Oyster” (Porter), perhaps the only song that marries social climbing and fine dining. These require “aplomb,” another term I rarely use.
A trio of ‘60s/’70s songs features “99 Miles from L.A.” (Hal David/Albert Hammond), which I’d never thought anything more than pedestrian (no joke intended). Here, it’s almost tumultuous, heated by anticipation. The pianist’s right hand adds unexpected undercurrent.
And then there’s the waltzy “Time in a Bottle” (Jim Croce) which slows like a wind-up victrola, then quickens to the crank of an unseen hand.
Choices from the oeuvre of Fred Astaire arrive tart, besotted, or dancey—from the sumptuous, ballroom “(You’d Be So) Easy to Love” and “Cheek to Cheek” to a soft shoe “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” during which one can practically hear the shhhhh of sand beneath feet.
His show recipe often places the mischievous after the stunning or vice versa. Several exhilarating Porters precede dark, galvanic selections from the artist’s Café Sabarsky show Mischa, Marlene, and Me: “(Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage) Mrs. Worthington” (Coward) is followed by the author’s “I’ll See You Again,” an immensely moving performance during which Ross’s tenor rends the heart; the jaunty “I Love a Piano” is tailgated by an interpretation of “What’ll I Do?” (also Berlin) which is wistful to the raw bone.
We’ve been in the company of a virtuoso.
Alix Cohen, CabaretScenes.org, May 25, 2015
STEVE ROSS' SUPERB, SOPHISTICATED MUSICIANSHIP
Attending a multilingual performance at Café Sabarsky in The Neue Galerie (86th Street and Fifth Avenue) is like stepping back in time. The room speaks to an era of higher refinement, not stuffy, but encouraging pedigree and brio. Few artists epitomize this more than celebrated cabaret veteran singer/pianist Steve Ross (recent recipient of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from MAC), whose fascinating and emotionally translucent shows here never fail to enlighten and entertain.
Last Thursday evening, Ross offered a show called Mischa, Marlene, and Me. Mischa refers to Russian born composer Mischa Spoliansky (left in photo, bottom) who emigrated to Berlin where he wrote popular songs/literary cabaret (in a club established by Max Reinhardt), and then to London where he became a successful film composer. Marlene is la Dietrich. It was Spoliansky who, after a bad audition in Berlin, made young Marlene lower octaves to what we now recognize as her iconic sound. She was discovered, singing in one of Spoliansky's shows, by Josef von Sternberg then searching for his lead actress in The Blue Angel. A third contributor to/inspiration for this evening, we're informed, is The Comedian Harmonists*, an all male, close harmony group that was internationally popular between 1928-1934 before those among them who were Jewish had to flee.
Between Ross's mellifluous narrative, he sings (and plays) songs in English, German and a smattering of French, most of which are unfamiliar. A jaunty "Lola" ("They call her naughty Lola/Her little pianola/Is busy night and day. . . ") slows as if playing on a wind-up Victrola, then segues into "Falling in Love Again." Rarely heard without kitchy interpretation, this rendition of one of Dietrich's signature songs is filled with exhaustion and ennui (Friedrich Hollander/ English lyrics Frank Eyton). Ross has a gift for eschewing the more common, long distance view in favor of presenting material as it might've been performed then. He "gets" history and context.
The larky, dark "It's All a Swindle" (Mischa Spoliansky/English lyric Jeremy Lawrence), during which it's easy to imagine a tap line, is so perfectly entwined with John Kander/Fred Ebb's "Money, Money" (from Cabaret) one might assume they were both written in the '30s. Keeping it light, Ross then gives us The Harmonists' "When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba" (Herman Hupfeld) from 1930's The Little Show. "Down in Havana there's a funny-looking boob-a/He plays the rumba round the tuba down in Cuba . . . With his oompah-oompah-oompah/They prefer it to the booba-doopa-doopa . . . " This kind of thing has to be delivered deadpan--and is, every tongue twisting word of it, even double time. Accompaniment is infectious.
"Ooh-la-la!" (Walter Jurmann/ Desmond Carter) made its way to England where it was popularized by Jack Buchanan, the British Fred Astaire. It's pure music hall, a bit of "ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay" and a bit of ersatz can-can. Ross sings in piquant English, Franglais and French. A hoot. "Red Hot Annabelle" (Mischa Spoliansky/ Desmond Carter), used in the 1939 film Over the Moon, adds sophistication to spirit with lyrics worthy of Cole Porter. "If I'd written the rhymes ecstasy/vexed ta see/all the boys crane their necks ta see, I'd given myself a day off," quips Ross.
One of the most beautiful songs of the evening is "Midnight" (Mischa Spoliansky/Michael Steffan.) A shadowy, wistful waltz, the tune is an evocative ode what was then lost. " . . . One final dance, not even the chance to know your name . . . Slowly I return to one more gin/drawing in the midnight that's now Berlin . . . " When the vocal goes up an octave, Ross sits straighter on the piano bench and his eyebrows rise. Unlike most tenors, there's no unwarranted brightness, no loss of control. A flicker of strain reflects the bruising lyric without cracking.
In 1979, years after her farewell tour, Dietrich was lured back to the screen by David Bowie's film Just a Gigolo, which took place in post World War I Berlin. She sang the title song on the recording. Ross has performed it before, though perhaps never so appropriately enmeshed. No contemporary artist does it better. Though objectively melancholy, the number is presented with a little smile, a little shrug. Like Chaplin's little tramp, the gigolo accepts his fate for good and poor. A gem.
"Just as Alfred Hitchcock always does a cameo, I always include a Cole Porter song," Ross tells us. "I'm in luck because Marlene sang this in Hitchcock's Stage Fright." "Laziest Gal in Town" has a deft, insinuating ragtime feel. "She turns him down . . . waaayyy down." The song raises its chin, swivels its hips, lowers its eyes. None of this is overt. With "Good Night" (Paul Abraham/English lyric Adrian Ross), we leave the resolute style, burnished elegance, and grisly decadence of an era that lives on in art as well as infamy.
Steve Ross's respectful, redolent proxy and superb musicianship is an oasis.
*Harmony, a musical about the Comedian Harmonists, music--Barry Manilow, book and lyrics--Bruce Sussman, premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in the fall of 1997 and played the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles early 2014.
Alix Cohen, BroadwayWorld.com, April 25, 2015
CHEEK TO CHEEK - CRAZY COQS
Gorgeous in gold, the sparkly, sequinned Karen Oberlin, every inch the classy blonde that Ginger Rogers played to smooth, sophisticated Fred Astaire in their ten-movie career as the 1930s dance darlings of Depression-era America, provides the wow factor to cabaret legend Steve Ross’ annual visit to the Crazy Coqs.
It is an inspired idea for this engaging duo, clearly on the same musical wavelength, to team up for this tribute to Fred and Ginger in a show that has already enjoyed a much-lauded outing at Manhattan’s plush 54 Below nightspot.
Ross, a 55-year cabaret veteran and longtime disciple of Astaire’s timing and style, lovingly performs songs like ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ and ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’ that have meant so much to him down the years.
As Astaire’s voice played second fiddle to his extraordinary dancing, so it is with Ross, whose virtuosity on the piano and unmatched repertoire of, and passion for, the Great American Songbook turn a pleasing but fairly average set of pipes into something so much more.
So while Oberlin flirts winningly through the audience with the sexy ‘I’ll Be Hard to Handle’ (from Roberta, the 1935 film that gave us the better-known ‘I Won’t Dance’), it is Ross, New York’s crown prince of cabaret, who earns the warmest applause of the evening with his thrilling piano-only version of ‘Begin the Beguine’.
The inclusion of the Cole Porter classic in this form is justified here because Astaire and Eleanor Powell (who became Fred’s co-star a year after he split with Ginger) danced so memorably to an instrumental version of it in The Broadway Melody of 1940.
Astaire and Rogers made nine movies together between 1933 and 1939, with Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time the following year, which spawned the Oscar-winning song ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ (Dorothy Fields-Jerome Kern), best remembered for the chemistry of their dancing, before reuniting ten years later for a tenth, The Barkleys of Broadway, the only film of theirs made in colour.
‘The Way You Look Tonight’ wasn’t the only Oscar song associated with the pair because two years earlier ‘The Continental’ from The Gay Divorcee was similarly garlanded. Ross and Oberlin’s take on both is part of a 75-minute joyride, the former as part of a mash-up from Swing Time that also features ‘A Fine Romance’ and ‘Pick Yourself Up’.
Two encores, Irving Berlin’s ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’ (from Follow the Fleet) and George Gershwin’s ‘’S Wonderful’ (Astaire with Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face), send everyone home with a smile on their faces.
Rogers, better known as an actress and dancer, wasn’t the greatest singer of all time, but at least it is her voice you hear in those timelessly elegant black-and-white movies that helped raise spirits after the Great Depression, whereas her dance contemporaries Cyd Charisse and Powell generally needed to be dubbed.
Oberlin shows what Rogers could do long before her Astaire period when she sings ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘But Not For Me’, two memorable songs from Girl Crazy, the 1930 Gershwins musical she did with the debuting Ethel Merman.
The show turned the 19-year-old Ginger into an overnight star and paved the way for that never-to-be-forgotten partnership which entranced the world. Now Ross and Oberlin are seeing to it that, 80 years on, their songs stay on the map for a different generation.
One wonders, however, when the knowledgeable and engaging Ross finally shuts the lid on his immaculate piano who will keep alive and carry the torch for a world and lifestyle that no longer exist.
Jeremy Chapman, Musical Theatre Review, November 26, 2014
CHEEK TO CHEEK - CRAZY COQS
Karen Oberlin was last seen at The Crazy Coqs a year ago when she presented her sparkling tribute to Harold Arlen and ‘Yip’ Harburg, while Steve Ross is well known to cabaret enthusiasts as a master of popular song, a splendidly versatile vocalist and a superb pianist. Ross has presented countless programmes featuring the great songwriters, but for this latest intriguing evening the selections are numbers introduced or identified with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Irving Berlin said that he would rather hear Astaire sing than any other male vocalist (Alice Faye was his favourite female singer). Berlin is well represented here, along with Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers. Only Rodgers & Hart failed to score an Astaire-Rogers movie. Though close to thirty songs are featured in the act, one could name around thirty more that might have been included.
Evergreens – ‘Cheek to cheek’, ‘Night and day‘, ‘The way you look tonight’, ‘I won’t dance’ – are given fine treatment by Oberlin and Ross, but there is also a good share of less expected material associated with Fred and Ginger such as Berlin’s delightful ‘Syncopated walk’ that Vernon and Irene Castle pranced to in Watch Your Step and ‘Embraceable you’, introduced by Rogers (somewhat inaudibly by most accounts) in the Gershwin musical Girl Crazy. Oberlin has the rarest number, Oscar Levant and Dorothy Fields’s ‘Don’t mention love to me’, from a minor RKO movie, In Person, and she has fun with one of the lesser known songs from Roberta, ‘I’ll be hard to handle’. Ross, never happier than when performing Cole Porter, warmly caresses the rueful ballad, ‘After you, who?’ from the stage version of The Gay Divorce, and solos on piano for a rapturous account of ‘Begin the beguine’.
Oberlin and Ross team particularly well when trading humorous quips – a partly spoken ‘Let’s call the whole thing off’ is a treat – and there are some humorous anecdotes as well as some pithy documentation – when Rogers made her Broadway debut in Girl Crazy, Astaire was the choreographer for ‘Embraceable you’. There are also some rarely heard lyrics – in ‘But not for me’ Oberlin resurrects the little heard concluding couplet, “Love ain’t done right by Nell, however, what the hell!”. Ross reminds us that ‘I guess I’ll have to change my plan’ was considered shocking when written (for the 1929 revue, The Little Show) because of the line, “Why did I buy those blue pajamas before the big affair began?”. It was banned on radio. Oberlin gets chuckles with her Pig Latin slang version of ‘We’re in the Money’, which Rogers did in Gold Diggers of 1933.
Oberlin and Ross remind us of ‘The Carioca’ and ‘The Continental’, the big production numbers, rarely heard today, from the first two films Astaire and Rogers made together, Flying Down to Rio and The Gay Divorcee. The voices of Ross and Oberlin blend as harmoniously as did the feet of Astaire and Rogers, and their show can be summed up in the title of their final encore: ‘S’wonderful!’.
Tom Vallance, ClassicalSource.com, November 25, 2014
CHEEK TO CHEEK
I’m not talking about yanking someone off stage, I loved this show. However I was almost responsible for a wardrobe malfunction, and even though Karen is great to look at and it would have been an interesting photo op I’m glad it was not. Karen changes dresses mid way through the show and I happened to be waiting for the next great pic when she asked me to help zip up her dress. I guess she thought I would be adept at the maneuver because of my career in the garment center. What she didn’t know was that I’m able to get the zipper up but as my wife Eda will tell you, I can never manage the hook to the lock it in. Luckily as Steve Ross was about to call her on stage I asked a professional from the 54 Below staff to assist and the show continued.
I had a hard time believing Steve Ross was not Fred Astaire even though the only movement of Steve’s feet were on the pedals of the piano. Steve is an icon of Cabaret, his piano stylings and vocals, his understanding of the Great American Songbook’s performers and composers never fail to produce one of the most exceptional cabaret experiences you can have. Pair him up with the wonderful voice, acting and musicality of Karen Oberlin and you get something that is more than Astaire and Rogers albeit without dancing. This show is smart, sophisticated, romantic, and for the first time the sensual red decor of 54 Below gave way to the wonderful black and white visions and sounds of those movies that are so much a part of our music history.
Stephen Sorokoff, Times Square Chronicles, June 12, 2014
CHEEK TO CHEEK
Steve Ross and Karen Oberlin are the perfect pair to celebrate the music of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and, as was said about Fred and Ginger, Ross gave Oberlin class and she gave him sex appeal. The pair was a treat to watch interacting and their voices blended beautifully together. They told the story of Astaire and Rogers with charm and wit. Both performers were at the top of their game and performed seamlessly together.
The show featured many of the songs by Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern that Astaire and Rogers performed together, but also included songs that each had introduced outside of the nine films they made together. Ross’s “After You, Who?” and “My Shining Hour” were beautifully presented. Oberlinreminded us that Rogers introduced both “Embraceable You” and “But Not for Me” in Girl Crazy. Oberlin sang a hilarious “We’re in the Money” in Pig Latin, and Ross displayed his virtuosity on the piano with “Begin the Beguine.” Their duets were a delight—especially memorable were “Cheek to Cheek,” performed with Oberlin sitting at the piano, and the closing number, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”
Ron Forman, Cabaret Scenes, June 11, 2014
CHEEK TO CHEEK
Whenever I attend a big event of the International Al Jolson Society, which usually consists of about 100 people out of the nearly 1,000-member organization, I probably bring the average age of the group down by about 10 years. And since I was born when Dwight Eisenhower was President that should tell you something about how long it's been since the heyday of Al Jolson, who died in 1950. Jolson was not only the greatest Broadway musical performer at the beginning of the 20th century, he was the star of the first talking film, The Jazz Singer, which in just 13 years will celebrate its 100th anniversary. To paraphrase a line in a song from the musical 1776, "Will anybody care?" By 2027, will the only people who know about the iconic Al Jolson be music and film historians, entertainment archeologists, and whatever fanatics are left in the Jolson Society? Will there be any "younger" folks coming along to keep the name and memory of Al Jolson alive?
Jolson isn't the only legendary American entertainer or composer whose legacy could evaporate over time unless new generations of singers and musicians appreciate them enough to perform their work. I thought about this Thursday night as I watched two of New York's best cabaret performers--Steve Ross and Karen Oberlin--pay homage to the music and movies associated with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, arguably one of the greatest dance partnerships ever captured on film. Astaire and Rogers first appeared together on a movie screen in 1933 (they were supporting actors in Flying Down to Rio). Will we still be celebrating them in the year 2033? And, by extension, will entertainers--cabaret or otherwise--still be singing the George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, and Dorothy Fields songs Astaire and Rogers helped turn into standards of the Great American Songbook (GAS)?
If Ross and Oberlin have anything to say about it (or in this case, sing about it), the dancing and singing duo will live forever. Their recent tribute at 54 Below, Cheek to Cheek, was a show oozing charm, class, charisma, and chemistry, but most of all they conveyed their love for these legendary performers and the classic tunes associated with them.
Ross and Oberlin were an ideal partnership for this particular cabaret dance, as both have recently staged individual tribute shows to the icons. Since 2010, Ross' Putting On the Ritz Astaire set has played to rave reviews around the country, while Oberlin wowed audiences during two performances of a Ginger Rogers Century program in Boston in 2011. Combining the musically erudite piano man Ross and his Astaire-like style, with the vocally luscious Oberlin and her Rogers-like charm, seemed to be a match made in New York cabaret heaven. With savvy guidance from their director Walter Willison (and subtle musical support on bass from Jesse Bielenberg), Ross and Oberlin covered all or parts of 28 songs from eight out the 10 films the dancing duo starred in together (overall, there were songs from 15 films and one Broadway show), and included some cool historical anecdotes and personal asides, yet they still managed to keep the show moving briskly along like Astaire and Rogers gliding across a dance floor.
The duo looked deliciously retro as they took the stage; Ross in a black tux (sans the top hat, white tie and tails), Oberlin in a form-fitting gold sequent gown, and they opened with a sprightly "I Won't Dance" (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields) from the 1935 film Roberta, then segued into duets on Irving Berlin's "Isn't This a Lovely Day" (from Top Hat, 1935) and George and Ira Gershwin's jaunty "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off" (from Shall We Dance, 1937). Ross' first solo came from an Astaire film without Rogers, 1953's The Band Wagon. On his rendition of "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan," Ross again proved that nobody else in cabaret is as ideal a fit for conjuring Fred Astaire's relaxed crooning. He may no longer possess powerful pipes, but Ross can deliver a Berlin, Gershwin or Porter lyric with the best of them. And while he may not regularly play the Café Carlyle, in style, substance, and dedication to the GAS, Ross is the closest thing cabaret now has to the late and legendary Bobby Short.
Speaking of perfect fits, with her success at delivering classic songs connected with Rogers and Doris Day, Oberlin has cornered the cabaret market on homages to blonde, beautiful, singing film legends. Her opening solo salvos included a sweet and light medley of two songs from Rogers' star turn in the 1930 Broadway musical, Girl Crazy, the George and Ira Gershwin standards, "Embraceable You" and "But Not For Me." Later, during a fun version of "We're In the Money" (from the 1933 Busby Berkley film Golddiggers of 1933), Oberlin related how Rogers' played with the original lyric and then delivered the sexiest bit of Pig Latin you'll ever hear in a cabaret show. But her best solo section came at the show's midpoint when she sensually slinked through the audience on "I'll Be Hard to Handle" (from Roberta, and which was also part of Oberlin's 2012 Songs of Daring Dames show), then adroitly mounted the piano for a lilting "I'll String Along With You" (from the 1934 film starring Rogers and Dick Powell, Twenty Million Sweethearts, and a song Oberlin performs on her recent CD with guitarist Sean Harkness, A Wish), and followed with the intense Dorothy Fields/Oscar Levant ballad, "Don't Mention Love To Me" (from the 1935 Rogers film sans Astaire, In Person).
But the "Wow" moment of the show came next and it was, ironically, on an instrumental only and on a song not from an Astaire/Rogers film. Ross' piano arrangement of Cole Porter's classic, "Begin the Beguine" (from Broadway Melody of 1940, in which Eleanor Powell became Astaire's dancing co-star a year after his split from Rogers) was so stirringly cinematic some of the phrases sounded like parts of the score of Lawrence of Arabia. Then on a jazzy mini-mash up of Irving Berlin songs--"Putting On The Ritz" (Blue Skies, 1946) and "Stepping Out With My Baby" (Easter Parade, 1948)--Ross' fingers floated along the keyboard like an elegant Astaire tap routine.
After a lovely duet of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer ballad, "My Shining Hour" (The Sky's The Limit, 1943, Astaire with Joan Leslie), Oberlin sat next to Ross at the piano, which according to Steve gave "new meaning to the phrase cheek to cheek." Naturally, the duo's delightful finale included that classic Irving Berlin song from Top Hat, connected to Berlin's romantic and deceptively haunting, "Let's Face The Music and Dance" (Follow the Fleet, 1936).
During the 1930s, the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, with its transcendent melodies and transformative choreography, provided an escape for tens of millions of Americans dealing with the Great Depression. And for the audience at 54 Below, there couldn't have been a more fitting encore for Ross and Oberlin's wonderful 75-minute nostalgic escape than the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me" from Shall We Dance. Let's hope they'll never take those movies and that music away from us. Perhaps we'll need another generation of entertainers like Steve Ross and Karen Oberlin to keep it all alive.
Stephen Hanks, BroadwayWorld.com, July 20, 2014
CHEEK TO CHEEK
Steve Ross and Karen Oberlin sing the songs of Astaire and Rogers
54 Below, New York, NY
As affairs go, this foursome is plummy, but without scandal. Karen Oberlin’s tribute to the multitalented Ginger Rogers was showcased at Rogers’ Centennial Celebration, Boston University, while Steve Ross’s highly successful Songs of Fred Astaire (Off Broadway, London, on tour) framed his admiration for that incomparable artist. Neither performer had a partner with whom to explore the legendary relationship. Until now.
With an appropriate excerpt from “I Won’t Dance”, Ross, sporting a wing tip collar and tux and Oberlin swathed in a silver, sequin gown, opine “Isn’t It a Lovely Day?” (to be caught in the rain…) It’s a playful song. They flirt. She mellifluously scats, he executes a terrific piano arrangement in which musical weather becomes a character.
“Like any married couple, we agreed about everything to do with this show,” Oberlin quips. A frothy “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” follows as if a game of tag, you’re it. Later, the celebrants’ wry rapport is manifest with “A Fine Romance.” When they have fun, we have fun.
“Embraceable You” (Girl Crazy), “which put Rogers on the map” was choreographed by Astaire, then working in another show. Oberlin offers it with warmth and restraint. The verse of “But Not For Me”: Don’t want to hear from any cheerful Pollyannas/Who tell me love will find a way, it’s all bananas… sounds like “get off my back.” Even after melody leads, part of the lyric is spoken. Towards the end, one can almost hear a sob. A skillful arc.
Ross’s “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan” is as insouciant a version as can be heard on a contemporary stage. The “blue pajamas” that got this song banned from the airwaves elicits a small “Ah” from this eloquent artist. Inflection is innately pristine. “After You” is lovely and moving from its rhetorical question to the waltzy music box bridge.
An amusing anecdote about Rogers, Darryl Zanuck and cutting up in the chorus has Oberlin delivering a version of “We’re In the Money” (Gold Diggers of 1933) in Pig Latin that even consummate tongue-twister Danny Kaye would admire.
“I’ll Be Hard to Handle,” sung with the lusty brio of a femme fatale, is delivered up front and personal, out among an appreciative audience. Bravo on the lights.
Ross’s piano rendition of “Begin the Beguine” is one of the most evocative you’ll ever hear. Courageously without vocals, the composition is allowed to breathe exposing every bit of sumptuous texture and melody, conjuring Noel and Gertie, Scottie and Zelda, Cole and Linda. The vocal of his tango-influenced “Night and Day” brims with such visceral yearning, I find my breathing slows. Artistically self-demanding, Steve Ross should be pleased.
“Puttin’ On the Ritz,” and “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” elicit tapping feet, bobbing heads and smiles of recognition from a club filled with fans. “Only When You’re in My Arms” is one of several numbers featuring jaunty harmony. And, yes, we’re treated to a smidgen of “The Continental.” Both performers can sell a ballad. Ross’s are intimate while Oberlin wants to share. Ross wears wit and cynicism like second skin. Oberlin, who’s experienced at playing the ingénue, clearly finds humor a cherry on top.
Patter is minimal and informative. Each artist has a solo segment which eschews otherwise celebrated collaboration. An increase of duets would add to freshness and appeal.
Cheek to Cheek is charming, swanky, and playful with a dash of vinegar.
Alix Cohen, Woman About Town, June 16, 2014
CHEEK TO CHEEK
Steve Ross has met his match—at least in the Fred and Ginger sense of the word. Ross and Karen Oberlin appeared at 54 Below, June 11th in an evening called Astaire and Rogers: Cheek to Cheek. Karen Oberlin is blonde, beautiful and sings like a dream. The inimitable, dapper and charming Steve Ross, on stage with blonde and beautiful Karen Oberlin, may appear like a central caster’s dream; but once they duet their way through the beginning: Cheek to Cheek, I Won’t Dance, and Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, it’s clear that they are vocally perfect as well. The direction by Walter Willison is smart and subtle allowing each artist ample space to perform separately as well as together so that the audience gets the best of all worlds.
Steve Ross is famous for his sensitive and unique interpretation of a lyric and in the song I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan (Dietz & Schwartz), he brought soul and jazz to the mix as well. In the song After You (Cole Porter), dear Mr. Ross brought an incisive sweetness to a song not often heard. “After you, who could I love? After you, why should I take the time to try, For who else could qualify After you, who?”
Karen Oberlin provided an elegant sass and humor to the Ginger Rogers side of the duo: I’ll String Along with You, Don’t Mention Love to Me (Dorothy Fields & Oscar Levant) “I’m overpowered but I’m not a coward…” both sung seated at the piano; and I’ll Be Hard to Handle, sung while moving through the audience, were all performed with sexy confidence and gorgeous style.
Steve then treated the audience to a perfect slice of musical heaven: Begin the Beguine, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Stepping Out with My Baby, and Night and Day.
He brought Karen back to the stage with My Shining Hour (Mercer, Arlen)—a very romantic way to reintroduce a partner. They sat at the piano together for Syncopated Walk, Only When You’re in My Arms, You’re Here and I’m Here, which added a casual intimacy to the evening so perfect for Astaire and Rogers.
Are you getting the feeling you should see them? Yes! They will be back Thursday July 17th at 7:00pm. Tap shoes optional.
Susan Hasho, Theater Pizzazz, June 14, 2014
RIDIN' HIGH - STEVE ROSS SONGS COLE PORTER AT BIRDLAND
What better way to spend St. Patrick’s Day than listening to Steve Ross sing the songs of Cole Porter! When one thinks of Porter, words like class, elegance and wit spring to mind. Ross conjures up a similar word portrait for his performances. Put them together, and Birdland suddenly becomes an intimate boîte recalling the days of Café Society.
In about an hour and a half, the packed house was treated to over two-dozen Porter songs, some familiar and some obscure, but all immaculately performed by Ross and bassist Steve Doyle, with occasional contributions from vocalist Klea Blackhurst.
The program opened with a nicely chosen medley of “Ev’rything I Love,” “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “You’re the Top.”
One thing about performing a program of Porter songs is the expansive catalog of wonderful material that leaves the audience wondering which ones will be chosen for the occasion. Ross gave the first taste of his deep knowledge of the Porter oeuvre when he called upon Blackhurst to bring her ukulele on stage to accompany him on “When the Summer Moon Comes ‘Long,” Porter’s first published song written in 1909 when he was a freshman at Yale College.
Ross wisely chose to include a few Porter gems that are too often overlooked like “I’m I Love Again,” and the touching “After You Who.”
Naturally, ample attention was paid to the strong bond between Porter and Paris. This segment opened with a pair of rarities, “Who Said Gay Paree” and “You Don’t Know Paree.” There followed “Give Him the Oo-La-La,” and a medley of C’est Magnifique” and “I Love Paris.” Finally, Ross gave “Can-Can” a winningly robust reading that captured the cleverness of Porter’s word play.
Blackhurst has frequently performed shows dedicated to the songs associated with Ethel Merman, a Porter favorite. This time out, she found every nuance in the lyrics of “Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please,” and joined with Ross to give delightful life to “It’s De-Lovely.”
Porter was also strongly linked with Manhattan, and Ross emphasized this with a pair of “New York” songs, “Take Me Back to Manhattan and “I Happen to Like New York.”
Probably the most performed and popular of the many Porter excursions into the land of double entendre is “Let’s Do It,” a song that has found many others adding their own verses. Ross augmented Porter’s lyrics by some of those created by Porter’s English peer, Nöel Coward.
When called back for one last song, Ross opted for the last song that Porter had on the Hit Parade, “True Love” from my favorite of all film musicals, High Society.
Ross always adds a special dimension to his performances with his witty and informative commentary between selections. His remarks are always full of insight augmented by his sophisticated sense of humor.
There is no doubt that Porter would have appreciated the way that Steve Ross continues to breathe fresh life into his songs, and sets them into a context that emphasizes just how special they remain to this day. The only regret is that the show did not go on and on to present the scores of additional superb songs that were not included in this program. That is a good reason to bring Ross back for another round or more of Porter at Birdland.
Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz, May, 2014
RIDIN' HIGH - STEVE ROSS SONGS COLE PORTER AT BIRDLAND
Still the “Crown Prince of Cabaret,” Steve Ross debuted on St. Patrick’s Day at Birdland, “the jazz corner of the world.” With a salute to Cole Porter, that dapper aristocrat of song, he packed the house with Ross fans, Porterphiles and cabaret literati and proved that after 54 years in the biz, he is better than ever.
Ross was trim and dapper in a deep green velvet smoking jacket. This was not so much a nod to the patron saint of the Emerald Isle as the fact that the jacket, courtesy of the Noel Coward Society, had once belonged to Noel Coward. Fitting into the Coward vein, Ross sang “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and mentioned that after Coward visited a Swiss clinic for cosmetic sheep gland injections and was asked how he felt, Coward replied, “I’ve got ewe under my skin.”
This show was all Cole Porter, the mix of witty images with passion of “Let’s Do It,” the beautifully crafted “After You, Who?” (from Gay Divorce) and familiar tunes like “Night and Day” from the same show. Some less well-known included a tune Porter wrote in 1909, while a freshman at Yale, “When the Summer Moon Comes ‘Long,” already hinting at his breezy elegance.
He was accompanied on ukelele by special guest, Klea Blackhurst, famed for her Ethel Merman pipes. She later performed a song of disillusion from Panama Hattie, “Make it Another Old Fashioned, Please.”
Porter’s full-blown sophistication was evidenced in a romantic travelogue beginning with the soaring “Ridin’ High,” to wallowing “Down In the Depths (on the 90th floor),” a torch song with ardent lines like “I’m deserted and depressed/ In my regal eagle nest.” (Both were from Red, Hot and Blue!). The triptych wound up with Jubilee’s insouciant “Just One of those Things.”
From the vast Porter songbook, Ross included the high-flying Paris years in a medley including one of the favorite list songs, “Can-Can.” His encore included another list song, “Let’s Do It.” The second city salute went, of course, to Manhattan and after his outstanding rendition of the plaintive “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” Ross decided on “Take Me Back to Manhattan,” a tune Porter apparently dashed off while killing time in Philadelphia during try-outs of The New Yorkers. From that show, Ross also sang, “I Happen to Like New York,” catchy with its triple rhymes.
There is no danger of missing even the most racing, twisted Porter lyrics and rhymes since Ross sings with crystalline preciseness, placing stress on especially witty or revealing words. “Anything Goes” was a master class in delivery. Ross is a master class himself on Cole Porter and every other eloquent songwriter. His knowledge of the canon is authoritative and his piano accompaniment is vivid and determined.
Birdland is a “de-lovely” venue for Steve Ross and in this Cole Porter performance; he was “Ridin’ High” and so was his audience.
Elizabeth Ahlfors, Theater Pizzazz!, March 18, 2014
RIDIN' HIGH - STEVE ROSS SONGS COLE PORTER AT BIRDLAND
Cole Porter is necessary to cabaret singers the way Shakespeare seems requisite to any serious actor. Every artist past his/her early twenties interprets Porter’s wide range of meticulously articulated material. Why, then, is Birdland packed to the gills this Monday night for Ridin’ High, yet another evening of the master’s well-plumbed work? Because nobody does it better than Steve Ross.
Porter is witty, not funny; sophisticated, not exclusive; bittersweet, not tragic; carefree, not slight... Perhaps no artist since Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson has had such intuitive rapport with this material, though Bobby Short gave it a run for its money until later years when shrill insistence replaced finesse.
Ross makes Porter’s oeuvre sound as fresh as it must have when first heard. His comprehension of historical context and empathy with the writer’s own backstory adds potency. The artist is elegantly restrained even when emphatic; innuendo is deft, never heavy handed. He appreciatively savors every lyric, skillful with a well-placed pause. Musical arrangements are imaginatively layered, but true to the composer’s intent. Songs link together seamlessly, sprinkled with brief, wry patter.
Ridin’ High is an evening of Porter on Broadway “with a few minor detours.” We hear “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Anything Goes” from one of five musicals Porter wrote for Ethel Merman. The first is an up-tempo glide in chiffon and marabou, the second conjures a line of kicking chorines. Multiple verses (in which Porter excelled) are each approached a little differently, highlighting the author’s cleverness.
William Gaxton, the original Billy Crocker in Anything Goes, found one song too rangey for his baritone. The number was cut. Years later, “Easy to Love” landed in the film Born to Dance “where it was performed by that other well-known baritone, Jimmy Stewart.” Ross’s
“We think of moon, June, spoon as laughable clichés now, but at one point...” Ross introduces 1909’s “When the Summer Moon Comes ’Long.” The first Porter song of which we have a record was written while he was a student at Yale. Vocalist Klea Blackhurst is coaxed from the audience, ukulele in hand. A bubbly duet ensues: “First select a small canoe/Where there’s only room for two/You’ll love her and she’ll love you/You could never get in wrong...You can hold her fold her tight/When the summer moon comes ‘long.” Later, Blackhurst returns for a Mermanesque “Make It Another Old Fashioned, Please” and to duet on the effervescent “It’s De-Lovely.”
A suite of Paris songs includes: the exuberant “Can-Can” (replete with rolled Rs); the saucy “Give Him the Ooh-La-La,” throughout which Steve Doyle (on bass) grins broadly; and a heart-wrenching “You Don’t Know Paree.” Ross is equally adept in gleeful, high lather as he is with resigned heartache.
Another suite tells a short story: Our hero begins “Ridin’ High” in le jazz hot mode, then, presumably rejected, withdraws “Down in the Depths (on the 90th Floor),” and finally determines to move on, acknowledging “Just One of Those Things” (goosed by a swell bass solo).
Two numbers from 1930's The New Yorkers brims with sincerity. Ross has lived here for 44 years. Every phrase comes infectiously from the heart. Unwilling to let the entertainer go, our audience receives two encores. First a playful rendition of “Let's Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” evoking the pop-pop of laughter like champagne corks and, lastly, a dreamy “True Love” (from High Society) with which the audience is invited to sing along. Many of us do, each with his/her own memories.
Ridin’ High has great charm, an adjective not often employed these days. This is an authoritative performance—entertaining, affecting, and oh so classy.
Alix Cohen, Cabaret Scenes, March 17, 2014
LIFE IS A CABARET FOR STEVE ROSS
Wearing a bow tie and a deep green suede jacket originally made for Noel Coward, Steve Ross savours an after concert drink. It’s well earned – he’s just finished playing the Crystal Room at the Taj, where his piano still stands under a ceiling ringed in tiny, starry lights. Bowing out after a set that included classics from Cole Porter, Noel Coward and Frank Sinatra, Steve was enticed back onto the stage by loud calls of “Encore! Encore!” Tongue in cheek he began his last song for the night. “You know I’ve made a shocking discovery, here in Sri Lanka,” he told his audience, and after a well-timed pause delivered his punch line, appropriately set to tune: “Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let’s do it, let’s fall in love!” Laughing and swaying to the music, Steve had his audience right back where he wanted them.
When the show first began, surely half the room was dismayed by the prospect of having Steve’s back – however expressive it might be, as backs go – turned to them. We were forgetting though that this man, dubbed ‘the suavest of all cabaret performers’, has honed his act over close to 50 years on stage. He both positioned himself cleverly and then, at the interlude, had the piano turned around so he then faced the opposite way. It was an intimate performance, relying heavily on engaging his audience through music and conversation.
Steve’s performances are greater than the sum of their parts. He is the first to admit he doesn’t have a ‘big’ voice that hits the high notes and while he plays the piano with real panache and skill, what makes him such a memorable artist is his ability to absorb us – to serenade us, to make us laugh, to evoke a sudden, sharp sense of nostalgia as his voice softens. Each word rings clear – it’s something he says he continues to pay a lot of attention to. “It’s just my big obsession – to make words clear,” he told the Sunday Times in a quick interview after the show. “I couldn’t hit the high notes but I could communicate ideas.”
Steve is a champion of these old classics and as you’d expect, his onstage persona matches his music – he looks utterly at home in his bow tie. Inspired by the golden age of popular American music and the many songs he “learned at my mother’s knee,” he has played at iconic venues around the world including New York’s fabled Algonquin Hotel and Ted Hook’s Backstage in the late 1970s and later the Ritz in London, the Crillon in Paris and the Imperial Hotel Tokyo. The wardrobe and the attitude that accompany cabaret, came naturally, and were cultivated long before he ever made the big time.
“I knew that was going to make me different,” he says, “I always did it even when I was working in salons and bars.” While Steve does enjoy rock and roll, the seventies left him unchanged: still playing his favourite old tunes for select audiences. He has an impeccable sense of the comic and has over the course of his career paid homage to classics from the music hall and rediscovered revue, novelty and point numbers in the company of his audience. That night he had his audience roaring with laughter through his renditions of Milton Ager and Jack Yellen’s ‘Hungry Women’ (“I feed ‘em and weep!”), ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington’and another, harder to trace track with a chorus that declares ‘Dolphins Do it for Fun!’
Steve has always insisted that the real test of a composer’s mettle lies in his or her ability to handle love – and certainly he passes the test himself in his delivery of them. He is unabashedly romantic, delivering beautiful, familiar tracks like ‘I’ve Got You Under my Skin’ (Cole Porter), ‘They Can’t Take That Away from Me’ (George and Ira Gershwin), and (an unexpected choice that still worked very well) Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now.’
He delivered these songs and others with wit and style, but Steve designs his song list so that it also inspires more serious consideration. “These songs have been sung hundreds of times, so I know they work,” he says. “They’re all gems but some of them do come to grips with more serious issues. (Earlier he’d drawn our attention to the lyrics of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ with its poignant lines: ‘dancing in the dark till the tune ends/ we’re dancing in the dark and it soon ends/ we’re waltzing in the wonder of why we’re here.) “I want to show what American music is made of,” he says now. “For instance, many of these were written by European writers who came to Hollywood and Broadway from Nazi Germany. They came to America which was a melting pot and they had things to say.”
With the show over, his audience comes pouring out of the doors of the ballroom, many stopping to shake his hand. In between chats with his admirers, we talk a little more about how people seem to respond particularly well to his love songs. “Love is a universal emotion,” he says. “These songs…they’re like a journey back into those times, but the journey is also into your hearts. The emotions don’t change.”
Smitri Daniel, The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka, March 2, 2014
THROUGH THE YEARS- STEVE ROSS AT THE CRAZY COQS
Steve Ross continues his two-week tenure at The Crazy Coqs with a programme called Through the Years, compiled largely from his favourites of the many songs he has performed. “It could be called a collection of the eclectic”, he says. First and foremost it is a collection of superb standards performed by a master of style and melody. As was evident in the Cole Porter evening the previous week, Ross matures splendidly with age, his voice having acquired extra body and richness. And if it is eclecticism one wants, what about a selection that reaches back to Chopin’s Waltz in B Minor (the second of the Opus 69 set, showing off Ross’s splendid command of the piano) and treats us to Irving Berlin’s ‘Alexander’s ragtime band’ (“102 years old and I hope I wear as well.”) with classics by Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart and Noël Coward alongside selections by Flanders & Swann, Joni Mitchell and John Wallowitch.
Ross has long been able to find choice numbers that have been neglected, and he also provides verses that enhance familiar tunes – the brief, but effective verse to ‘Nevertheless’ was a particular delight, and new material included ‘There will always be’, a rarity by Coward. Ross is particularly generous – over thirty songs in a show running nearly two hours (including interval), and what riches he produces. Included are the classic saloon-singer’s confession that probably touches everyone in the room, Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s ‘Old friend’, Joni Mitchell’s rueful ballad of self deception, ‘Both sides now’, and one of the most heartbreaking songs of parting, Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Some other time’, from On the Town, omitted from the film version because MGM considered it “too sad”. Ross blends it with the haunting waltz, ‘Till tomorrow’, persuading the audience to join in, which is from Fiorello, arguably the finest score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
Ross skilfully mines the humour of such numbers as ‘Hungry women’ (by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen), sung by Eddie Cantor back in 1928, Irving Berlin’s lament of a dying man, ‘Cohen owes me 97 dollars’, and the amusing ‘I’ve been married’ from a musical of My Man Godfrey by Alan Jay Lerner and Gerard Kenny, left incomplete when Lerner died. Ross dedicates a heartfelt rendition of Coward’s ‘London pride’ to his audience, manages the tricky feat of getting us to join in a chorus of ‘I guess I’ll have to change my plan’, plays the piano for a show-stopping medley of Edith Piaf numbers, and resurrects the gems, ‘My town’, a tuneful George M. Cohan tribute to his beloved New York, and E. Y. Harburg’s lyrics to Offenbach’s ‘Barcarolle’ (The Tales of Hoffmann), titled ‘Adrift on a star’, from the sadly neglected score of the musical The Happiest Girl in the World. For two hours of happiness dedicated to the best of popular song, catch the sublime Steve Ross while you can.
Tom Vallance, www.classicalsource.com, November 12, 2013
STEVE ROSS - RIDIN' HIGH - CRAZY COQS
Steve Ross almost sheepishly admits that he has been in the cabaret business for 54 years. It seems incredible that so accomplished a musician and vocalist is not more widely known outside the cabaret circuit. Toasted as New York’s Crown Prince of Cabaret by The New York Times, Ross has played many regular gigs in the UK and in fact was the headliner chosen to play the final performances at the popular venue Pizza On the Park in 2010. Ross’ welcome return to the UK as part of the London Festival of Cabaret sees him taking up residence at the Crazy Coqs for two consecutive weeks, opening with Ridin’ High, a tribute to the music and lyrics of Cole Porter.
Opening with a medley including ‘Looking At You’ and ‘You’re the Top’, Ross was faced with a couple of minor sound troubles, swiftly sorted by the team, but he seemed completely unperturbed, throwing in a joke about Ethel Merman and belting the music out without a microphone. This blended seamlessly with a couple of numbers made famous by Merman, namely ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ and ‘Anything Goes’, which constitute perhaps two of the composer’s most popular hits.
Of course, Merman is really only a fraction of the Porter story and Ross takes his audience on a musical tour of Porter’s career from early days as president of the Yale Glee Club through to his massive successes written for the Broadway stage.
Porter’s occasionally tricky lyrics, although considered unfashionable with lyricists today, were innovative at the time. Ross’ grasp of this language is exemplary and the artist negotiates his way through some veritable tongue-twisters, from his earliest list song, ‘Shooting Box’, written while still at Yale, through to the hilarious ‘Ooh-La-La’ from Porter’s sojourn in Paris.
One of Porter’s best loved tunes and indeed the number which Ross picks out as his personal favourite is ‘Night and Day’, written in 1932. Lyrics aside, which hint of love and not a little obsession, Ross picks up beautifully the haunting nature of the music and the unusual chord changes that thread throughout the piece. Part of Ross’ skill as a cabaret performer is his ability to render as many flashes of drama in the music as there are in the words. This is also the case for Kiss Me, Kate, a medley of which Ross plays to focus on Porter’s versatility of musical style.
‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘Begin the Beguine’ are cool and sophisticated numbers which have stood the test of time and Ross juxtaposes them gamely with the likes of ‘The Physician’ and ‘The Tale of the Oyster’, which may be less familiar but showcase Porter’s occasionally wacky sense of humour. Ross draws the curtain on Porter’s career with a selection of New York numbers, a city the composer once dominated and epitomised – well, the Upper East Side and Broadway at least. Ross’ choices in Ridin’ High might be impeccable, but it’s the Prince of Cabaret’s wealth of knowledge, engaging delivery and remarkable talent that earned him a couple of well-deserved encores on his opening night.
Paul Vale, Musical Theatre Review, November 6, 2013
RIDIN' HIGH - STEVE ROSS SINGS COLE PORTER AT THE CRAZY COQS
Steve Ross, the “crown prince of cabaret”, is back at The Crazy Coqs, and all is well with the world. The veteran singer and pianist is in better form than ever, which means he’s terrific! His first programme this season is devoted to Cole Porter, with whom Ross has particular affinity. Porter’s witty, urbane lyrics and deeply passionate love-songs are perfectly served by Ross and he continues to discover insights within the ballads and mine fresh humour in the comedy songs.
Note the languorous stretching of the word “so” as he sings the words “You’d be so nice, you’d be paradise to come home to and love” and his touching, wistful approach to ‘Just one of those things’. In best cabaret style, he blends the great perennials (‘Begin the beguine’, ‘Night and day’, ‘I’ve got you under my skin’) with songs that are undeservedly not so well known, such as ‘Everything I love’ (from Let‘s Face It), which was a hit for Glenn Miller in 1941, even rarer numbers like ‘I’ve a shooting box in Scotland’ (1916, the first Porter song to be recorded), and a ditty he wrote while a freshman at college, ‘When the summer moon comes down’.
Ross’s deft handling of Porter’s lyrics result in one overlooking his superb skill as a pianist. Several songs are given gorgeous treatment, notably the haunting ‘Were thine that special face’, from Kiss Me, Kate, to which Ross pays tribute with a medley that includes ‘So in love’ and ‘Wunderbar’. The under-appreciated (at the time) score for Can-Can also gets highlighted, with ‘Allez-vous en’, ‘C’est magnifique’, and ‘I love Paris’ cueing a mention of Porter’s great affection for the city of light, the inspiration for such songs as ‘You don’t know Paree’, ‘Who said gay Paree?’ and ‘Give him the ooh-la-la’.
The anecdotes that pepper Ross’s performances are both humorous and informative. He notes that William Gaxton, male lead of the original Anything Goes, refused to accept ‘Easy to love’ because of its difficult range. Porter took it to MGM, where it became the title song of a movie in which it was sung by James Stewart, who had virtually no range at all. Ross also recounts that when Fred Astaire’s sister Adele left the act to marry, every Broadway producer wanted to sign Astaire. He accepted Porter’s offer of The Gay Divorcee (it was "Divorce" in the UK) after the composer played him not ‘Night and day’ but the less celebrated ‘After you, who?’.
Ross does not neglect Porter’s trademark ‘list’ songs (and how nice to hear the English pronunciation of “Derby” in ‘You’re the top’). One of Ross’s specials, the astoundingly inventive ‘Can-can’, stops the show, and he surprises with some rarely heard choruses for ‘It’s delovely’. He has wicked fun with the myriad medical terms in ‘The physician’, introduced by Gertrude Lawrence in Nymph Errant. From the same show, Ross gives a heartfelt rendition of the affirmative ‘Experiment’.
When Ross announces he will perform his two favourite Porter songs, one wonders how he could choose from such a rich catalogue. I won’t reveal what they are, but I got only one right. This is indeed a succulent feast of popular song at its best. It is hard to imagine anyone doing greater justice to the banquet than Steve Ross.
Tom Vallance, www.classicalsource.com, November 5, 2013
Welcome to the sophistication and very grown-up world of Noël Coward, inhabited by Steve Ross and guests…
Good things are worth waiting for. If you're a musical theatre aficionado, and those good things are previously unrecorded numbers by one of the giants of musical theatre—Sir Noël Coward—recorded by those who seem born and bred for the assignment, well, it's a belated bounty of bliss! Well steeped in Coward's oeuvre for many years, Steve Ross is the ideal host: presiding at the piano, singing, accompanying himself or his guests (his own arrangements), including chatty, fact-filled spoken introductions. He projects more warmth and sentiment—and reserve—than Coward's own personality projected in his recordings. This is all to the good, not only to avoid the trap of overdoing the arch attitudes or sarcasm, or coming off as a pale version of Coward. The presence of other singers allows for camaraderie and contrast.
Ross is never at a loss for a way to get into the period flavor and wit, as well as the antiquated styles of presentations in the earliest numbers, avoiding the pompous circumstances of being too "above it all" and grand. Instead, there's a playful insouciance with the frothy/fun stuff and a true elegance and yearning in the more operetta-influenced or formal statements. And he's the kind of performer who can address a loved one as "dear" and not sound too fake or fawning. Things become generally accessible because he seems to have an ease and comfort level with the work and communicates a joy in knowing and sharing them. This applies to his singing and playing which crisply convey the moods and relish the rhymes and word choices (like "Kodachrome" rhyming with "home" in "When the Journey's Over" or the alliteration in "languid, loose and lazy" and decorative sprightly figures in "I'm So In Love"). Listen carefully and you'll note him having some fun with the attitude in the internal rhyme "Though love is dead, you might have said goodbye" which precedes the line which is the song's title, "Why Do You Pass Me By?" (set to a melody by Charles Trenet).
Based on a 2007 concert and produced by Steve Ross and Original Cast Records' Bruce Yeko, for whom digging up neglected numbers is a mission and joy, this CD sounds clear and clearly like a labor of love. With the old-timey flavor, spoken intros and guests, with just piano accompaniment, it feels like an evening of parlor entertainment. Edward Hibbert, a genuine Brit, only appears for one guest vocal, a solo on "We've Got the Country at the Corner of the Street" from 1949, from the score for an unproduced show called Hoi Polloi. It's its own little hoot, from the flip understatement about World War II which opens the piece, "Since the War mucked up our town a bit ...," through lines like "to see how green is our valley that once was just an alley."
The female vocalists, Jeanne Lehman and Lisa Riegel, are far more prominent—singing with Ross or alone on numerous tracks, and they duet with each other once ("When We Were Girls Together"), their trained voices bringing an appropriate formality that can make things sound dated rather timeless to more resistant ears. But there's no condescension or awkwardness; all just seem to dive into the needed flavor. There may be a wink, but it isn't blatant. Jeanne Lehman, veteran of Broadway and concerts, has a quite flexible and still sturdy soprano, with her range impressive. She's somewhat of a chameleon, as is the other soprano, Lisa Riegel, who carries off an art-song-like lyric in French ("Meme les Anges") and spunkier assignments.
Oh, sure, there are moments when some creakiness shows, and we're reminded of more artful or sharper turns of phrase in the Coward canon and characterizations—some more flowing melodic strains or more knowing depictions of similar subject matter. In his commentary, our happy host acknowledges that not everything here would be considered the cream of the Coward crop, but that second-tier Noël is still pretty good. And it's certainly worth hearing. Some are cut songs from scores or just odd long-lost items, including early numbers where the young Master-to-be did not write both music and lyrics. In one case, written for a show that died aborning, the composer was Jerome Kern ("Morganatic Love") and the key part of the melody line morphed into "Where's the Mate for Me?" when Show Boat sailed onto Broadway. Some of the numbers may take a few listening to fully embrace, but it's quite worth the time and effort to let these strangers get to feel like the old friends they might have been had they been dusted off decades earlier. Better late than never. Thank you, Mr. Ross and friends, so very much!
Talkin' Broadway, May, 2013
Members who attended the 2012 Coward Birthday celebrations in London, when we were gloriously entertained by Steve Ross and K. T. Sullivan, will remember receiving at that time a “teaser” of Steve’s upcoming CD issue of previously unrecorded Coward. The arrival of the real thing was highlighted by Ken Starrett in our last issue of Home Chat. While I’m quite sure that some members will already have rushed out and ordered themselves copies, this article amounts to a follow-up promotion, and comes with the strongest possible injunction to all members NOT TO MISS obtaining this very special CD, even if you have to bid over the odds on e-bay to get it. (Actually it is easily available through www.footlight.com or there is always Amazon.)
Even if the recordings and interpretations were of questionable quality, which they are not, this noble work of Steve’s should not be missed by NCS members simply because of what it does: with a couple of minor exceptions, each of the 21 tracks on this CD “resurrects” for our enjoyment numbers from the Coward catalogue spanning the years 1918-1963 which, for one reason or another, were either never published at the time, or which have never previously been recorded, or both. Not only this, but with Steve’s well-scripted spoken introduction tracks interspersing the musical items, this CD becomes a little cabaret show in itself, and a dip into musicological history that is genuinely informative and educational.
Steve and I go back quite a long way together in wishing that something like this CD might eventually be issued. After the completion of the original ‘Noël Coward Music Index’ I had lists of Coward songs in various “popularity categories” ranging from “standards” in the top category down to category F (almost unknown, only sporadic performances) and category G (completely unknown – no known live or broadcast performances had occurred); we have hoped for years that someone could be encouraged to issue a recording of the best of these category F & G items, possibly under the title ‘The Unknown Noël’. During all this time, Steve himself has used many of these items in his own shows and entertainments, so actually he’s already been responsible for revivifying many numbers previously in category F. In fact, what with his last ten or twelve years of Coward activity and now this icing-on-the-cake CD, Steve has brought things to the point where the usage information on the ‘Music Index’ is now woefully out-of-date. Mr Ross, I have a deal of revision work to do on the Index and it’s all your fault. (Actually, to be fair, it is also partly the fault of the Noël Coward Foundation who supported the production of the CD, and Bruce Yeko in New York for motivating and inspiring it.)
One must applaud the high quality of the voice recordings on this CD. Nothing ever sounds too loud or too forced, and the balance of the voices (quite a bit of Steve Ross himself, but also the voices of Jeanne Lehman, Lisa Riegel and Edward Hibbert) with Steve’s piano accompaniment is very good throughout, whether in big melodic duet waltz or wordy solo. (Steve has also been careful to provide neat, accurate accompaniments with no “loose notes”, which you rarely hear in his live performances.) One trifling dischord, however, is that the same cannot be said for the recording of the pianoforte, which comes across with a slightly metallic, thin, “jangly” quality in its middle and top range. I had thought at first that this was something which had been specifically engineered into the first track, ‘Baseball Rag’, where a slightly “honky-tonk” tone quality works very well with Steve’s rag-type accompaniment, but I was surprised to find it persisting through many of the subsequent tracks - although one does stop being bothered by it after a while.
Some of the most interesting items are also some of the earliest, including three from London Calling! (1923) alone. ‘Spanish Grandee’ and ‘When We Were Girls Together’ show two different sides of Coward’s early creative ability: the first is a quick-and-easy stylistic lampoon where Coward presses all the right melodic and rhythmic buttons (including a Habanera accompaniment), while the second is a jokey fast-waltz duet which is really not a million miles away from being a comedy point number in 6/8 time. Here are early and completely assured examples of two “types of music” which Coward continued turning out with greater and greater facility.
Another song of great interest from the early years is ‘Même Les Anges’, written to be heard and sung with the 1925 play Fallen Angels. It’s a perfect example of a romantic French chanson and indistinguishable from anything else in the genre. Try playing “guess the composer” with this one - Coward wouldn’t even be among your hundred first wrong guesses. However, the single most interesting thing about this song is that I’m convinced that its composition must have preceded even the writing of the play (which occurred during 1923) and thus provided the play’s title. Its opening lyrics are: “Même les anges succombent a l’amour” - ‘Even angels fall in love’. Personally I find it hard to believe that the play was first titled ‘Fallen Angels’ and that the song’s French lyrics were subsequently designed to tie in, punningly in translation, with this title.
It is very good finally to have a performance of the “original version” of ‘What’s to Become of the Children?’. Written for a fleeting revue titled Whitebirds in 1927, it is a good and strong enough number for considerable chunks of both its lyrics and its melody to have found new clothes and a greatly extended structure in the 1954 cabaret song we know and love as ‘What’s Going to Happen to the Tots?’ Whole phrases of this song, such as “Mother is injected with the most peculiar glands” were good enough to re-use in the later song. Reference to injecting glands also resurfaces in Private Lives (written 1929), and we hear Coward use the phrase ‘the stately homes of England’ some ten years before the famous song of that title was written.
In fact, the CD is fairly packed with examples of material which got re-used or recycled in some way. Coward’s 1941 tribute/dedication to his songwriter idol, Jerome Kern, ‘We Are Living in a Changing World’, is not only one of the best romantic things Coward ever wrote, and not only does Steve sing and deliver it beautifully, but we find that the song’s complete Verse section – here sandwiched between the song’s two Refrains – comes back a few years later as an introductory Verse section to ‘This Is a Changing World’ from Pacific 1860. (Coward nearly used it a third time in Sail Away in 1963, but that’s a different story.) Also here is the early-1940’s waltz refrain called ‘Heavenly Moment’, which with new lyrics became the refrain for ‘Light is the Heart’ in After The Ball’ in 1954 - what should have been the main romantic aria of the entire piece, but somewhat sabotaged in that aim by Mary Ellis not being able to sing it effectively. Here, Steve and Lisa Riegel extend a single set of refrain lyrics by repetitions with keychanges – and get a great deal more out of the very good melody than Mary Ellis ever did.
Edward Hibbert’s vocal contribution comes with the 1949 song ‘We’ve got the Country at the Corner of the Street’, which celebrates a post-war “new suburbia” culture, written for a draft show which eventually transmogrified into Ace of Clubs (1950). The piece is neatly enough done, both by Coward and by Hibbert, but for what is presumably intended to be a dense-lyric comedy number, neither is the song and its characters inherently interesting enough nor is it really funny enough to leave much impact … and one understands why some things were quietly consigned to the filing-cabinet.
Steve Ross is careful to bring us as up-to-date as possible with his selection of material for this CD, and I was tremendously pleased to find one of my own favourites from 1963, a number dropped from The Girl Who Came to Supper called ‘Just People’. This is a neat and lyrical little number sung by the teenaged King Nicholas of Carpathia, who has managed to escape the constraints and protocol of the Carpathian Legation in London for a “day on the town” with his new and very un-royal friends, Mary Morgan and Ada Cockle. Coward put practically not a foot wrong with any of the lyric-writing he did for The Girl Who Came to Supper, and this gentle little song, bemoaning the fact that ‘Royals’ are never able to lead a normal life, is as good an example of Coward the mature lyricist as any of the material which survived.
I was hovering in Norman Hackforth’s background when he was guiding the posthumous publication, in 1978, of Coward’s 1944 song ‘There Will Always Be’; and in fact Hackforth and I gave the very first live performance of the song that year at a ball in Canterbury. But although this song cannot be said to be either previously unpublished nor previously unrecorded (Barbara Lee got in there and recorded it in 1999), I couldn’t feel happier that Steve has included it as his closing number for the CD. Steve introduces the piece with Norman’s printed introduction to the song, telling the story of how it was “saved from oblivion”, but it’s also worth adding that this song is yet another instance of recycling - its opening six notes were subsequently re-formed as the melody-line for the great romantic aria ‘Go, I Beg You Go’ from After the Ball (1954). Steve gives a most effective rendition of this very special song about Coward’s own most profound beliefs, though I think he could afford to be even more expansive and take the song still slower than he does. (He is probably the only person in the world to know or care that he has actually used the wrong chord progression (definitely not Coward’s!) under the words “deep down inside me”. Sorry Steve, I guess I had to find something to carp about.)
Don’t anybody else dare to carp at anything on this CD – just go out and get as many copies as you can afford, and give them to all your friends as Christmas presents this year. You couldn’t do anything better to promote Coward than to promote the hearing of this CD.
Dominic Vlasto, Noel Coward Newsletter, May, 2013
Finally, I will indulge myself by calling your attention to an album that is not jazz, but should appeal to those who love popular song. Sir Noël Coward was one of the few non-Americans who contributed many songs that fit easily beside the classic pop of the Great American Songbook. Like his American counterparts, he wrote much material that never bubbled up to the status of being considered standards, but such was his talent that even his more obscure material usually has those special qualities that catch your ears. Noël Coward Off the Record (Original Cast -1128) is a collection of rare Coward material that was originally gathered together by STEVE ROSS for a concert at Lincoln Center. He called upon three guests, Jeannie Lehman, Lisa Riegel and, for one number, Edward Hibbert, to share with him the pleasure of bringing into the spotlight 22 songs written by Coward, in all cases the lyrics, and for most the music also, that had gone unrecorded and pretty much forgotten. Even the lesser of these songs have that unique brilliance that Coward brought to his work. He was capable of wit, passion and insight, all strengths that are on display here. Who would have thought that Coward would write a lyric about baseball, but the earliest selection here is “Baseball Rag” for which he wrote the lyrics in the 1917-1918 period. Did you know that he once wrote lyrics to a composition by Jerome Kern? Well, he did, and it is called “Morganatic Love,” a truly curious piece. In 1940, he was even moved to put words to a tune by Charles Trenet, and the result is “Why Do You Pass Me By?” Ross provides commentary throughout that puts the songs into their historical and musical contexts. This is a delightful visit to parts of the Coward catalog that have remained sadly dormant for too long. Thanks to Steve Ross and his friends we can now discover their charm.
Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz, May, 2013
I'M IN LOVE WITH VIENNA - EXUBERANT AND MOVING
Thursday night, I felt lucky to be in the audience for Steve Ross’s iconoclastic I’m in Love with Vienna. Opening with “Wunderbar,” “What could possibly be more oom pah pah mit schlag?” Ross segues into a few bars of “San Francisco.” The first, written by America’s home grown Cole Porter and the second by immigrants Gus Kahn/Walter Jurman/Bronislau Kaper illustrate tonight’s theme, the crosscurrents of American and European musical talent in the late 19th century, from old world operettas to Hollywood and Broadway.
Leave it to the erudite Mr. Ross not only to focus on the intriguing subject, but to make of it something as exuberant and moving as it is illuminating. Though meticulously researched, the evening is without pedantry. While faithfully interpreted, it’s close to schmaltz-free. What others might present as camp is celebrated, not exaggerated. Which is not to say Ross’s polished wit is not present, but that his affection and respect for the material is pervasive.
We start with medleys from 1924’s The Student Prince whose rousing “Drinking Song” “was greeted quite warmly during prohibition,” and Music in the Air written by Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II. “Way before cornfields and clambakes, (reference to the musicals Oklahoma and Carousel) there were Mounties and mountebanks.” I was surprised to learn the second show debuted the feathery “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star” and “The Song is You,” tonight evoking shadows of chandelier crystals. Both were later pop hits.
The delightful, arpeggio-imbued “Papa’s New Cab” from A Waltz Was Born in Vienna ...where your words of love won’t embarrass/because the horse worked several years in Paris introduces German-American Frederick Lowe, roots first. “These weren’t written in 3⁄4 time, but I’ve a feeling I’m allowed...” Ross suggests, following with piano selections from Lowe’s iconic musical theater oeuvre. A 1,2,3/1,2,3/reverse rendition of “I Could’ve Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady) has transporting sweep; “If Ever I Would Leave You” (Camelot) seems suddenly to have been born this tempo. The artist’s deceptively simple treatment adds context and potency.
“Just a Gigolo,” adapted by Irving Caesar from the Austrian “Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo”, is exquisitely charred. Ross’ vocal timbre embodies melancholy flavored by resignation and self mockery. Just a gigolo-sigh-as life goes on without me-pause-without me, he sings with empathy. Instead of Mario Lanza’s over-the-top “Be My Love,” we’re treated to a version powerful for its understated intimacy. A tandem “September Song”/”Speak Low” riding piano cascades more textured than showy, fills pauses with as much feeling as any lyric.
There are music box waltzes conjuring mechanical figures on top- – the girl wearing circles of rouge, the boy in lederhosen- – and sumptuous waltzes with sybaritic flourishes which would be at home on the Ringstrasse. The tumultuous heft of “I’m in Love with Vienna” contrasts with “How Do You Say Auf-Wiedersehen” which, as offered, is wistfully populated by ghosts. Ross sits taller when reaching for a higher octave and occasionally closes his eyes. In English and German, he lives the songs.
“I Love Louisa” (Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz) first performed by Fred Astaire (born Fred Austerlitz) in The Bandwagon, is buoyant. Ross’ terrific “ach” and growl add just the right jaunty authenticity. (Yes, he can growl.) “That’s How I Love You” (Ogden Nash/Kurt Weill) takes it down just a notch while exemplifying Nash’s humor with such priceless lyrics as, as a dachshund abhors revolving doors/that’s how you are loved by me. The performer’s deadpan delivery radiates mischief.
A medley from The Merry Widow, which may reveal Lorenz Hart’s own personal angst, starts wretched with longing, moves on to a waltz in which, if danced, feet wouldn’t touch the floor, and finishes with despair. “We can’t leave you so sad,” says Ross mercifully returning for an encore with the prologue to – wait for it: “Pirate Jenny.” Instead of the throbbing lyrics to that song, however, he sings those of Oscar Hammerstein II’s “My Favorite Things.” Imagine barking: girls mit vite dresses... und zilver vite vinters to the rhythmically ominous melody of Kurt Weill! Needless to say, smiles bloomed.
Steve Ross continues to favor us with indelibly concocted shows of his own devising. His elegance, clarity, and intelligence are endangered qualities. With any luck, Mr. Ross will find further venues for this piece. If so, jump at the opportunity. It is not to be missed.
I didn’t dine at the venue this evening but highly recommend the café for lunch or dinner. It’s comfortable, atmospheric, and the Viennese cuisine is wunderbar.
Alix Cohen, Times Square Chronicles, March 31, 2013
I'M IN LOVE WITH VIENNA
The 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s were decades of cross-Atlantic currents in popular music, as a number of European songwriters emigrated to begin new creative lives in America and, at the same time, American songwriters borrowed styles from the Continent – or poked fun at them. It was this exchange and often collaboration of talents that was the basis of a delightful voyage in three-quarter time – I’m in Love with Vienna – created and performed by Steve Ross, and presented at the Neue Galerie’s Café Sabarsky.
To call Ross’s witty commentary informative as well is not to take away from his rich playing and vocalizing. Among European composers whose music became part of the American Songbook – and whose songs were among two dozen performed – were Leonello Cassucci (“Just a Gigolo,” with American lyrics by Irving Caesar), Paul Lincke (“Glow Worm,” with Johnny Mercer), Nicholas Brodsky (“Be My Love,” with Sammy Cahn), Franz Lehar (the operetta, The Merry Widow, with lyrics by Lorenz Hart), and Kurt Weill, who, emigrating to America, worked with such stellar lyricists as Maxwell Anderson (“September Song”), Ogden Nash (“Speak Low”), Ira Gershwin (“One Life to Live”) and Marc Blitzstein, one of several who translated Threepenny Opera into English. Still another import was Austria-born Frederick Loewe, composer of My Fair Lady, who, pre-Lerner, composed “A Waltz Was Born in Vienna.” Among the American-written, Viennese-style musical jokes were Dietz and Schwartz’s “I Love Louisa” and Cole Porter’s “Wunderbar.”
The show played only one night this season, to a full house at the Café. It surely deserves a wider audience.
Peter Haas, Cabaret Scenes, March 28, 2013
STEVE ROSS: OUT WENT THE SONG, ON WENT THE SHOW
On February 11 Steve Ross presented a program entitled Out Went the Song, On Went the Show at the Bruno Walter Auditorium. There were two parts to the program, a panel discussion in the afternoon and at 6 PM a performance of major theatre and cabaret performers performing the songs themselves.
Ross and Max St. James co-hosted the evening performance beginning with Ross singing possibly the most famous cut song, “From This Moment On,” which was dropped from Cole Porter’s Out of this World, put in the movie of Kiss Me Kate and became an instant standard. First up was LeRoy Reams who told a funny story about David Merrick coming on crutches to see him at Freddy’s and stopping and bending over and picking up a penny on the floor. Jerry Herman later told him that the original first act closing number was Horace’s “Penny in My Pocket” and Reims sang it superbly with full animation and show biz pizzazz. The third song was “Bronxville Darby and Joan” cut from Noel Coward’s Sail Away, an amusing duet Ross did with Jane Summerhays. The oldest known cut song, from 1903’s Babes in Toyland was “She Was A Country Girl” and it was sweetly sung by lyric soprano Korliss Uecker, soaring with operetta high notes!
Mary Foster Conklin, who is opening her Fran Landesman show in March at the Metropolitan Room, told the back story of The Nervous Set which opened in St. Louis at the legendary Crystal Palace and had the heroine sing “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” before committing suicide. The song and suicide were not in the Broadway production. Conklin did the complete song, with all its verses, dramatically and purely, and the audience cheered at the end. The song was replaced by “Ballad of the Sad Young Men.”
Walter Willison told the story of the ballad he had in the second act of Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin’s Two By Two which he only recently learned was cut because lead Danny Kaye didn’t want it in. Willison related that the lyrics of the song were special because they were a pantoum, which means that the first and second lines of the lyrics are repeated in reverse order at the end of the song. The song was a beautiful and brilliant “You Couldn’t Please Me More” and Willison, who hadn’t sang the song since 1970, did it with heart-breaking tenderness.
Brian Gari sang his own “Nothing’s Changin’ This Love” which was cut from Late Night Comic in Connecticut. Shana Farr did a shimmeringly beautiful “Where Do I Go From Here,” the ballad cut from Fiorello. Ross did a cute cut song from Goodtime Charley, “Tomorrow’s Good Old Days.”
Emily Loesser, whose mother is Jo Sullivan and father was Frank Loesser, lovingly sang “Dear Sweet Sewing Machine” cut from Fiddler on the Roof. Young Liam Forde sang “A Green and Private World” cut from Drat! The Cat! with lyrics by Ira (“Rosemary’s Baby“) Levin and the composer, Milton Schafer, was present and stood up to applause.
Joe Sirola sang a Walter Winchell inspired “Dot, Dot, Dot” which was Jack Cassidy’s number dictating a column to Linda Lavin in It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman which was cut after the first performance in Philadelphia because the song, which everyone in the cast loved, got zero applause from the matinee ladies.
Frank Basile, with his supple bass baritone, sang “When My Back Is to the Wall” cut from Her First Roman by Irwin Drake who was applauded in the front row with his beautiful wife, Edith, who was celebrating her birthday.
Karen Oberlin sang “Wanting To Be Wanted,” which was removed just before the Broadway opening of The Most Happy Fella and replaced with “Somebody Somewhere” with a fragment as the intro to it. It’s a rare treasure and Oberlin gave off an aura of longing and hope in her beautiful rendition.
Ross was joined by Colleen McHugh to sing Cole Porter’s amusing “Let’s Misbehave” cut from 1927’s Paris. Ross then did two songs cut from The Happy Time, a beautiful ballad “If You Leave Me Now,” and the clever “Getting Younger Every Year“ which he did with Willison and Ted Bouton,
All the soloists returned for the finale, a repeat of “From This Moment On.” Fortunately, both the afternoon and evening performances were recorded for the Library archives.
Joe Regan Jr., Times Square Chronices, February 19, 2013
LONDON CHRISTMAS CABARET SEASON REACHES A HIGH POINT WITH STEVE ROSS
In the weeks leading up to Christmas Steve Ross appeared at London’s latest Cabaret Venues the Crazy Coqs Cabaret, part of a lavish new complex which also includes Zedel Brasserie, Bar Americain and ZL Café in the basement of what was once the Regent Palace Hotel in Piccadilly Circus.
New Yorker Steve Ross has delighted his audiences in this neck of the woods before just on the other side of Eros’s fountain at the Jermyn Street Theatre and at the other end of Piccadilly at the late-lamented Pizza on the Park not to mention quite recently at the Pheasantry in Kings Road.
Always a night to remember this time Mr. Ross treated us to not one but two cabarets on consecutive weeks. The first was with the wonderful Ms. KT Sullivan. Together they sang just what you want to hear just before Christmas, a nice sprinkling of American Song Book classics from Hollywood musicals such as THEY ALL LAUGHED from the Astaire and Rogers picture Shall We Dance? (Ross is often compared to Astaire and whilst I have never seen him dance his easy going style and impeccable phrasing is certainly reminiscent of the great man), the Bob Hope classic THANKS FOR THE MEMORY from The Big Broadcast of 1938 by Robin and Rainger and I REMEMBER IT WELL from Lerner & Loewe’s musical Gigi and the Broadway Stage too like REMEMBER from Sondheim’s Follies and CLASS and ME AND MY BABY from Kander & Ebb’s Chicago. These was interspersed with some hilarious solos by Ms. Sullivan which included I’M A VAMP by Mischa Spoliansky, I NEVER DO ANYTHING TWICE by Sondheim, I WANNA BE BAD from Follow Through by DeSylva, Brown and Henderson and a wonderful “KATHEEN MEDLEY” ending the mystery of the “KT” moniker Ms. Sullivan has adopted.
Steve Ross too got his chance to do some solos which included FANETTE by Jacques Brel in English and the French theme continued with a marvelous display of pianistic dexterity in an EDITH PIAF Medley. Other solos included LOVE IN A NEW TEMPO from Take Five by Ronny Graham, I’VE BEEN MARRIED from My Man Godfrey by Alan Jay Lerner, music Gerard Kenny and ONE MORE WALK AROUND THE GARDEN from Carmelina by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane.
A fabulous evening of fun was had by all at the capacity-filled wonderful new venue that can now be added to the growing list of London Cabaret venues.
A week later Steve Ross was back with another show entitled I Love Vienna where alongside some of the regular American Songbook stalwarts his repertoire extended to Operetta too which I sadly missed. There is no to this great man’s energy and enthusiasm.
Romano Viazzani, Strumenti & Muscia Magazine, January 20, 2013
On Saturday January 12 and Sunday January 13 internationally renowned Cabaret pianist/singer Steve Ross, who has been called the 'Crown Prince of Cabaret', brought one of his many evenings of song The Music of Fred Astaire called Puttin' On the Ritz to Vitello's Upstairs in Studio City. Ross began his career, some forty years ago, primarily as a pianist, at Ted Hook's Backstage in New York. With no singing experience, he thrust himself into the spotlight singing at the piano, developing his unmatched, uncanny style of song and repartee... and the rest is history.
As he devilishly teased us at the top "You're absolutely riddled with sophistication" he called his set in honor of Mr. Astaire the "all singing, all talking, non dancing" act. What a delicious sense of humor! "I learned to play at my mother's knees and other low joints." And... the delightful anecdotes about these legends could fill an encyclopedia. How many knew that Fred Astaire and his sister Adele were a kiddie team at a tender age on the Orpheum Circuit? Or that Astaire actually composed the tune "City of the Angels" with Tommy Wolf in honor of Hollywood? It's Ross' love of the lyrics of the songs and his ability to communicate that to us that make him even more extra special. His favorite song "Dancing in the Dark" by Dietz and Schwartz tells us we're "waltzing in the wonder of why we're here". We stop and really listen, and focus on the beauty of the lyrics... and that makes all the difference. Ross' lilting baritone and his divine artistry at the piano keys produce a 90-minute vocal montage of some 36 splendid tunes by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer among others. Brian Cassier beautifully accompanied on double bass throughout. An entertainment and enrichment master class all rolled into one! I felt like I was back in a piano bar in NYC and could have stayed and sung along all night. Smooth, elegantly dressed - when was the last time you saw a cabaret singer wear a tux? - and yes, just plain sophisticated as hell, Steve Ross does live up to every accolade that has come his way.
Other highlights of the evening included: Cole Porter's delightful "Thank You So Much Mrs. Loughsborough-Goodby", Irving Berlin's carefree "Let Yourself Go" and the oh so romantic "Cheek to Cheek", Dorothy Fields' and Jerome Kern's dreamy "The Way You Look Tonight" created for Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time, Dietz' and Schwartz' lovely "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan", Arlen and Mercer's unforgettable "My Shining Hour", as well as the ever popular "One More for the Road", and the incomparable pairing of "Steppin' Out with My Baby" with "Puttin' On the Ritz" both mesmerizing Berlin classics. Most of the tunes were presented in medleys by composers, such as a batch of Gershwin, then a potpourri of Berlin, etc all enriched with Ross' lovable patter. There was not a boring moment. How could there be with Ross' slick delivery, sense of fun and unpredictably quaint change in inflection or interpretation, which made it all quite exciting to take in like fine wine!
There are a great collection of CDs, allowing you to listen with pleasure to Steve Ross "Night and Day". He sings Porter, Alan Jay Lerner among many others.
Let me add that this is my very first Steve Ross experience, but certainly not my last. Ross has a terrific following. Among the packed house on Saturday the 12th were songstersNancy Dussault, Karen Morrow and Andrea Marcovicci, as well as directors Miriam Nelson and Bryan Rasmussen. Ross is revered in the field of music, much like Barbara Cook. Thanks to musicians like Cook and Ross, the beautiful music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Irving Berlin lives on.
Don Grigware, BroadwayWorld.com, January 14, 2013
The successful first season of the new London cabaret room, The Crazy Coqs, has come to an end with the “king of cabaret”, Steve Ross who brought us a new programme dedicated to European composers, notably the Viennese who purveyed succulent waltzes and operetta fairytale plots. Many consider that the operetta style died with the advent of ragtime and the modern syncopations of composers like Jerome Kern (with his legendary Princes Theatre shows), Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, but it in fact continued to flourish. In 1925, the year of No, No Nanette, with its modern flappers and jazzy tunes, the most popular show on Broadway was the Ruritanian romance, The Student Prince, with melodies by Sigmund Romberg, which ran for two years.
Ross regards Romberg as one of the greatest of tunesmiths, and demonstrates this with a medley including ‘The drinking song’ (The Student Prince opened at the height of Prohibition!), ‘Deep in my heart, dear’, and ‘Serenade’ (lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly). And as late as 1938 (the year Ross was born), Kern was returning to his operetta roots when he collaborated with Oscar Hammerstein on Music in the Air, from which Ross performs the wistful hymn to contentment, ‘In Egern on the Tegern See’ plus two standards, ‘I’ve told ev’ry little star’ and ‘The song is you’.
More recherché is the work of Emmerich Kalman, to whom Ross pays tribute with a selection of numbers from Marinka (1945, words by George Marion Jr). Marinka has just been a title in reference books until I heard Ross’s delightful selection. The prolific Kalman is generally considered one of the two greatest operetta composers – the other was Franz Lehár, and Ross sings several numbers from his masterwork, The Merry Widow. The English lyrics he sings are, surprisingly, by Lorenz Hart, who wrote them when working for MGM in the mid-1930s. Nicholas Brodszky, who made a career in Hollywood, composed with Sammy Cahn the great hit for Mario Lanza, ‘Be my love’. A film Ross surprisingly omits is Spring Parade (1950), starring Deanna Durbin with melodies by the celebrated Robert Stolz (‘Waltzing in the clouds’ and ‘It’s foolish but it’s fun’ were two of them), but from the Stolz catalogue he gives us two fine songs, a spirited ‘Two hearts in three-quarter time’ and a passionate ‘Don’t ask me why’, the latter frequently included in Marlene Dietrich’s act.
Johann Strauss II is represented by ‘I‘m in love with Vienna‘, while more recent sounds are evoked in Paul Lincke’s ‘Glow worm’ (words by Johnny Mercer) and Robert Katscher’s ‘When day is done’. There are Frederick Loewe’s numbers with Alan Jay Lerner from My Fair Lady and Gigi, and Kurt Weill’s ‘September song’, ‘Speak low’; and ‘One life to live’ with words by Maxwell Anderson, Ogden Nash and Ira Gershwin respectively. Probably the least known composer featured by Ross is Leonello Cassuci, who wrote just one hit, ‘Schöner Gigolo’ which, with English lyrics by Irving Caesar, became the haunting lament, ‘Just a gigolo’, sung with superb resignation by Ross, who has also unearthed a little-known treasure in ‘How do you say auf wiedersehen?’ by Tony Scibetta and Johnny Mercer.
The waltzes of operetta, though often gorgeous, are associated in some quarters with schmaltz or corn, and Ross has fun with some of the numerous parodies that have been fashioned on the subject, such as Cole Porter’s ‘Wunderbar’, which though originally performed by Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison as an hilariously exaggerated duet Kiss Me Kate, ironically became popular. Ross also sings, tongue firmly in cheek, Ronny Graham’s ‘Waltzing in Venice’ (“If we should take one more step than we oughta / We could be doing the waltz under water”) and a number from Rick Besoyan’s Little Mary Sunshine, a whole show dedicated to spoofing the genre.
The difference between opera and operetta, states Ross, is that operas have unhappy endings and operettas have cheerful ones. A version of the Mayerling tragedy, for instance, ends with the lovers settling down in Connecticut to live happily ever after, and another little-known production was The Happy Niebelungen to complete an offbeat, beautifully researched and richly rewarding evening full of enthralling anecdotes and enchanting songs.
Tom Vallance, The Classical Source, December 19, 2012
STEVE ROSS AND KT SULLIVAN AT THE CRAZY COQS
Need sanctuary from all of that tedious Spice Girls hoopla? Across the street from Viva Forever a little miracle is taking place in the Art Deco room that has quickly become part of London’s cabaret landscape. The singer KT Sullivan and the debonair pianist and vocalist Steve Ross are two American Anglophiles whose solo shows have long been highlights in the New York calendar. Working together they have created a deceptively casual performance that is small but perfectly formed.
By the end my head was spinning. Where did they find that rarity? What prompted them to dip into Gilbert and Sullivan’s Poor Wand’ring One or I Am a Vamp, a mischievous Weimar ditty that Ute Lempur made her own a while back? Has therever been a more world weary version of Class from that most cynical of Kander and Ebb shows, Chicago?
Irish ballads mingle with Jacques Brel’s Fanette and a Gershwin standard or two. It’s no insult to Sullivan and Ross to say that the show sometimes feels as if they are making it up as they go along. That is how beguiling and relaxed the very best cabaret can be. Sullivan gives us a squeaky Betty Boop impersonation on I Want To Be Bad, but for much of the evening she unfurls demure operetta-ish vocals that form a potent contrast to Ross’s much more conversational delivery. His instrumental medly of Piaf numbers is another of the evening’s many gems, with Milord, Hymne a l’Amour and La Vie En Rose among the themes woven into a stunning tapestry. On Takin’ a Bath in the Blues, his self-pity became infectiously funny.
“Do the Spice Girls sing the blues?” Sullivan asked the audience afterwards. You know the answer to that one.
Clive Davis, The Times, London, December 14, 2012
STEVE ROSS AND KT SULLIVAN AT THE CRAZY COQS
KT Sullivan is a German vamp who wants to be bad and never does anything twice while Steve Ross enjoys wallowing in post romantic stress syndrome.
Two of the genre’s most renowned luminaries from across the pond join forces to take up a stint as part of the first season at the newly launched cabaret room in the basement of W1 Brasserie Zedel. A grand piano and performance space have been designated to the side of the bar as tables and chairs fill up the circular, softly lit setting.
This delightful duo effortlessly migrates between operetta, story-telling, nonchalant anecdotes and complex, yet easy-on-the-ear, his and hers medleys. Lamenting (Ira Gershwin style) that it’s a pity they had never met before, they bounce songs back and forth like balls in a top class tennis match.
Covering mostly standard material ranging from Who Cares to They All Laughed and a wonderfully poignant rendition of Chicago’s Class, they are equally at home entertaining solo. Ross is endearing as much as he is commanding, but most of all it is his superb piano playing and lyric positioning that stand out. His phrasing is reminiscent of Fred Astaire and the late Bobby Short.
Sullivan plays to her heritage with some 19th century authentic Irish material and wandr’es through cadenzas in Poor Wandr’ing One with gusto. She also salutes the great early 20th century cabaret singer Mabel Mercer.
Transcending gracefully into their final medley, their stylish in-between-songs repartee comes to the fore. An artform in itself, this comes as a refreshing contrast to the often slightly forced and rather rehearsed versions performed by many contemporary British cabaret artists. If you want to see how it’s truly done, this is your chance.
Jennifer Reischel, The Stage, London, December 17, 2012
STEVE ROSS AND KT SULLIVAN AT THE CRAZY COQS
Having just finished a run at Crazy Coqs paying tribute to Mabel Mercer, arguably the original queen of cabaret, K.T. Sullivan is now joined by the man who has been dubbed “King of Cabaret”, Steve Ross, for an act best described by the title of one of the songs they perform, ‘Class’. That Kander & Ebb ditty (from Chicago) is given its full satirical value, the pair having as much fun as the audience. Later the operatically trained Sullivan is heard offstage warbling the coloratura scales that alert Ross to the entrance of Mabel in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and a playful rendition of ‘Poor wandering one’ follows.
The show is fun for all, if with occasional reflection on unrequited love, without which no cabaret performance would seem complete. Jerome Kern and Leo Robin’s ‘In love in vain’ is one of the definitive songs on the subject and Sullivan sings it beautifully. Another reflective ballad, and a highlight, is Ross’s achingly wistful ‘One more walk around the garden’ from Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s short-lived show Carmelina.The evening starts with a trio of songs by the Gershwins, ‘They all laughed’, ‘Who cares?’ (sung in counterpoint) and ‘Isn’t it a pity?’, followed by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’s ‘I can’t give you anything but love’, the lyrics of which were based by Fields on an overheard conversation. Sullivan then adopts a guttural accent for ‘I’m a vamp’, partly sung in German, in which she boasts of souvenirs that she has kept from her conquests including “Hitler’s first moustache”. Sullivan then becomes Betty Boop to sing DeSylva, Brown and Henderson’s ‘I wanna be bad’, before displaying her ability to belt, as she builds to the climax of Sondheim’s impudent ‘I never do anything twice’.
Sullivan’s light soprano also serves perfectly for a medley of songs featuring her first name, Kathleen, informing us that “Thomas Westendorf, the composer of ‘I’ll take you home again, Kathleen’, composed it for his wife, whose name was Jenny”. Ross sings a sprightly version of Ronny Graham’s little-known ‘Unrequited love march’, satirising macho self-pity, before pointing out that requited love can have its drawbacks, the cue for ‘I’ve been married’ from an unproduced stage version of My Man Godfrey by Gerard Kenny and Alan Jay Lerner, who wrote the flippant but bitter lyrics – Lerner was married eight times!
Ross, his singing so easy on the ear as he invests every lyric with meaning, is also an accomplished pianist and plays a medley of Edith Piaf hits. There is also a Sullivan-Ross medley of recollection, in which Sondheim’s ‘Remember’ segues into ‘I remember it well’, ‘When I grow too old to dream’ and the exquisite duet ‘Thanks for the memory’. It is a beautifully conceived selection. One of the final numbers that the pair perform do is a paean to the famed London street, ‘Piccadilly’, no doubt chosen because of the thoroughfare’s proximity to this beautiful Art Deco venue which, in Sullivan and Ross, has one of its strongest attractions.
Tom Vallance, The Classical Source, December 11, 2012
STEVE ROSS AND KT SULLIVAN AT THE CRAZY COQS
It is not often you get to see a duet cabaret, so this is a good chance to do so. KT Sulllivan and Steve Ross, both regular visitors to London from New York, have worked together before at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, NYC and The Pheasantry here in London. Last night at the Crazy Coqs, they debuted their new show ‘Together With Music’.
Apart from the number of duets featured, this is a particularly unusual programme, taking in songs both sentimental and amusing from the 1920s, rather than jazz, and others giving the feeling of an old-fashioned movie e.g. ‘I’m a Vamp’, where I particularly liked the German lyrics by Robert Klein, and ‘I Wanna Be Bad’, originally introduced by Betty Boop, and leading up to Sondheim’s darkly comic ‘I Never Do Anything Twice’. KT also sang a medley centered around her real name Kathleen which included Claribel’s ‘Come Back to Erin’, Westendorf’s ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’ and Crawford and Crouch’s ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’. These songs have a legato quality which particularly suit KT’s voice.
The real skill of the programming, however, was revealed in the second half when Steve Ross sang the surprising choice of Jacques Brell’s sad and wistful ‘Fanette’, providing complete contrast with what had gone before. He followed with the dry humour of ‘Love in a New Tempo’ from ‘Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1968’ and Alan Jay Lerner’s ‘I’ve Been Married’, both delivered with restrained understated aplomb.
Again unusually, Steve played a long instrumental section, this time of a medley of Edith Piaf combined with Tin Pan Alley ragtime numbers, which then, believe it or not, moved into KT performing Gilbert and Sullivan!
You would think that such unrelated styles, mood and feel would fail to hang together and yet it all connected seamlessly, finishing with a lovely collection of songs of remembrance and memory. A good demonstration of just what can be done in a cabaret format that other performing art forms don’t allow.
I was aware at certain moments that this was the premiere of a new show and it felt a little under rehearsed at times. Also, the work would benefit from more spontaneous banter between the 2 artists. However, these matters will no doubt be resolved as the show plays and is allowed to develop and grow.
The 2 vocal types, KT’s soprano and Steve’s husky tones, work well together despite the differences, and both bring an elegance and sophistication which unifies them. At various times the audience raised a cheer, were moved, or chuckled in amusement. Despite the heavy nostalgic feel, the sentiment did not become cloying, and the show taken as a whole served to illustrate just what a wide umbrella the term ‘cabaret’ covers – certainly not just American Songbook, great though that is.
Fiona-Jane Weston, StageWon, London, December, 2012
C'MON AND HEAR! – Steve Ross Sings and Plays Irving Berlin
It is always good to welcome Steve Ross back to London. His brand of sophisticated singing and playing of great songs is too rare a commodity. His current show, devoted entirely to the works of Irving Berlin (whose remarkable catalogue could fill a dozen evenings) is particularly appropriate, for the song which first brought Berlin fame and fortune, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, is celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary. Ross opens with it, interjecting some other ragtime music and strains of Swanee River into his piano arrangement, the perfect beginning for an evening which demonstrates the boundless variety of Berlin’s output. Although, as Ross points out, Alexander’s Ragtime Band is not in itself truly a ragtime melody – it’s so typical of Ross to lace his performance with succinct comments and information. How many of us know that How Deep is the Ocean? consists entirely of questions?
The songs themselves are mainly much loved perennials, such as Cheek to Cheek, Say It Isn’t So, and Blue Skies. Ross mentions Berlin’s canny use of ‘catalogue’ songs in film musicals such as Easter Parade, which brought new popularity to I Love a Piano, a perfect number for Ross, who certainly knows “a fine way to treat a Steinway”. His piano interludes, including a medley of such numbers as Remember, and Let’s Face the Music and Dance, are extremely beguiling. There is also a sprinkling of lesser-known material, such as the jaunty Ragtime Violin, a comedy number called Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars, and a touching ballad, I Can’t Remember, which Ross first heard from a vintage Gracie Fields recording!
Another song with a British connection is It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow – a hit in the Broadway musical, Louisiana Purchase (1940), which had great success in the UK when it was recorded by Vera Lynn as a morale-boosting number during the early days of World War Two. The neglected Let’s Go Back to the Waltz, from Berlin’s last Broadway show, Mr President, introduces some of Berlin’s gorgeous waltzes. One of his greatest is Always, which prompts one of Ross’s amusing anecdotes – when Berlin played the song to George F. Kaufman, the noted writer and wit responded by pointing out that the word “always” implied a commitment that he found daunting. He suggested the lyrics instead state, “I’ll be loving you Thursday”.
Ross has great fun with the comedy number about a bashful lad with unsuspected romantic qualities, You’d Be Surprised, including a little-known second chorus (“I know he looks as slow as the Erie, but you don’t know the half of it, dearie”), and he brings effective passion and power to make a showstopper of Harlem On My Mind, Berlin’s speculative evocation of the homesickness that the ex-patriate toast of Paris, Josephine Baker, might be feeling. The exquisite Change Partners and Let Me Sing and I’m Happy are two gems that come near to the climax of the evening, which ends appropriately with White Christmas. The show is a sterling tribute to a master song-writer, and it would be hard to find a finer interpreter of Irving Berlin’s words and music than Steve Ross.
Tom Vallance, The Classical Source, November 18, 2011
CABARET ARTIST STEVE ROSS PERFORMS
How do you explain hearing an evening of American and European cabaret music from the early to mid 20th century as one of the events of the 2011 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival? It is quite simple: Yeheskall Beinisch, chairman of the JICMF, met Steve Ross at a party in the USA and spontaneously suggested he come to Jerusalem to give a performance at the JICMF, now celebrating its 14th year. On September 9th 2011, the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA was packed to capacity with people for whom the music of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Gershwin and Édith Piaf was familiar.
Steve Ross was born in New Rochelle, New York. As a child, he lay under the piano, enraptured at hearing his mother playing songs of Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Gershwin - “all those standards that were collapsing around me”. Ross studied the piano and, following studies at Georgetown University and a stint in the US army, relocated to New York City in the early 1970’s, where he worked as a “background piano player”. In NYC, Ross played in venues that required him to sing and so he began voice training studies. (Steve told me that voice-training for him is an ongoing focus and that today he still enjoys and benefits from working with top voice teachers.)
Ross’s work in the popular New York “Backstage” piano bar and restaurant attracted a steady clientele eager to hear his repertoire of American songs; it was there that artists such as Liza Minnelli and Ginger Rogers were known to have stood up spontaneously to sing with him. In New York Ross developed his reputation of communicating easily with audiences, entertaining them well, often plying them with the tongue-twister lyrics of Cole Porter songs. His career spiraled when he became the first cabaret performer of the Algonquin Hotel’s newly opened “Oak Room”. Instrumental in the cabaret revival of New York, Ross has spent many years taking his show further afield - to the London Ritz, to “Pizza in the Park” (London), to Australia, Brazil, to festivals in many countries, yet still performing the length and breadth of America, as well as On-and-Off Broadway. Ross’s performance at the 2011 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival was his Israeli debut.
Seating himself at the piano, Ross begins by apologizing for the fact that
he does not play Brahms or Schubert. He opens with Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on
Taking the audience for a wistful, whimsical and, indeed, romantic stroll down the memory lane of the golden age of the sentimental music of the 1910’s, 1920’s and 1930’s, Ross first presents a selection of songs by Eddie Kantor, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Gershwin. The piano is Ross’s band, adding color, rhythm, tenderness, magic and virtuosic panache to the songs… as well as some amusing interludes: interrupting Irving Berlin’s decidedly erotic “I Love a Piano” (1915) the artist suddenly quotes the pompous opening of Grieg’s Piano Concerto and, later, the much-loved and naïve C major Mozart Piano Sonata you may have played many years ago as a young piano student.
Cole Porter is high up on Ross’s list of favorites; much of the evening’s program focused on Cole Porter songs, including a number of songs from “Anything Goes” (1934) - “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’d Be So Easy to Love”, “Anything Goes”, and more. We heard “I’ve Got You Under my Skin”, (1936) a hit that became a signature song for Frank Sinatra and “Just One of Those Things” written by Cole Porter in 1935 for the musical “Jubilee”. The audience was reminded of Fred Astaire’s unforgettable role in “Night and Day”, a performance ushering in a new era of filmed dance in the movie “The Gay Divorcee” (1934) and Astaire’s "tripping the light fantastic” with Ginger Rogers in “Swing Time” (1936). Ross claims that what Porter and he have in common is the fact that they both fell in love with Paris and in Paris. As a Valentine to Paris, Steve Ross conjured up the sparkle of “La Ville-Lumière” and its enticing setting for romance (not forgetting its disappointments) in the wonderful “I Love Paris in the Springtime” and “C’est magnifique” (It’s Magnificent) both from Can-Can (1953), with the audience now less guarded and gently humming along in these numbers.
Another association with Fred Astaire was George Gershwin’s downhearted “A
Foggy Day (in London Town” (lyrics Ira Gershwin), introduced by Astaire in the
1937 film “A Damsel in Distress”.
One of the highlights of the evening was a piano medley of Édith Piaf songs, with Ross giving his all, creating a vibrant and moving canvas of the bittersweet songs of the 40’s and 50’s Piaf had sung in Paris nightclubs, for the German forces in occupied France and also in the USA, her songs fired with inspiration and energy but also tinged with the tragedy of her life.
Steve Ross has been performing for 50 years. His voice is as bright and pleasing as his personality. With few spoken words and many sounds, Ross places the music centre stage, using the rich palette of his art to invite his audience to reminisce, to smile, to shed a tear, to take the nostalgic journey back to the time when romance was in vogue, when show-biz people looked chic and when hits reached the status of greatness. Communicating and singing out to his audience, one might almost forget that Ross was also the superb, spontaneous pianist accompanying the program.
The evening was drawing to a close; Steve Ross signed out with two Irving Berlin songs. With the audience in the palm of his hand, there was now no need for Ross to invite the people gathered at the Jerusalem YMCA to join him in singing Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek”. How could one not resist indulging in just one more moment to savor this wonderful era of music?
Pamela Hickman, Pamela Hickman's Concert Critique Blog, September 14, 2011
JEAN BRASSARD AND
We all know singer-pianist Steve Ross, one of the world's foremost interpreters of good songs. French-Canadian singer-actor Jean Brassard is less familiar, at least on the New York cabaret scene. I first became aware of him a few years ago through his participation in the Kabarett Kollectif, and with his splendid tribute to Yves Montand, "The Kid from Paris," I became a fan. The two men have joined forces to present "French Lessons," a winning evening of songs either by French songwriters or about matters French; it made its New York bow at The Triad recently.
The two artists complement each other nicely. Though he can cut loose—witness his animated (and authoritative) performance of Cole Porter's "Can-Can" (in this show done as a duet with Brassard)—Ross tends to be more reserved and reflective, with a sly and dry wit. By contrast, Brassard is a showman, an entertainer, with Gallic charm and a somewhat broader approach to humor—though he's certainly capable of depth, as in his darkly dramatic performance of Chico Buarque and Claude Nougaro's brooding "Tu Verras." (I'm not sure exactly how Gallic charm differs from other varieties; I suspect the accent has a lot to do with it.) Much of their banter centers around Ross's alleged weakness with the French language and Brassard's attempt to correct this deficiency. Of course this is hokey—Ross handles French quite well—but it makes a more-than-serviceable hook to hang the show on, and it's the source of good-natured fun; what's more, it gives the men a chance to delight us with the breezy "The French Lesson" (Roger Edens, Comden & Green).
An homage to Josephine Baker has both men performing "J'ai Deux Amours" (Vincent Scotto, Georges Koger, Henri Varna), with Brassard dancing in a banana skirt and floral headdress and bra. One could object that the song's hauntingly wistful quality is not properly served by this burlesque; nonetheless this clowning is innocent, crowd-pleasing fun, à la Luther Billis. Ross follows with his wonderful, at times gutsy, rendition of "Harlem on [Her] Mind," written by Irving Berlin in reference to Baker.
Ross shines in a medley of "I Will Wait for You," "Watch What Happens" (both by Michel Legrand and Norman Gimbel) and "Windmills of Your Mind"/"Les Moulins de Mon Coeur" (Michel Legrand, Marilyn & Alan Bergman, Eddy Marnay). And I have never heard a more touching interpretation of "Fanette" (Jacques Brel, Mort Shuman, Eric Blau)—Ross makes palpable the pain and bittersweet joy that the song evokes.
With "Que Reste-t'il de Nos Amours" (music by Charles Trenet and Léo Chauliac), Brassard starts off in English, as "I Wish You Love" (lyric by Albert Beach). When he switches to Trenet's original French lyric, he opts not to do it sadly, but, instead, to focus on fond memories. Lovely choice. He does a magnificent job on "La Valse à Mille Temps" (music and French lyric by Jacques Brel), starting off in English (Arnie Johnston translation) then switching to French. In this instance I wish he'd sing the complete song in English, because Johnston's translation has so much more substance and depth than the merely showy version ("Carousel") we normally hear, and the unsung English lyrics complete the portrait that Johnston paints.
Brassard and Ross deliver many other strong performances of material by such writers as Georges Ulmer, Vernon Duke, E.Y. Harburg, and Gilbert Bécaud. The numbers switch effortlessly between the two languages and from one singer to the other. This is a new venture, and it's not quite in polished form—for example, the selections chosen for the closing medley of "Classic Serenades" need to be revisited. But easily 90% of it is a wrap.
Roy Sander, Bistro Awards, July 26, 2011
JEAN BRASSARD AND
What is it about the French? Is the haute couture? Or the romance of Paris? Does it sometimes seem like every other person is a Francophile? These would include Steve Ross and apparently most of the enthusiastic SRO audience that filled The Triad for one night only as New York’s “Crown Prince of Cabaret” and Quebec’s “Kid from Paris” paired up to polish Ross’s French skills with lessons en Chansons.
Actually, lessons in French did not play a significant part in this delightful show once they finished Betty Comden/Adolph Green/Roger Edens’s “The French Lesson” from the film Good News. The evening was basically about music itself, with pianist/singer Steve Ross and Jean Brassard, a graceful song-and-dance man in the charismatic Yves Montand tradition. Brassard added much of the patter leading into different song groupings about Paris, love, life and time. Life and time, in fact, formed a loose arc in the show, recognizing the preciousness of time with “Le Temps” (“There Is a Time”) by Charles Aznavour, Jeff Davis and Gene Lees. Brassard then nailed the theme with the theatrical “La Valse à mille temps” (Jacques Brel), beginning in a leisurely tempo, picking up increasing speed and rushing into a tongue-twisting finale. The conclusion about life, about love was, of course, “C’est si bon” (Henri Betti/Andre Hornez/Jerry Seelen).
Directed by David Krueger, the 90-minute show flowed smoothly, capturing moods of Charles Trenet, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Erik Satie, Jacques Brel, Vernon Duke. In Charles Trenet’s “I Wish You Love,” Ross sang the English lyric by Albert A. Beach while Brassard sang in French, “Que reste-t-il de nos ammours?” by Léo Chauliac. Ross tossed sly asides to Brassard’s humorous tale of a young man waiting for “Madeleine” (Jacques Brel) and, as a treat, he played one of his signature tunes, “Can-Can” by that other Francophile, Cole Porter, not slurring a syllable nor missing an innuendo. Though he sang some songs in French, Ross’s outstanding moment was his solo rendition of Brel’s “Fanette” in English (lyrics by Mort Shuman and Eric Blau), a touching invitation to share in the nuances of a poignant romance.
The outgoing Brassard demonstrated his music hall versatility with smooth hoofing, mime and broad physical comedy, including a comical send-up of Josephine Baker in her banana skirt, all delivered with a good-natured audience connection. Turning on a dime, however, he persuasively found the drama in “Tous les moulins de mon coeur” (“The Windmills of Your Mind,” by Michel Legrand, Eddy Marnay, Marilyn and Alan Bergman) and in the elegant “Classic Serenade” of French love songs.
Steve Ross’s urbane wit and sophisticated musicality and Jean Brassard’s cosmopolitan ease and classic Gallic charm —“C’est si bon.”
Elizabeth Ahlfors, Cabaret Scenes, July 26, 2011
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
The Metropolitan Room is among the best venues for good live music in Manhattan, and offers an eclectic lineup of cabaret and jazz performers. On April 20, there were two shows, the Aaron Weinstein Trio, a jazz group, and Steve Ross and Ann Monoyios with The Four Nations Ensemble, a blending of cabaret and baroque chamber music. The common thread between the groups was the appealing senses of humor on display during both shows by Weinstein, and Andrew Appel, the director of The Four Nations Ensemble...
The unlikely pairing of the debonair cabaret singer/pianist Steve Ross with the classical soprano Ann Monoyios and The Four Nations Ensemble for a program that moved back and forth between songs from the Great White Way and those of the baroque period proved to be a delightful one.
The tone was set by their performance of “Anything Goes” that served as the Overture. Monoyios, accompanied by the Ensemble of Andrew Appel on harpsichord, Krista Feeney on violin, Loretta O’Sullivan on cello, and Daniel Swenburg on lute and guitar, sang the verse in a somewhat baroque period style before Ross gave the chorus a jazzy ride.
The segment titled Shakespeare consisted of selections by Ross from Kiss Me Kate, the Cole Porter musical based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Were Thine That Special Face” and “Wunderbar,” and three songs from Shakespeare, “Where the Bee Sucks,” “It Was a Lover and His Lass” and “Willow Song” by Monoyios with backing by Swenburg. Ross is a performer at ease with a wide variety of material, a master of the comic lyric, and a fine interpreter of the most sensitive of ballads. Monoyios is superb at bringing an art song sensitivity to the Shakespeare pieces that are essentially folk songs.
A transitional pairing of Henrich Biber’s “Sonata in F for violin and continuo” beautifully performed by Feeney and Appel, with the bawdily humorous confection by Jonathan Tunick and Stephen Sondheim, “Pro Musica Antiqua,” wonderfully rendered by Momoyios and Appel, worked perfectly.
The final portion was titled Obsessions. Once again the mood shifted from Broadway to the Baroque Era for selections about the many facets of love. The earlier works included two by Henry Purcell, “If Love’s a Sweet Passion” and “Since from my Dear”, sung by Monoyios, Francesco Geminani’s “Andante,” a cello feature for O’Sullivan, and Handel’s “Credete al mio dolore,” another selection by Monoyios. Ross assayed “Falling in Love with Love,” “Losing My Mind” and “So in Love,” and was joined by Monoyios for the final piece, “This Can’t Be Love.”
Appel served as the host for the program, and was a most witty and charming one. The evening was intelligently programmed and paced, making the transitions in style seamless. The musicianship remained at a high level throughout the show. It is always a plus to see that the performers are having as much fun as the audience is while enjoying their talents. That was surely the case in this instance.
Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz, April 20, 2011
STEVE ROSS AT THE PHEASANTRY - RHYTHM & ROMANCE
Rhythm and Romance - An entertainment by Steve Ross with songs by Ted Koehler & Jimmy McHugh, Michael Flanders & Donald Swann, John Kander & Fred Ebb, Richard Rodgers & Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II, Frank Loesser, Billy Hill, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, Noël Coward, Ivor Novello & Peter Dion Titheradge, Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields, George & Ira Gershwin, Eric Maschwitz, Jack Strachey & Harry Link, Wayne Moore, Jacques Brel, Mort Shuman & Eric Blau, and Edith Piaf
Steve Ross, the doyen of cabaret artists, arrived at The Pheasantry in Chelsea the night after St Valentine’s Day. In the week in which we remember the patron saint of lovers everywhere, Ross presents his latest one-man show, “Rhythm & Romance”, which is devoted to various aspects of falling in love as seen through the eyes, the words and the music of popular songsmiths. Ross is the complete embodiment of the Great American Songbook and, also, he has long enjoyed singing and playing the music of UK masters of the popular song. He therefore calls his show a Transatlantic Songbook.
Steve Ross begins his evening of love-songs with a rare Ted Koehler/Jimmy McHugh number ‘Spreadin’ rhythm around’ which was a hit for Billie Holiday way back when. He couples it with a few bars of Cole Porter’s ‘I got rhythm’. Then, having spoken-up for the rhythm section, he falls back on romance if dubiously: Michael Flanders & Donald Swann’s ‘Have some Madeira m’dear’, a tale of unbridled lust in which some old rogue tries to seduce a young woman with a glass or three of sweet wine. Kander & Ebb’s ‘Married’ from “Cabaret” looks on the brighter side of love which is dashed to pieces as Steve segues into Sondheim’s lyrics for ‘We’re gonna be all right’, written with Richard Rodgers for the show “Do I Hear a Waltz?”. This is a pretty jaded view of love and marriage (“Sometimes she smokes in bed / Sometimes he’s homosexual / But why be vicious – they keep it out of sight…”). The reverse of the marriage coin comes with ‘The folks who live on the hill', Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s positive view of a long-term marriage, definitively recorded by Peggy Lee. A relative rarity ‘My heart is so full of love’ from Frank Loesser’s show “The Most Happy Fella” is followed by Billy Hill’s ‘The glory of love’, a song on which Bette Midler has put her own stamp.
Steve Ross is never one to ignore the songs of Cole Porter. Indeed most of his shows include something by the great composer-lyricist. Here we have an affecting medley of ‘I am in love’, ‘Down in the depths (on the 90th floor)’and ‘Just one of those things’ with the priceless lyric that introduced us to the evocative image of “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings”. How romantic is that? This is followed by one of Cole’s superbly witty lyrics about all the courageous animals that provide the ladies with furry items to wear, in ‘’Where would you get your coat?’ (“If the dear little rabbits weren’t so bourgeois in their habits, / Where would you get your coat?”).
Back to the heartache of unrequited love which was real in the case of lyricist Lorenz Hart (Steve calls him “the bard of the bittersweet”) who never found a satisfactory partner but wrote sublimely about lost love in ‘I still believe in you’, ‘Falling in love with love’, ‘Glad to be unhappy’ and ‘You took advantage of me’. A medley of Noël Coward songs includes ‘A bar on the Piccola Marina’, in which a widow hits the love trail,‘Time will tell’, ‘I’ll follow your secret heart’ and ‘I’ll see you again’, which are followed by Ivor Novello and Peter Dion Titheradge’s hilarious ‘And her mother comes too’, a funny sad song about how a would-be romantic cannot shake off his girlfriend’s family when he just wants them to be alone.
With some more Jerome Kern, George & Ira Gershwin, Eric Maschwitz and others, Steve Ross presents a rounded picture of how we can say it with music. He ends with Jacques Brel’s ‘Fanette’ and a piano medley of Edith Piaf hits. For an encore it’s the title song and Rodgers & Hart’s ‘My romance’, the epitome of the love-song with the final refrain of “My romance / Doesn’t need a thing but you”. And you don’t need a thing except Steve Ross when it comes to civilised evening entertainment. Don’t miss!
Michael Darvell, www.classicalsource.com, February 15, 2011
STEVE ROSS REALLY IS THE CROWN PRINCE OF CABARET
New York may be having its roughest winter in memory, but thanks to the genius of singer and pianist Steve Ross, the Algonquin Hotel’s fabled Oak Room Supper Club (59 W. 44th St.) is aglow with pleasure and warmth.
Ross titles his new songfest, "Rhythm and Romance," and love in its myriad forms is the subject of his musical disquisition.
"Music everywhere, feet are pattin', Puttin' tempo in Old Manhattan," Ross sings, launching the program with a jaunty rendition of "Spreadin' Rhythm Around," a 1935 Ted Koehler/Jimmy McHugh tune that conjures up the vitality and confidence of the Harlem Renaissance.
An impassioned advocate of the Great American Songbook, Ross goes on to deliver a spellbinding three-song Cole Porter medley featuring a touchingly rueful rendition of the despairing, world-weary Porter classic, "Down in the Depths (On the Ninetieth Floor)." Later, he presents a medley by Rodgers and Hart ("Falling in Love With Love," "Glad to Be Unhappy" and "You Took Advantage of Me") that crystallizes the heartbreak and sadness underpinning Hart’s observant and ingenious lyrics.
Known as the supreme American interpreter of the Noël Coward songbook, he also dishes up a trio of Coward tunes with his customary perfection, the delicious "A Bar on the Piccola Marina" followed by the affecting "Someday I'll Find You" and "I'll See You Again."
Those performances would be more than enough to qualify "Rhythm and Romance" as vintage Steve Ross. But what really makes this particular show so special is the way the performer has chosen to pour a lifetime of wisdom and experience into the reflective selections that punctuate the evening.
Twenty years ago, Ross deservedly earned the sobriquet "the crown prince of cabaret," and the title has stuck. However, in common with any other great artist, he has refused to rest on this laurels, continuing to dig deeper and deeper into his material in order to reveal the heart and soul of each song he chooses to sing. In this show, Ross has never been so deep, so pure and so truthful.
In an especially revealing moment, he turns his attention to "one of his ten favorite songs," the great standard, "These Foolish Things," which debuted in 1936.
As the story goes, during a Hollywood stay, British musical-theatre writer Eric Maschwitz became romantically linked to the Chinese-American movie star Anna May Wong. (Maschwitz happened to be married to Hermione Gingold at the time!). Returning to London (and married life), the saddened writer went on to write the lyric for what was destined to become one of the classic "list songs" of all time, each item on the list evoking memories of his beloved Wong.
Since then "These Foolish Things" has been recorded by everyone from Billie Holliday to Bryan Ferry and Michael Bublé, and everyone has heard it countless times. And yet, when Ross sings it, his performance is so intimate and his communicative skills are so pure he makes the song brand new. What a stunning experience!
Steve Ross is a great artist at the top of his game. He holds court in the Oak Room through Feb. 12
Henry Edwards, Broadway Bulletin, February 7, 2011
FIRST NIGHTER: STEVE ROSS'S BRILLIANT OAK ROOM TAKE ON ROMANCE AND RHYTHM THEN AND NOW
Steve Ross -- now the undisputed monarch of Manhattan cabaret since the days when he shared the crown with the late Bobby Short -- has generously offered any number of world-class shows in the past. Usually, they've been tributes to living or once-living institutions like Fred Astaire, Cole Porter, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, all of whom received his polished, off-hand, subtly heart-felt accord.
So it's saying something to designate as perhaps his best show ever the current presentation (through February 12) at the Oak Room at the Algonquin -- his one-time and once again local home. He calls it "Rhythm & Romance," and it's possible that a veteran boite-goer's memory might be fuzzy about his performing achievements. Yet, while previous first-rate outings saluted individuals who've deserved his impeccable and always dapper attention, this one is exultant by dint of its probing deeper into the ever-evolving zeitgeist and -- without ever calling blatant attention to its significance -- discovering how radical the change is.
Just start by understanding it's not necessarily an accident that "Rhythm & Romance" shows up at the same time Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher's movie No Strings Attached -- about a young woman who wants only good sex from her partner, despite his growing desire (if "desire" even has meaning nowadays) for something more -- hits theaters.
The flick, opening to better box-office returns than expected, succinctly throws into relief the difference between contemporary romance and how romance played out -- with various results and in various rhythms -- during a good stretch of the 20th century. And this is not even to mention the international popularity of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" with its repeated nonsense-syllable riff.
"A cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces/An airline ticket to romantic places," Ross warbles in his characteristically plangent tones when he begins the 1936 Holt Marvell (Eric Maschwitz)-Jack Strachey-Harry Link standard, "These Foolish Things," Imagine anyone -- other than anyone who knows the song -- echoing those sentiments today when a declaratory "let's f___!" would get to a similar point more bluntly. Or try to think of someone reminiscing, as Cole Porter did in "Just One of Those Things" (1935), that a past romantic evening was "a trip to the moon on gossamer wings." (Try to remember the last time someone of your acquaintance used the word "gossamer," although probably not that many of Porter's upper-class chums did, either.)
Talking of Porter, who wrote as someone regularly trapped in the love that dare not speak its name, he gets plenty of attention in Ross's program, as does Lorenz Hart, another dare-not-speak-its-name practitioner. The romantic longing that courses through both canons like a surging subterranean river was likely what fueled their many lyrics about passions requited and just as often, or more often, unrequited. "Unrequited love's a bore/And I've got it pretty bad," Hart wrote in "Glad to Be Unhappy" and in what could easily have been a painful autobiographical moment. Ross catches the song's sweet torment, as he does with the much-less-sung Richard Rodgers-Hart tear-tugger, "I Still Believe in You."
He also pays homage to Noel Coward -- another homosexual lyricist -- whose view of love is of something constantly not constant. He does a medley, again with his abundantly haunting vocal and piano flourishes, of the great man's songs dealing with romantic hope-against-hope, "Someday I'll Find You," "I'll See You Again" and "I'll Follow My Secret Heart." What was the secret in Coward's heart at a time, unlike now, when songwriters, good as so many of them are, don't go on about secret hearts?
(If the answer has to do with Sir Noel's homosexuality, the entire subject of the many homosexuals credited with such a large percentage of the great songs in the Great American Songbook is an article -- or full-length book -- for another time.)
While ballads are a good portion of Ross's inclusions as he suggests with such subliminal persuasion how the notion of romance has shifted emotional gears over the decades, he doesn't forget the promise of the "rhythm" in his title. His opening is the little-known Ted Koehler-Harold Arlen "Spreadin' Rhythm Around," a humdinger of a swinger at the end of which he jokes, "And they said I couldn't get down."
He also kids with the Donald Swann-Michael Flanders "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear," which gets a Porter-ish kick out of wordplay while depicting an elderly gentleman's seduction of a younger woman. Another example of sophisticated punning not prized as highly in these times is the Dion Titheradge-Ivor Novello "And Her Mother Came Too."
Also sly of Ross is his bow to the French, who, needless to say, regularly claim proprietary rights to romance. He does the Jacques Brel (okay, Brel was Belgian) "Fanette" in the Mort Shuman-Eric Blau English translation." Pre-encore, he faux-closes by playing piano but not singing on several Edith Piaf signature songs. Now there's a woman who really gave impassioned 20th-century romance a strenuous work-out.
Ross begs off with the Rodgers-Hart "My Romance," having indeed made the evening very much his basilisk-eyed look at, and velvet-gloved handling of, the eternal and eternally altering subject.
David Finkle, The Huffiington Post, January 28, 2011
RETURN TO CIVILITY, WITH WIT AND RHYME
While watching Steve Ross, the dapper, well-mannered singer and pianist, go through his paces at Tuesday's opening-night performance of "Rhythm & Romance," his new show at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, I imagined what the cast of "Jersey Shore" might make of it.
How would Snooki react to the wizened reptilian seducer who plies a 17-year-old girl with dessert wine in the amusing Flanders and Swann song "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear?" Snooki might drink herself into a stupor, but if her suitor didn't have popping muscles and a tan, he wouldn't get to first base.
Could JWoww put herself in the shoes of a 1930s Manhattan widow in her "pet pailletted gown" nursing a broken heart in Cole Porter's "Down in the Depths (On the Ninetieth Floor)"? Would the Situation, after a torrid hookup, think of himself as the "frightened colt just hit by a thunderbolt," described in Porter's "I Am in Love?" Or would he go to the nearest mirror to admire his abs?
Mr. Ross may be the ultimate nightclub embodiment of what some people mean when they speak of a "return to civility." In his world that civility involves camouflaging unruly animal instincts under a veneer of wit. The double-entendres in the songs of Porter, Lorenz Hart and Noel Coward, the lyricists most prominently featured in Mr. Ross's program, treat sex as a spicy, euphemistic game of peekaboo.
"Rhythm & Romance," in which Mr. Ross is accompanied on bass by Brian Cassier, is his most open-hearted show in many a year. The tempos are more languid than usual. Here and there Mr. Ross peels away enough of his brittle exterior to reveal a seam of tenderness and vulnerability. In "My Heart Is So Full of You," from "The Most Happy Fella," and in "I Am in Love," happiness breaks through like sunshine.
A three-song Porter medley ("I Am in Love," "Down in the Depths" and "Just One of Those Things") and a medley by Rodgers and Hart ("Falling in Love With Love," "Glad to Be Unhappy" and "You Took Advantage of Me") trace the rise and fall of love affairs. The show includes amusing recitations of Dorothy Parker verses and of a Porter lyric, and an instrumental suite of Edith Piaf songs played in Mr. Ross's emphatically martial society-piano style.
It is as civilized as cabaret gets. In the argot of "Jersey Shore," that means no smushing.
"Rhythm & Romance" continues through Feb. 12 at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan; 212 419-933, algonquinhotel.com.
Stephen Holden, The New York Times Music Review, January 20, 2011
RHYTHM & ROMANCE
A while ago I labeled Steve Ross one of the three reigning masters of the art of cabaret singing, the other two being Julie Wilson and Andrea Marcovicci. What distinguishes and unites these great artists is that their interpretations are uncommonly rich with insights and revelations. Several qualities contribute to this ability, this gift of theirs, among them intelligence, sensitivity, discerning analytic ability, eloquent phrasing, exquisite timing. They explore nuances and uncover layers of meaning we've not heard before; they can make even familiar material seem fresh, as though we were only now understanding the songs fully.
Additionally, Ross is elegant (without sacrificing warmth and humanity), refreshingly literate (though still earthy and charming), and witty and clever (even laugh-out-loud funny). And he does all of the above while accompanying himself admirably on the piano.
In his current Oak Room engagement, the subject is love, in its many phases—from seduction through romance, marriage, and afterwards—and from various perspectives. In this endeavor, he is ably abetted by Brian Cassier on bass. I'm tempted to list all of the song selections, add "you've probably never heard a more satisfying interpretation of any of these songs," and leave it at that. As true as that statement would be, decency demands that I elaborate a bit.
I could mention that Ross gets the show off to a very jolly start with "Spreadin' Rhythm Around" (Jimmy McHugh, Ted Koehler, additional lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.); the song boasts the irresistible line "little people who ain't got nuttin'/join the people who live on Sutton." I could say how much fun his renditions of "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear" (Flanders & Swann) and "And Her Mother Came Too" (Peter Dion Titheradge, Ivor Novello) are.
When he launches passionately, but tenderly, into Frank Loesser's "My Heart Is So Full of You," we are swept instantly into a world of romance. His handling of a trio of Rodgers & Hart ballads, "I Still Believe in You," "Singing a Love Song," and "Falling in Love with Love," could not be more affecting, and his moving performance of "Fanette" (Jacques Brel, Mort Shuman, Eric Blau) is haunting. He is the greatest American interpreter of Noël Coward that I know of, and he demonstrates this preeminence equally with Coward's comic material ("A Bar on the Piccola Marina") and his poignant ballads ("Someday I'll Find You," "I'll See You Again"). And so it goes.
Though Ross is a brilliant interpreter of lyrics, one of the highlights of the show is non-verbal: a piano medley of songs of Édith Piaf. Like the rest of the evening, it's glorious.
Roy Sander, Bistro Awards, January 25, 2011
STEVE ROSS: 'RHYTHM AND ROMANCE'
Talk about kicking it old school: Steve Ross may be the last of the heavy-duty traditional cabaret pianist-singers, extending the legacy of Bobby Short and Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson. His latest show is called "Romance and Rhythm," yet "Romance and Raillery" might be a more accurate—if more awkward—title, since the all-important contrast here is between the sentimental ("These Foolish Things") and the comic ("And Her Mother Came Too"). Though his selections range from Fats Waller to Jacques Brel to Stephen Sondheim, the best reason to see Steve Ross is for what he does with Noël Coward. As he proved last October at the Mabel Mercer Foundation's Cabaret Convention, he is easily Coward's finest living interpreter, and he continues to uphold the title with an expertly enacted "Bar on the Piccolo Marina" and a ace Coward waltz medley. Surely no other cabarateur is entitled to perform, as Mr. Ross does, in a green velvet smoking jacket once owned by the Master himself.
Will Friedwald, The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2011
PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ
Steve Ross was in brilliant form in his cabaret show ‘Puttin on the Ritz’ a tribute to Fred Astaire at the Kravis Center in Persson Hall recently. He ushered us into the New Year with an elegant and sophisticated evening. Dressed in a deep green velvet evening jacket, that once belonged to Sir Noel Coward. It was given to him by the Noel Coward Society in appreciation of his talent and brilliance in performing Coward’s songs.
‘Puttin on the Ritz’ was a glittering cabaret of a dazzling list of songs from Cole Porter and Irving Berlin to Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, the Gershwins and many others.
He sang ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ as Astaire sang it, with the same poignant, deeply romantic tone, which brought tears to your eyes, the same with Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day’ and ‘Cheek to Cheek’ an emotional rendition that few pianist/ singers can capture. Steve is a master of the understatement, and together with his clever piano arrangements, he can move you as nobody else can when singing at the piano. No screaming lyrics here just a smooth, subtle and elegant voice. Brian Cassio accompanied him on the double bass and gave wonderful support with his rich and melodious playing. A perfect combination. Variety Magazine wrote “He spins the Astaire songs into a magic web.”
During the show, Steve told us the history of some of the songs and the composers and how they came to write these classics. His insightful anecdotes and wry asides were of great interest because they would lead into yet another well known song and gave us a new slant on lyricists and composers. This is why he is often asked to perform by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He also gives Master Classes at Universities and schools of performing Arts, passing on his talent and knowledge to younger audiences, similar to what Bob Lappin does down here.
Steve Ross rose to fame as a cabaret entertainer during his lengthy sojourns at New York’s fabled Algonquin Hotel and Ted Hook’s Backstage in the late 1970’s. He has swank parties all over the world. The London Ritz, the Paris Ritz, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in addition to festivals in Hong Kong, Perth, Sydney and Adelaide. In 1997 he made his Broadway debut in the acclaimed revival of Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter” which starred Frank Langella. He has been performer/host for radio series for both the BBC and NPR.
On January 19th he opens his four-week run in the Oak Room again at the Algonquin Hotel in New York and if you can’t be there, then he will be back at the Kravis Center on February 26 and 27th, not in a solo show, but part of an anthology called ‘A Temple of Dreams.’
On March 10th he will be at the Lincoln Center in New York with legendary actress Tammy Grimes.
It is not often that you find such talent combined in a performer, to sing and to play with original arrangements at the piano. He told us at the concert that Fred Astaire loved clothes. He always dressed immaculately and thought appearances were very important.
Steve has a 50-minute special orchestral arrangement of Cole Porter’s music. Let’s hope we have more opportunities of seeing him down here again soon.
Elizabeth Sharland, The Palm Beach Society, January 21, 2011
A MAGNUM OF ROSS
Music Everywhere, feet are pattin’/Puttin’ tempo in old Manhattan/Everybody is out high hattin’/Spreadin’ rhythm around. (Koehler/McHugh) The mercurial Steve Ross is celebrating his 30th year of performance at The Oak Room Supper Club by sharing a magnum of sparkling entertainment.
What appears an enormously ambitious list of songs, slides one into the next as if the authors had intended progressions. Thus, Kander & Ebb’s Married, is followed by We’re Gonna Be Alright (Sondheim/Rodgers), The Folks Who Live on the Hill (Hammerstein/Kern), and My Heart Is So Full of You (Loesser). “Romance is a family of emotions.” Ross covers just about every permutation with a selection of material ranging from familiar standards (the audience sways to his sweet renditions) to more obscure numbers which add color and definition. Jazz age and music hall treatments keep the evening bubbling.
If the dear little sables ever told their husbands fables/Tell me, where would you get your coat? (Porter) and My car will meet her/And her mother comes too!/It’s a two-seater/Still her mother comes too! (Titheradge/ Novello) are unlikely to be melodies you find yourself humming in the shower. These and wry favorites from Flanders and Swann and Noel Coward, whose green velvet smoking jacket Ross wears proudly,* “I sleep in it; it doesn’t show the wrinkles,” are the kind of character songs at which he excels. Every word is enunciated, every arch sentiment projected. “Noel Coward was born into a generation when light music was taken seriously,” he says wistfully.
Genial, effective, accompanying patter is kept to a minimum. Ross tells a few Cole Porter stories, reading one lyric as if a poem. He recites Dorothy Parker and compares Spider Man to Billy Rose’s 1935 Hippodrome production of Jumbo (Rodgers & Hart,) whose opening was delayed five times (and which ran only a few months after.) His patent leather foot taps and we’re off again.
Fanette (Brel/Shuman/Blau), a lovely, anachronistic chanson (in English) few performers could get away with let alone do justice to, prefaces a piano medley of Piaf songs. Visions of Gene Kelly dance in one’s head. Arrangements range from accordion-like café classics to exhilarating anthems. Ross plays with the vigor and focus of a concert artist. The Oak Room piano has never sounded so rich. (It’s probably exhausted this morning.)
Unlike many artists, Ross keeps more or less to himself when he performs. He looks out, but seems not to see or to connect. Wrapped in the pleasure and effort of delivering a great show (his vision,) he leaves us free to concoct our own. The audience is completely still. Not a cough, a scraping chair or a clinking glass and certainly no whispers mar a minute of it. I see hands reach for one another, eyes sometimes close, smiles pop up.
Steve Ross’s swank, pep, and precision are in fine form. Like a memorable meal, the program is crisp, tender, juicy, proud of its traditions, and extremely satisfying.
The way he ends the evening is cinematic.
*Sir Noel’s jacket was gifted to Steve Ross by England’s Noel Coward Society in 2007.
Alix Cohen, Woman Around Town, January 20, 2011
CABARET'S STEVE ROSS CELEBRATES RHYTHM AND ROMANCE
Cabaret may have it belters and swingers, but balladeer-pianist Steve Ross practices the art of supper club entertainment in its original form as a sophisticated, witty salute to romance, both sweet and bittersweet, as evidenced by his new show at the Algonquin Hotel's historic Oak Room.
Ross's exploration of Great American Songbook numbers, which he has titled "Rhythm and Romance", marks the 31st anniversary of his debut at the Oak Room, since which he has become an artist of international renown, only recently headlining the first Melbourne Cabaret Festival in Australia and performing at the Sydney Opera House. The Algonquin show will continue through Feb. 12.
The still youthful singer who is performing in a midnight blue velvet dinner jacket that once belonged to composer Noel Coward (given to him by the Noel Coward Society) is presenting a generous program of nearly 30 songs from Broadway and Hollywood, accompanying himself with fleet-fingered facility on the Yamaha with only one back-up musician, Brian Cassier on bass.
Ross' silver-edged tenor illuminates the lyrics without plunging into their darker depths, a saloon style that suits perfectly the era of the songs that this First Gentleman of Cabaret sings so engagingly. There is not even a hint of the vulgar or the melodramatic in the course of the hour and 15 minute show which Ross opens with "Fascinatin' Rhythm" and ends with "My Romance" as an encore.
In between these numbers is a well-researched selection of mostly standard songs and a few not-so-familiar numbers that naturally segue into one another along with two medleys of ballad by Cole Porter and Richard Rodgers. Ross throws in a recitation of verses by Dorothy Parker, one of the legendary Algonquin Round Table wits of yesteryear, and an unsung keyboard medley of songs associated with French chanteuse Edith Piaf, an idol of Ross' .
Some of the more amusing novelty songs included in the show are Flanders and Swann's song of seduction, "Have Some Madeira , M'Dear", Coward's paean to mature Capri-style romance, "Bar on the Piccolo Marina", Ivor Novello's ditty of disenchantment, "And Her Mother Came Too", and Porter's more familiar ironic urban lament, "Down in the Depths (On the Ninetieth Floor)". Ross has also resurrected a totally forgotten Porter number, "Where Would You Get Your Coat?" from the 1929 Broadway hit "Fifty Million Frenchman".
Ross performs a particularly endearing rendition of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein 2d song about a loving elderly couple, Darby and Joan, who used to be Jack and Jill, titled "The Folks Who Live on the Hill", from the 1937 film "High Wide and Handsome". Another highlight is Ross' spirited accounting of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "Falling in Love with Love", and his inspired interpretation of the Holt Marvel-Jack Strachey memory song, "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)".
Concluding the program is the obscure song for which the show is named, "Rhythm and Romance", with music by J. C. Johnson and lyrics by George Whiting. Like many other numbers preceding it, Ross makes it his very own by reason of his sincerity as an artist, an innate gift that cannot be learned or imitated.
Frederick M. Winship, United Press International, January 19, 2011
STEVE ROSS IS ALL 'RHYTHM & ROMANCE' AT ALGONQUIN'S OAK ROOM SUPPER CLUB
When smooth, classy and sophisticated Steve Ross struts into the Oak Room taking his seat at the piano, all eyes and ears are ready to welcome his rightful ownership. It’s been 30 years . . . a long relationship! And to put the icing on the cake, the Noel Coward Society has awarded him the distinctive honor of Mr. Coward’s evening jacket which he proudly wears and sometimes sleeps in!
Explaining the variations of romantic framework one must include passion, infatuation and, of course, love. However, let us not forget seduction! Flanders & Swann’s Edwardian “Have Some Madeira, M’Dear” is clarification enough on the art and Ross explains it so very well.
It only took a small adjustment in phrasing and the beautiful “My Heart Is So Full Of You” (Loesser) had its own unique sound. Giving Cole Porter his due, a small suite of songs were presented including “I Am In Love,” “Down in the Depths,” “Just One of Those Things” and a recitation of witty lyrics from “Out Of This World” - Porter’s homage to the material girl. Rodgers & Hart are well represented with a slow “Falling In Love With Love” and “You Took Advantage of Me.” Dorothy Parker, one, of America’s greatest humorists, was acknowledged . . .”contemplating the girls at a Yale football game; if all of those sweet young things were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised!”
In his stride, Mr. Ross paid tribute to Noel Coward and Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster with the delicious “Bar On The Piccolo Marina” as he referred to romance as a tool to sell travel. Novel ditty “And Her Mother Came Too” (Dion Titheradge/Ivor Novello) produced many laughs as well.
Concluding with Brel’s “Fanette,” in English (lyrics:Shuman/Blau), and a piano medley of wonderful French tunes, made for the perfect ending.
Debonair Mr. Ross has earned, and continues to wear, his crown as a great interpreter of many songwriters from the Great American Songbook, especially Coward, Porter, Sondheim and more. May he reign brilliantly forever! Accompaniment on bass is by long time associate Brian Cassier.
After this run, the show continues on to The Pheasantry in London and a stint at his alma mater, Georgetown University.
Sandi Durell, Times Square Chronicles, January 19, 2011
STEVE ROSS CELEBRATES RHYTHM AND ROMANCE
All is not wrong with the world while there is Steve Ross holding forth as an oasis of civilized, urbane musical entertainment in one of his long-time haunts, the Oak Room at the Algonquin hotel. Ross has been appearing in the iconic room over a 30-year-period. When he takes his seat at the piano and launches into his vast American Songbook repertoire, he creates a sublime aura dispensing his one-of-a-kind musicality. Ross is a master interpreter of lyrics and charms with a jaunty style that he could patent. There is also the intimacy he creates, as if you were in his living room or he in yours.
The theme this time around is “Rhythm and Romance,” and wit intact, he reminds the audience that the rhythm referred to here has no relation to birth control methods. As for the romance part, he notes that there is a broad range of different types of romance, whether fueled by lust or wistful musings upon the end of one. He then delivers a generous program of illustrative songs that run the gamut, and gets a valuable assist from Brian Cassier on bass.
There is the attempted seduction reflected in “Have Some Madeira, M’Dear" (Flanders and Swann), and there is the very different “We’re Gonna Be Alright” from the Sondheim-Rodgers “Do I Hear a Waltz?” He is as at home with the upbeat “The Glory of Love” (Billy Hill) as with the pensive “Down in the Depths” (Cole Porter). Porter is a long-time favorite of Ross, who also does justice to “Just One of Those Things.”
He also is enamored of Noël Coward and Rodgers and Hart, and as always, Ross is an expert at interpreting their work. It is also bracing when he delivers a song laced with humor, as he does with “And Her Mother Came Too” (Dion Titheradge and Ivor Novello).
Ross mentions that when he first came to New York he was impressed by hearing the very different sort of music by Jacques Brel, and he follows by singing “Fanette.” He also plays a lovely medley of the songs made famous by Edith Piaf. A grateful audience calls him back for more, and he encores perfectly and appropriately with the Rodgers-Hart “My Romance.”
Ross will be serving his dependably delightful program through February 12, 2011. At the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street. Reservations: 212-419-9331 or firstname.lastname@example.org
William Wolf, Wolf Entertainment Guide, January, 2011
ROSS CONCERT PROVIDES A STRONG ASTAIRE INTERPRETATION AT KRAVIS CENTER
Lovers of classic melodies and unforgettable lyrics have something special to be thankful for during this holiday week, as crooner/pianist Steve Ross presented Puttin’ On The Ritz his tribute to the music of the one and only Fred Astaire at the Kravis Center’s Persson Hall, located in the Cohen Pavilion. The engaging 90-minute show is a perfect match of artist and subject, as Ross covers a wide array of some of the best-known songs of the 20th century. All are classics that were originally introduced by Astaire in the early days of the silver screen.
At the opening performance Wednesday night, Ross weaved in and out of one great song after another, offering anecdotes along the way about Astaire and the many great songwriters who clamored to work with him. Accompanying himself on piano, with the very capable Chuck Bergeron on upright bass, Ross held a master class on the cabaret style, with a polished confidence that only comes from years of experience.
A regular at the esteemed Oak Room at New York’s Hotel Algonquin and similar venues in London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney, Australia, Ross has built a solid reputation as both an entertainer and lecturer.
While there are probably others who are better at some of the individual skills employed in the show — Ross’ playing is quite good, but his voice, like Astaire’s, is serviceable but not terribly strong — it is the whole package that is far greater than the sum of its parts. And like Astaire, it is Ross’ interpretation of the material, selling every nuance of a song in a unique style that is insightful but not overdone, along with his sheer dedication to the art form that makes the show work in a very satisfying way.
From the opening strains of I Won’t Dance to the closer, Cheek To Cheek, Ross had the audience tapping their toes and swaying to a variety of fascinating rhythms. Among the highlights were the usual suspects: torch songs such as Night and Day, My Shining Hour, Dancing In The Dark and, most notably, I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan. Also included were upbeat tunes such as A Fine Romance, S’Wonderful and the title song, as well as classics such as The Way You Look Tonight and They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Along the way, Ross displayed an impressive knowledge of the subject matter at hand, including seldom-heard intros and additional verses to the selections, rather than just a medley of choruses.
While it may not be for everyone, those who appreciate the genre will certainly enjoy this musical journey through the Golden Age of Hollywood and the world-class guide providing the tour. And with two shows remaining tonight, fans of the Great American Songbook — and simply great music in general — will certainly find this Ritz to be a great place to ring in the New Year.
David A. Frye, Palm Beach Daily News, December 30, 2010
STEVE ROSS, RACONTEUR OF RHYTHM AND ROMANCE, PREVIEWS HIS NEW SHOW AT THE KRANZBERG
Renowned cabaret artist Steve Ross has a long and happy relationship with St. Louis, going back to the early days of the Grandel Cabaret Series. He was one of the first performers to be featured by Jim Dolan's Presenters Dolan organization when it got off the ground several years ago, and he even made a special trip to Mound City this past February to participate in a tribute cabaret for the late Chris Jackson. It's only appropriate, then, that he chose our fair city for a trial run of his latest show, Rhythm and Romance, which opens a three-week run at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room in January. Judging from the audience response, it was a good choice.
If you've seen Mr. Ross before, you already know that he's the very personification of savoir faire: a graceful, elegant, and charming performer in the mold of Noel Coward, whose green velvet smoking jacket (or, as he refers to it, his "non-smoking jacket") he now wears, courtesy of the Noel Coward society. Even when Mr. Ross made the occasional musical misstep (perhaps inevitable with a new show), his love of the material and his ability to connect with the audience carried him through and earned him a standing ovation at the end.
The evening opened with a lively medley combining the title song with Jimmy McHugh and Ted Koehler's "Spreadin' Rhythm Around" (both introduced in 1935 by Ella Fitzgerald and "Fats" Waller, respectively) and bits of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" and "Fascinatin' Rhythm". Mr. Ross followed that up with a set about seduction (Flanders and Swann's droll "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear") and marriage both sentimental (Kander and Ebb's "Married" and Kern and Hammerstein's "The Folks Who Live on the Hill") and sarcastic (Rodgers and Sondheim's "We're Gonna Be All Right", from Do I Hear a Waltz?).
The rest of the show continued in a similar vein, examining the varieties of romance, both comic and tragic. There was, as you might expect, plenty of Porter and Coward, but there was also Jacques Brel's dark "Fanette and I" and Ivor Novello's "And Her Mother Came Too", a comic look at a true "helicopter parent". There was even a set on the romance of travel, with Bob Merrill's rarely-heard "Mira" (from Carnival!) and a pair of Coward gems: "Sail Away" (from the 1960 flop of the same name) and, from 1955, the rudely hilarious "A Bar on the Piccola Marina", about the sexual awakening of the formerly staid Mrs. Wentworth Brewster.
As always, Mr. Ross intertwined the music with erudite and amusing commentary on the songs and their creators. Did you know, for example, that Noel Coward's wistful waltz ballad "Some Day I'll Find You" was the theme song for the long-running radio and early TV detective show Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons?* Or that Mr. Coward (who was a close friend of Cole Porter) responded to questions about a 1962 trip to a clinic for "rejuvenation shots" of sheep hormones by quipping "I've got ewe under my skin"?
Well, now you do.
If there's one lyricist who understood both the rhapsody and rue of romance, that would surely be the late Lorenz Hart, so it's only appropriate that Mr. Ross's show featured a generous helping of Rodgers and Hart numbers, including "My Romance" (from Jumbo, 1935) and "Glad to Be Unhappy" (On Your Toes, 1936). The set was punctuated by some dry-eyed looks at romance form Dorothy Parker – also very appropriate in a show destined for the Algonquin, where Ms. Parker was a regular guest at the fabled literary Round Table.
The show concluded with Mr. Ross's trademark Edith Piaf instrumental medley, followed by an encore that briefly recapped "Rhythm and Romance" and then segued into an affecting rendition of the 1934 classic "For All We Know". And a splendid time was had by all.
For more information on the peripatetic Mr. Ross, visit his web site at steveross.net. For more information on upcoming cabaret shows at the Kranzberg Center, visit The Presenters Dolan at presentersdolan.com and the Cabaret St. Louis site at cabaretstl.org.
*Or, for you Bob and Ray fans, Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons.
Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX-FM, St. Louis, November 28, 2010
RHYTHM AND ROMANCE
Steve Ross exemplifies style and grace like few other people, and he displayed it before a full house last night at the Kranzberg Arts Center. He will repeat tonight (Saturday). The apparently ageless cabaret singer is in an "out-of-town" run with his new show, "Rhythm and Romance," which is scheduled to open at the Algonquin in New York in mid-January.
So it was opening night, with some new material and some that was reworked from his earlier cabaret shows. There were a few missed notes and a few missed lyrics, but it was, in the Ross tradition, an satisfying evening of entertainment. Most of the songs came from a couple of Ross favorites, Noel Coward and Cole Porter, a pair of writers who wove risque lyrics into their songs with the greatest of ease. Coward's "Bar on the Piccolo Marina" and "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear," are delightful examples.
Ross' exemplary diction and phrasing, singing with a raised eyebrow, as it were, are perfectly suited to Coward, who viewed the world with a jaundiced eye. "And Her Mother Came, Too," is a perfect example, and on a more serious note, "Sail Away" could almost be an autobiographical song of loneliness.
Porter was well-represented by "It's De-Lovely" and "Just One of Those Things," and Ross also scored with the Porter ballads, "Down in the Depths (on the 90th Floor)" and "I Am in Love."
As always, Ross, definitely dapper in his dark green dinner jacket, worked his own touches into music and lyrics, and he offered one number, not normally considered a cabaret song but a lovely, winsome tale of memory and loss, "Mira," in which a young woman mourns the fact she left the small town where "everybody knew my name." It's from a 1961 musical, "Carnival!" written by Bob Merrill and sung by Anna Maria Alberghetti; the show is also noteworthy because it was Jerry Orbach's first major Broadway role.
Ross closed with a piano piece that offered a medley of songs made famous by Edith Piaf, returned with an encore, an effective version of "For All We Know."
Joe Pollack, St.Louis Eats and Drinks with Joe and Ann Pollack, November 27, 2010
PIANO BARD: CABARET CROONER STEVE ROSS IS THE SULTAN OF THE STEINWAY
It's a simple, clean form of entertainment. A man sits at a piano and sings. But when Steve Ross is at the keyboard, for an hour or so life seems a little more civilized. By his own count, Ross has performed in St. Louis at least seven times over the past twenty years. This weekend he'll be appearing at the Kranzberg Arts Center, breaking in a new act that will officially debut in January at Manhattan's storied Algonquin Hotel. We wanted to hear more from this genteel troubadour, so we showered, shaved, rented a tuxedo, stuck a boutonnière into the lapel and placed a call to New York City.
Riverfront Times: How do you structure an evening of songs?
Steve Ross: It used to be that there was a progression: the snappy opening, the snappy second number, the comedy number, the ballad. But the more I do this, the more I realize that surprise and delight are the key elements. The criterion is this: Are you drawn into the evening? Do you want to spend time with this person? However the performer opens the door is fine.
If I do a thematic show, there might be more informational patter. But a performer needn't talk. When I first heard Mabel Mercer many years ago, she never said a word other than to turn her head and murmur the title of the next tune to the piano player. Never said a word until she muttered "thank you" at the end of the hour. But she was memorable.
What songs continue to feel fresh to you on repeated singings?
Definitely Noël Coward's "I'll See You Again." Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns." I know it's done to death, but I love singing it. And then "Night and Day" by Cole Porter. It is a beautiful work of art to visit and revisit. I couldn't even estimate how many thousands of times I've sung that song over the decades, but I always get a bit of a thrill when I go into the bridge. Porter's songs are minor masterpieces that never fail to make me feel happy when I perform them. Not just the lyrics, but the marriage between the words and the music. I try to never let an opportunity in performance pass without doing them. Sharing the songs of composers like Porter and Noël Coward, and sometimes introducing these songs to new audiences — that's my vineyard. It's a teeny-tiny one, but that's what I do.
Who was the best you ever saw at sitting at a piano and singing songs?
Definitively, Bobby Short. He was a one-man show, par excellence. Listening to his LPs, his style and verve gave me a goal to strive for. When I moved to New York, I was lucky enough to make his acquaintance. He was the one that guided me along. He was an avatar, to use that word properly. I saw him perform maybe a hundred times. I never ceased to be amazed by his supreme self-confidence: "I am here and I'm terrific, and I love the fact that you're here, and we are privileged to be in each other's company." At the end of his tenure at the Carlyle Hotel, he started working with a small band. This was so Bobby. He would gesture to the band and say, "Now I've got some people who are just dying to meet you." We're looking over at the musicians. They didn't seem to be dying to meet anybody. They were there for the gig. But Bobby infused everything with his great joie, and I adored it.
You call yourself a cabaret performer, but isn't your style of solo performing also theater?
It is a theatrical experience, yes. In the cabaret world, we've trained the audience that the idea is to pay attention. After years of playing in loud piano bars where nobody paid any attention, now I can choose songs for their lyrical content. And if the audience pays attention, I'm thrilled.
Dennis Brown, Riverfront Times, St. Louis, November 25, 2010
RIDIN’ HIGH – STEVE ROSS SINGS AND PLAYS COLE PORTER
The world could easily have lost Cole Porter to substance abuse or, worse, a career in law. There was no such danger with Steve Ross, the singer-pianist seemingly predestined to perform Porter’s songs. The first of his three Opera House shows was an all-Porter affair: 75 minutes of wit, urbanity and romance; 75 minutes of the cleverest rhymes in songwriting history from a man who has few peers for writing both words and music.
Since Ross was last here a few more high notes may have developed insecurities, but the New Yorker has always brought something much more rare to bear than a brilliant voice. He may be the only cabaret artist on earth to see merit in understatement, and every line of a song glistens with his own wit, panache, intelligence, interpretative skills and little musical innovations.
His I Get a Kick Out of You frothed and bubbled like champagne. He delighted in the labyrinth of words to It’s Delovely, beautifully caught the poignancy of Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye and I’ve Got You Under My Skin. His voice shone in So In Love and he milked every titter from Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love).
Notes that no longer wanted to be held as long as once may have been the case were adroitly covered with flourishes at the piano. Ross displayed his considerable keyboard skills on an instrumental interlude of Edith Piaf tunes, following a series of Porter’s “Paris” songs. But more important was the constant effervescence of his accompaniment, with gorgeous moments on In the Still of the Night. He introduced I’m A Gigolo as being “about bisexuality, dope addiction and pragmatic romance” and the charming patter was at one with his red carnation and the dazzling gloss of his black shoes.
John Shand, The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, August 3, 2010
AN EVENING WITH STEVE ROSS
In 1982 Steve Ross opened the Pizza on the Park venue so it seems fitting that this prolific cabaret entertainer should preside over its closing week.
Ross’ repertoire has varied through the years, but tonight he played to an audience of friends and fans with a selection of sentimental numbers from the likes of Porter, Berlin, Coward and Sondheim. An Evening with Steve Ross is often peppered with musical anecdotes, with this week being particularly poignant - that opening night back in the eighties saw the launch of his extremely healthy career as a self-styled ambassador of cabaret, after transferring across the Atlantic from his from his regular seat at New York’s famous Algonquin Hotel. Highlights included the story of how he asked Jerry Herman for the music to Song on the Sand from La Cage Aux Folles to perform when it was still on its original out of town previews and Come the Wild, Wild Weather by Noel Coward, dedicated to the memory of the late Sheridan Morley.
The joy of Ross’ work does not so much centre on the quality of the vocals, although an excellent delivery ensures that the lyrics to old favourites are given renewed clarity, whether it is in his interpretation of Putting on the Ritz, blended against Stepping Out or in his flawless delivery of Trenet’s La Mer. Ross’ real skill is at the piano, as indicated by a simply exquisite arrangement of numbers immortalised by Piaf. There is one thing that Ross fans can count on in the future, the closing of a pizza restaurant, however well situated, is unlikely to stall his regular appearances in the UK.
Paul Vale, The Stage, London, June 17, 2010
AN EVENING WITH STEVE ROSS
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, Stephen Foster, Jim Croce, Barry Kleinbort, Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Sammy Cahn, Jerry Herman, Gerard Calvi, Will Holt, Alan Jay Lerner, Gerard Kenny, Frederick Loewe, Frank Loesser, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Noël Coward, Nancy Ford, Gretchen Cryer, Hal David, Albert Hammond, Sandy Wilson, Howard Dietz, Arthur Schwartz, George & Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Marguerite Monnot, Edith Piaf, Charles Dumont, Louis Gugliemi, Michael Flanders & Donald Swann, Will E. Haines, Harry Leon, and Leo Towers
And now the end is near… as Pizza on the Park prepares to take its final curtain on Friday 18 June 2010. The last night will be a special black-tie affair with Steve Ross, the first cabaret artist to appear at Pizza on the Park in its opening year, 1982. Twenty-eight years later, following a generation of jazz and cabaret artists including John Dankworth, Cleo Laine and their family, Jacqui and Alex, all musicians, Margaret Whiting, Anita O’Day, Richard Rodney Bennett, Claire Martin, Ian Shaw, Liliane Montevecchi, Andrea Marcovicci, Karen Akers, Simon Green, Fascinating Aida, Kit and the Widow, George Melly, K. T. Sullivan, Mark Nadler, Gary Williams, Blossom Dearie, Jessie Buckley – the list goes ever on – Pizza on the Park is to finally close this week.
Having had a chequered career in the past, in its last three weeks the venue has been getting full houses – too late, however, for the welcome reprieve of a three-month stay of execution which was then subsequently denied it. So, Pizza on the Park will shut down to make way for a new hotel. It would be too much to hope, however, after twenty-eight years, for a music-room to be built in the basement. If not, then hope is not entirely lost for another Pizza Express venue is going to stage jazz and cabaret evenings from 26 June with some of the names mentioned above at the Pheasantry in King’s Road, Chelsea. Originally a Georgian house with grounds for raising game-birds, the Pheasantry has been a nightclub in the past, having played host to the early careers of Lou Reed, Queen and Hawkwind. Dylan Thomas drank there and Eric Clapton used to live there. The future for cabaret in London is in the balance but suddenly looks brighter.
Barry J. Mishon, who has booked many performers and staged shows at Pizza on the Park over the years, has been programming the venue’s last three-week closing season, with Andrea Marcovicci, Karen Akers and Steve Ross. Mishon is looking at putting on artists at the Pheasantry from October this year, assuming that the new venue proves to be an acceptable alternative to Pizza on the Park. Mishon favours American cabaret artists so, if all goes well, we could be seeing the likes of Steve Ross back in town again. Meanwhile Steve is taking us back though his twenty-eight years of visits to London by singing and playing some of his favourites from the many shows he has compiled; for instance the work of Alan Jay Lerner, Cole Porter, Noël Coward, Fred Astaire, Frank Loesser, Edith Piaf, and Flanders & Swann.
Opening night comprised over forty songs in an hour-and-a-half of non-stop entertainment of which Steve Ross is the epitome and in his own inimitable way – witty, sly, and always an expert deliverer of the best material from the Great American Songbook. He has impeccable taste and sublime musical manners. He is an excellent piano-player and much of the enjoyment of his talent comes through watching his seemingly effortless mastery of the keyboard. At one point he gives a medley of songs made famous by Edith Piaf, just on the piano in almost total darkness, the spotlight being reserved for the music itself and he proves his musicianship is equal to none. Steve Ross is known in New York as the “crown prince of cabaret”. Well, at least they have some venues to accommodate it, whereas in London there will soon only be Jermyn Street Theatre, which sometimes does cabaret work between mounting plays.
The theme of Steve’s final show at Pizza on the Park is, vaguely, time, perhaps merely because the venue is running out of it and because Steve has spent a lot of his life there. His repertoire includes obvious titles such as Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’ and Jule Styne’s ‘Just in Time’ and ‘Time After Time’ but it is interspersed with songs about love and life, romance and regret, the stuff of popular-song since, well, forever. He opens with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Irving Berlin’s ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ coupled with Stephen Foster’s ‘Old Folks at Home’ and then has a few numbers by Jule Styne, Barry Kleinbort and Jim Croce before getting down to Jerry Herman’s ‘Song on the Sand’ from “La Cage aux Folles” which the composer allowed Steve to introduce to London before the show itself arrived. It is suitably plaintive, wistful and nostalgic.
Then it’s into Lerner & Loewe and ‘Time for a Love Song’ (“Carmelita”) and ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’ (“Camelot”). Frank Loesser, famous for “Guys and Dolls” and perhaps not so well-known for “Where’s Charley?” and “The Most Happy Fella”, has his tribute before Steve moves on to that other Steve – Sondheim and a couple of ironic, edgy numbers, ‘We’re Gonna Be All Right’ (“Do I Hear a Waltz?”) And ‘With So Little To Be Sure Of’ (“Anyone Can Whistle”). Irving Berlin is represented by ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ and ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’, after which comes a real tear-jerker with ‘Old Friend’ from “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road” by Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer. It’s a song that Steve has sung many times in London and, in its depiction of lost love, has no better interpreter. It is the mark of a great artist that Steve can take songs from all periods in popular-musical history, put them together, and not let any of them feel out of place.
Then it’s back to Noël Coward and Sandy Wilson, interrupted only by Albert Hammond’s ‘99 Miles from LA’ which then leads into the Schwartz and Dietz ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and ‘I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan’, before the Gershwins’ ‘A Foggy Day’ and Cole Porter’s ‘Can-Can’. Following the Piaf medley there’s Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’ (in French too) before more Cole Porter, Gershwin and Berlin. The audience participation number is Flanders & Swann’s ‘Mud Glorious Mud’, the famous ‘Hippopotamus Song’ and the evening ends with Gracie Fields’s signature-song ‘Sally’ which Steve has always wanted to perform in London.
What a night, what a man, what a repertoire. This surely isn’t the last London will see of Steve Ross. With Barry J. Mishon and his like in the game, there is still a future for cabaret in London. Thank you Steve, thank you Barry, and thank you Pizza on the Park for many great evenings.
Michael Darvell, www.classicalsource.com, June 15, 2010
Steve Ross, doyen of New York cabaret, has been a regular visitor to this supper club ever since it opened in 1982, so it's appropriate that he plays the final residency before the doors close this week. He could hardly have bowed out with a better show.
It's fair to say, of course, that the singer-pianist, a strangely ageless figure, has never been one of the world's greatest vocalists. He nudges and cajoles the lyrics; sometimes he seems to be half-speaking. But his timing is immaculate, his piano playing has all the grace of a Fred Astaire dance routine, and no one, with the possible exception of the much more flamboyant Michael Feinstein, possesses such an encyclopaedic knowledge of the vintage songbook.
Ross was born to sing Puttin' on the Ritz; he played stylish games with the tempo, dragging it back and forth without once losing his balance. And his Anglophile instincts were given full rein on the undergrad frolics of Frank Loesser's anthem The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students' Conservatory Band.
He rambled back and forth across the decades in front of an audience of admirers, including David Jacobs and Victor Lownes. As if strolling around an apartment filled with precious memories, Ross lounged in cosy Gershwin, Berlin and Porter armchairs and made a point of revisiting neglected nooks and crannies, among them Alan Jay Lerner's collaboration with Gerard Kenny on an adaptation of My Man Godfrey. The mood turned wistful on Song on the Sand from La Cage aux Folles (Ross still owns the battered sheet music he brought over for his 1983 residency.) He also made a point of paying homage to his old collaborator, the late Sheridan Morley, while a Gallic instrumental medley, including Padam, nodded in the direction of Edith Piaf. A cabaret era was ending in style. Fortunately, the King's Road landmark, the Pheasantry, is to become an alternative home for displaced artists, while a new chapter opens next month with a gala evening, starring Sian Phillips, that will launch a season at Wilton's Music Hall.
Clive Davis, London Times, London, June 14, 2010
It was fitting that in its last week of presentations before closing for ever, Pizza on the Park gave us the consummate cabaret performer for an evening of total pleasure. As well-known here as he is in his native USA, Steve always attracts packed audiences and in the run-up to its closure, Pizza's basement venue was full of well-known admirers from the venerable David Jacobs to the Royal Academy's George Hall to Jermyn Street's Penny Horner. Listening to Steve's immaculate interpretation of lyrics and his precise and often innovative, personal piano accompaniment is so pleasurable that you feel he is singing just for you. Other people disappear from view because you are so focused on his performance.
"So get on with it. What did he sing?" I hear you asking. Well, he started off with 'Alexander's Ragtime Band' which got everyone's full attention followed by a series of four songs all about those ticking clocks that haunt us all. Jim Croce's 'Time in a Bottle' segued into 'Time' (Kleinbort/Thyalken) then 'Just In Time' (Styne/Comden/Green) with 'Time After Time' (Styne/Cahn) completing the quartet.
Jerry Herman's 'Song on the Sand' from La Cage Aux Folles was cleverly followed by 'One of Those Songs' (music by renowned French composer Gerard Calvi and English lyrics by Will Holt). Clever, because 'Song on the Sand' haunts me and probably a great many of the audience.
And so the enjoyment continued with a cornucopia of numbers flooding our senses. Some Sondheim naturally - 'With So Little To Be Sure Of'' and those two he wrote with Richard Rodgers, 'Do I Hear A Waltz' and 'Take the Moment'.
Some of our home-grown composers featured: Noel Coward's 'Come the Wild, Wild Weather'(Waiting in the Wings) and Sandy Wilson's 'I Could Be Happy With You' (from The Boy Friend, of course) and other Brit numbers as surprises at the end. New York got some praise - 'Take Me Back to Manhattan' and 'I Happen to Like New York' both by Cole Porter. And so the songs rolled over and we sat, enthralled and enchanted.
A couple more nods to the Brits brought us Flanders and Swann with 'The Hippopotamus Song' in which we all joined in the chorus and finally, 'Sally', Gracie Fields' iconic number.
What a night. Oh what a night it was. No, he didn't sing that. Maybe next time in a new venue.
Lynda Trapnell, Musical Stages, London, June, 2010
THE TWO OF CLUBS
At the Oak Room right now through February 7th, the legendary Steve Ross is putting on perhaps the best show he is done in years. The new show, a tribute to Fred Astaire, doesn't have a clunker song in it. More to the point, every song in the show is a brilliant standard by the likes of Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, The Gershwins, et al, made all the more engaging by Mr. Ross who even manages, through his interpretative genius, to make some of these songs seem absolutely brand new.
Mr. Ross, who plays the piano and sings, is not often given credit for his amazing skills as a piano player. One might say that he is a brilliant accompanist for himself. Possessing a voice no more special than Fred Astaire's, Mr. Ross (like Astaire) makes every word count, but he uses his musicianship at the piano to bolster the emotional heft of his songs when his voice, alone, could never do so. Best of all, Steve Ross's patter is smart, sophisticated and funny. He sets up his songs so well that he's done most of his work before he even begins to sing. It's great having him back at the Oak Room, the room he re-opened approximately 30 years ago!
Barbara and Scott Siegel, Talkin' Broadway, February 1, 2010
PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ: STEVE ROSS SINGS FRED ASTAIRE
Steve Ross has panache to spare when he is "Puttin' On the Ritz." Twenty-nine years ago, he brought music back to the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel after its four-decade-long absence. He helped establish a standard of the best of the best, and he is currently performing the songs associated with Fred Astaire, an idol he has saluted before. Nobody does it better, so why not?
Fred Astaire had taste, style, class, and on stage and screen, he put on the "Ritz" better than anyone. Ross possesses the same qualities, so he is the ideal person to remind us that "Puttin' On the Ritz" encompasses the elegance of intelligent and evocative lyrics, in impressive partnership with sophisticated piano arrangements.
He begins the show off-stage and a cappella with Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance," meditative and foreboding. There is plenty of joy, rhythm and fun to come, but this opener indicates that Ross not only presents the songs with love and respect, but also with the depth that comes from study and understanding.
In the flowing mystery of "Dancing in the Dark" (Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz), for example, he demonstrates the emotional underpinnings of foreshadowing. The complexity of the song is emphasized with his beautiful stress on the word "wonder," in the line "We're waltzing in the wonder of why we're here." Fred Astaire, who is said to have introduced more standards than any other performer, presented "Dancing in the Dark" in the stage production of The Bandwagon, repeating it in a memorable dance sequence with Cyd Charisse in the film version.
As Ross mentions, Astaire began his dancing career with his sister, Adele, who later left the act to marry an English nobleman and live in Ireland. Ross reflects their era together with Irving Berlin's "The Ragtime Violin" and "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'." He tells us that there was not really an Alabama-bound train that departed at midnight—it left at 12:19 AM—but that would make for an awkward song title. These two fetching tunes were performed by Astaire with Judy Garland in Easter Parade.
With eloquent bass accompaniment by Brian Cassier, Ross has arranged over thirty songs into sections. He includes some of the most romantic songs. Not many can surpass these three in expressing love: George and Ira Gershwin's "They Can’t Take that Away from Me” with its air of resignation, "The Way You Look Tonight" (Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields), and Cole Porter's bittersweet "After You, Who?" Porter also wrote the song Steve Ross's parents courted to, "Night and Day." Admitting to being an Anglophile, like Astaire, Ross includes a London segment, with Porter's mischievous witty tale of the unsuccessful hostess, "Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby.”
He is driving and dauntless on piano with the multiple rhythms of "Fascinatin' Rhythm" and "Oh, Lady Be Good," both by George and Ira Gershwin. Irving Berlin's engaging "Let Yourself Go" and "Cheek to Cheek" are tantalizing. I was reminded that Astaire sang the appealing Bert Kalmar and Harold Ruby tune "Nevertheless (I'm in Love with You)" in Three Little Words when Ross chose it for his encore the night I attended.
Debonair, dedicated and talented, Steve Ross demonstrates why cabaret still continues to endure. He is a reminder of why aficionados continue to support its promise and highest achievements.
Elizabeth Ahlfors, Bistro Awards, January 27, 2010
PITTER-PATTER, AND PIANO, IN NOD TO FRED ASTAIRE
“If I had to sum up western civilization in four words, they would be ‘Cole Porter’ and ‘Fred Astaire,’ ” Steve Ross declared on Wednesday evening at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel.
Well, maybe. Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies, with their lighthearted elegance, and casually sophisticated songs by Porter, Berlin, the Gershwins and the like certainly conjure a heady ideal of human behavior at its most romantically benign. But who would really want to swoop around a dance floor in top hat and tails every night? I take that back; Mr. Ross probably would.
A singer and pianist and not a dancer, he is the personification of the bygone dream world that his music summons. Dapper and quick witted with a knowledge of his idols that suggests a lifetime of scholarship in an imaginary 90th-floor Park Avenue aerie, he channels their spirits in brittle, fleet performances whose quickened pace evokes ballroom dancing as a challenging aerobic sport.
In his new show, “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” Mr. Ross, assisted on bass by Brian Cassier, focuses on Astaire, whom he has saluted many times in the past. No matter; it never gets old. The show interweaves biographical material that focuses on Astaire’s youthful partnership with his sister Adele and Astaire-identified standards that everyone of a certain age ought to know. The run-on format in which songs and patter flow continuously lends the show the musical mood of a serene dance marathon, if such a thing is possible.
Mr. Ross’s sharply accented pianism, which often accelerates during uptempo numbers, belongs to a traditional New York saloon style associated with Cy Walter, piano bars and hotel orchestras. Precisely syncopated, it stands on the outer fringe of jazz. His dry, precisely enunciated singing doesn’t delve into the psychological murk of lyrics. (Porter’s are especially ripe for the picking.) But his subtle emphasis on a witty turn of phrase — the vocal equivalent of a raised eyebrow — makes each small gesture count. It’s finally about enjoyment, pure and simple.
Outstanding moments on Wednesday included his intensely percussive “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Dancing in the Dark” (a song he compared to “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” and “Lost in the Stars” in its metaphysical focus), the wistful Porter ballad, “After You, Who?” and “The Way You Look Tonight,” which he called “the most elegant love song ever written.”
Steve Ross performs through Feb. 6 at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan (212) 419-9331.
Stephen Holden, The New York Times Music Review, January 21, 2010
CABARET'S STEVE ROSS SALUTES FRED ASTAIRE
Balladeer-pianist Steve Ross performs songs associated with dancer-actor Fred Astaire in his fast-paced new show, "Puttin' On the Ritz", at the Algonquin Hotel's legendary Oak Room running through Feb. 6.
The engagement marks the 29th anniversary of the entertainer's debut at the Oak room and is the latest in his series of sprightly tributes to such show business personalities as Irving Berlin, whose "Ritz" song supplied the show's title, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, and Noel Coward. A dapper man with an insouciant personality, Ross is the perfect purveyor of the sophisticated style that marks these songwriters.
He mixes nearly 40 songs with fascinating biographical patter about Astaire who with his sister Adele comprised the pre-eminent Broadway dance team of the 1920s. After Adele married a British nobleman, Fred Astaire worked almost exclusively in Hollywood from the 1930s until the 1970s, teamed with such partners as Ginger Rogers, Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, and Audrey Hepburn. Astaire was a first recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 1978.
"He introduced more songs that became standards than almost anyone else," Ross tells his audience in an introduction to his 90 minute program. "Tonight I am going to sing only about one-tenth of the songs associated with Astaire in the course of his long career."
Ross, well-tailored in black tie worn with a wing collar and a white carnation as a boutonniere, sits down to the piano and accompanies himself with terrific style – perky, jazz-derived, and echoing Porter's own reputation for facile keyboard accompaniments ranging from romantically lyric to emphatically percussive. He sings with only one backup musician, Brian Cassier on bass.
Ross' tenor has a silver edge that illuminates lyrics without plunging into their darker depths, a saloon style that suits the era of the songs he sings perfectly.
He opens the show with Irving Berlin's "I Won't Dance", segueing seamlessly into the less well known Harry Warren-Johnny Mercer song, "I Want to Be a Dancin' Man". Later on he sings the greatest of all dancing songs, "Dancing in the Dark" by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, as well as the Gershwins' "Shall We Dance?" and "Fascinating Rhythm" and Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek".
As a performer, Ross is noted for his flawless enunciation and his talent for getting the most out of every clever turn of phrase supplied by the witty lyricists whose words he sings. When he asks in the comeuppance song, "Who gets the last laugh now?", you feel the backbone thrill of getting even for a love affair that has gone sour, the kind described in Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields' mockingly cynical "A Fine Romance".
But Ross can be wistfully remorseful, as he is in his accounting of Porter's "After You, Who?", and delicately vulnerable as he is in Kern and Fields' "The Way You Look Tonight", which he goes out on a limb to describe as "the most elegant love song ever written". Coming from an expert in love songs, it is an assessment that must be taken seriously.
Ross has recently extended his amazing international career (Tokyo, Hong Kong, Australia, the Spoleto Festival in Italy) with appearances in London as part of the American Songbook series art the Jermyn Street Theater. He anchors the Oak Room's annual Noel Coward birthday celebration, appears in the Metropolitan Museum's concert series, and has hosted radio series for National Public Radio and the BBC.
Frederick M. Winship, United Press International, January 20, 2010
STEVE ROSS: PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ
It's impossible to replicate the unassuming, seemingly effortless singing style of Fred Astaire, whose vocals were generally seen as a byproduct of his dancing a necessary accompaniment to those painstakingly conceived steps in time. Cabaret legend Steve Ross can't dance -- don't ask him -- but he has an unassuming, effortless-seeming singing style of his own. His new act, "Puttin' on the Ritz," spins the Astaire songs into a magic web, his 10 fingers proving a suitable substitute for Fred's two feet.
Astaire came along, out of Nebraska, at just the right time to personally benefit from the great American Songbook. As his career was about to take off, he befriended a similarly one-of-a-kind young composer named Gershwin. Their 1924 musical, "Lady Be Good," immediately and permanently established both Fred and George as top musical comedy talents.
Astaire's increasing stardom quickly attracted projects and songs from Gershwin's worthy peers: Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. Frank Sinatra and Al Jolson might have been stronger singers, but they never had composers of this caliber writing songs to order.
Ross weaves together a string of 32 songs in 70 minutes, all but three of them from Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Kern or Arthur Schwartz. Some are combined in medleys, others stand alone. Many prompt anecdotes or observations, centering on Astaire and touching on the songwriters, the dance partners (especially sister Adele, initially thought to be the star of the act) and others.
But it's in the singing that Ross gets us. He has a gentle vocal style, not unlike that of Astaire, and he sings from the heart. Fred, of course, had other things to attend to; once he had properly introduced the lyric, it was time to start dancing. Ross has plenty of songs to cram into the act, and he provides all the music at the keyboard (with able assistance from Brian Cassier on bass).
But Ross also has carte blanche to stop the almost dizzying hit parade and immerse himself in some of these golden songs. "Fascinating Rhythm," "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "They All Laughed" are dazzling, boosted by the performer's pianistics. "Cheek to Cheek," mixed with "Let's Face the Music and Dance," is breathtakingly good.
Best of all, perhaps, is Schwartz and Dietz's "Dancing in the Dark." This is a complex song, musically as well as lyrically; as Ross enters the introspective interlude, he seems to deconstruct the words and feeling, building to a grand and emotionally involving climax.
Ross has been performing the songs of Astaire, and those of Gershwin, Porter, et al., for more than 30 years now; his obvious devotion to and love of the material is apparent. Steve Ross singing "Night and Day," framed by the oak-paneled wall of the famed Algonquin: What could be better, or more special, than that?
Steven Suskin, Variety, January 20, 2010
STEVE ROSS DOES JUSTICE TO FRED ASTAIRE
Just about every time Steve Ross finishes a number in his "Puttin' on the Ritz" salute to Fred Astaire in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel (Jan. 19-Feb 6, 2010) he flashes a smile of satisfaction. It is an indication of how much he enjoys performing the songs that Astaire sung at one time or another, and as usual for this suave, skilled and pleasing cabaret star, he transfers his own pleasure to his audience. Ross is an icon who has raised the singer-pianist form of entertainment to the nth degree and his artistry is as enchanting as ever.
Both with his piano playing and his singing, Ross speeds us on an adventure with sophisticated interpretations and varying rhythms. He also digs deeply into the meaning of the lyrics, yet always maintaining his jaunty style, which come to think of it, is thoroughly in keeping with the debonair manner that was so appealing about Astaire. Ross also takes time to provide us with background information that in itself is entertaining.
Ross clearly has a romantic feeling about so many of the numbers he chooses. He prefaces his rendition of Irving Berlin's "Isn't It a Lovely Day?" by calling it "one of the most beautiful songs ever written." Lamenting the lack of a dance floor, he at one point in introducing a number playfully suggests that audiences have been known to sway at their tables.
And what an avalanche of songs Ross presents. The treasure trove from which he chooses is extremely rich, provided by legendary composers and lyricists. His repertoire includes, for example, "Cheek to Cheek" (Berlin); "A Fine Romance" (Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern); "Puttin' on the Ritz," of course (Berlin); "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan" (Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz); "I Wanna Be a Dancin' Man" (Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren); "Thank You So Much Mrs. Loughsborough-Goodbye" (Cole Porter); "They Can't Take that Away from Me" (George and Ira Gershwin)-the list goes on and on.
If you want a lift from the pressures of our times or your daily routine, a sure bet is to head for the Oak Room and let Steve Ross lift your spirits with his inimitable style and joyful menu of hit songs capturing the era of Astaire and reviving memories of his unique singing and dancing. Ross too is unique, and being in his cabaret company is a tonic. At the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street.
William Wolf, Wolf Entertainment Guide, January, 2010
Thank your lucky stars that a longtime cabaret star of the caliber of Steve Ross has turned his attentions to one of our great American lyricists, Alan Jay Lerner, as the subject of a generous-length embrace. The very literate Lerner loved words and so does Steve Ross, and he treats them with both respect and relish. The singer-pianist knows that simple can be elegant and elegant can be simple, as he trusts the material and presents it with care and clarity and attention to the craft. The result is that you hang on every rhyme and twist of phrase, even the ones you know by heart, appreciating them all over again. And likewise, you notice all over again how wonderfully they are wedded to the melodies of his major collaborators Burton Lane and Frederick Loewe. Lo and behold, a few become especially appreciated when they are sung more intimately and as pensively as one can in a small cabaret room: this live recording was made during his recent engagement at The Oak Room of Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel. Especially benefiting from the sincere, smaller-scale, heart-to-heart approach: "The Heather on the Hill" and a blend of "It's Time for a Love Song" (from the under-appreciated score to Carmelina) and "If Ever I Would Leave You."
The only songs with melodies not by Loewe or Lane are a trio from Lerner's last, uncompleted project, never before recorded. And they're terrific—and terrifically performed! The show would have been My Man Godfrey with music by Gerard Kenny. "Try Love" is a lovely, heartfelt ballad, "Dancing My Blues Away" is sprightly and fun. And full of sharp barbs akin to some of Henry Higgins' grousing in Lerner's My Fair Lady lyrics is the collection of snide comments, "I've Been Married." As Steve points out in his patter (of which I wish there were more), the writer had been married eight times when he wrote this one.
Though the veteran entertainer Ross has never been at a loss when it comes
to grace and polish and sophisticated charm, here he also imbues many numbers
with more longing and a bittersweet quality. Directed by his co-arranger,
Duncan Knowles, the proceedings are a master class in presenting classy songs
with class (and much contagious joy). Thank heaven for the loverly Steve Ross.
Talkin' Broadway Sound Advice, January 14, 2010
Steve Ross often gives the impression that Fred Astaire was created simply so Ross could croon the great singer-dancer's repertoire. Nobody does it better, plus which he plays piano even more creatively than his quintessentially debonair and endlessly talented predecessor. Ross singing Astaire isn't a new show for him, but it's an enduring one.
David Finkle, The Village Voice, January 12, 2010
a very special, clear, on location recording of Steve's performance at New
York's Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel. This is one entertaining CD. It's
surely a keeper. You'll save a bundle and not have to dress up. Pour your
favourite beverage, turn off the phone, kick off your shoes and enjoy! Steve
traces the many facets of the Alan Jay Lerner mystique. His spoken
knowledgeable well-researched intros about him are a joy to behold. Woven
between the standards he presents songs from unproduced forgotten shows such
as "What's Up"(1943), "Carmelina" (1975), "The Little Prince" (1974) and "My
Man Godfrey" (1985). Steve's one-man show is terrific. There are a total of 23
songs bound to bring brand new meanings to the many familiar songs we have
grown up with.
Dan Singer, In Tune International, November, 2009
STEVE ROSS & PATRICIA HODGE IN P.S. WE'RE BACK
The Great American Songbook is alive and well and residing this week at Pizza on the Park in London’s Knightsbridge where Steve Ross, doyen of supper-club singer-pianists, and actress and singer Patricia Hodge are recalling some of the great American songs along with the best of British. Both performers have voices that remind us of an earlier era, the 1930s and 1940s , when Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, Jack Buchanan & Elsie Carlisle, Noël Coward & Gertrude Lawrence and Ivor Novello & Judy Campbell were treading the boards and making the movies. It was a time when the popular songs of the day came from the musical-comedy shows on Broadway and in London’s West End. George & Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, and Irving Berlin and Cole Porter were writing the hit songs in the US while Noël Coward, Eric Maschwitz, Vivien Ellis and Ivor Novello were doing the same in the UK.
In their new show Steve and Patricia unearth the best of the material from this era and it proves to be a rich seam they are mining. There’s a vague theme of travel about the show but it’s not set in stone. It begins with a rather more up-to-date song, ‘You’re so London’ that Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett used in their famous 1962 Carnegie Hall concert, the lyrics of which hilariously contrast the brashness of the American Burnett with the oh-so English Rose qualities of Andrews. This segues into ‘(The Lady’s a) Star!’ from “Star!”, Robert Wise’s biopic with Julie Andrews playing Gertrude Lawrence. The period is then set for Joseph Meyer’s ‘Fancy Our Meeting’, which veteran song and dance man Jack Buchanan popularised in Britain. To follow are songs by the Gershwins, Jerome Kern and Eubie Bake, interspersed with ones by Coward, Maschwitz and Novello. This last was not only prolific at writing romantic numbers, but he could also turn out a fine comic song such as ‘And Her Mother Came Too’ which Steve essays with his usual aplomb. Maschwitz wrote such iconic numbers as ‘Goodnight Vienna’ and ‘Room 504’ which are performed here with the utmost gentility and respect for both the words and the music.
Noël Coward could be both raucous and genteel and here we get ‘A Room with a View’, ‘Something Very Strange’ (from “Sail Away”) and ‘If Love Were All’, Coward’s favourite of his own songs, plus the full lyrics of ‘Mad About the Boy’, the last verse of which was originally censored on account of an alleged lapse of taste, as it is sung by a married man. Schwartz & Dietz could also do sad torch-songs as well as upbeat numbers, but here it’s all contemplation in ‘By Myself’, ‘Alone Together’ and ‘I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan’. Three songs from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I” (with its Gertrude Lawrence connections) and a medley of songs bringing us back to London and New York, the respective homes of Patricia and Steve, complete a packed programme, impeccably performed.
Patricia Hodge is very good at comic songs such the one in which she admits to being “terribly good at imitating sheep” and ‘Das Chicago Song’, Cohen & Walsh’s brilliant pastiche of Kurt Weill and “The Threepenny Opera”, sung with Dietrich-Minnelli type actions. For a finale there’s a quick skip through two dozen or so songs illustrating the history of the twentieth-century musical, from Otto Harbach’s ‘Every Little Movement’ to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Changes Everything’. Great show, great songs, great entertainment. Let’s hope that London can carry on supporting this civilised style of cabaret when it is performed by two immaculate artists such as Steve Ross and Patricia Hodge. Don’t miss this toothsome treat of a show.
Michael Darvell, www.classicalsource.com, November 27, 2009
Those music lovers who aren't totally gaga over Lady Gaga will probably thrill to the prospect of taking a giant step back in time when melodies were as free-flowing as champagne and the lyrics to pop songs were beyond clever. Steve Ross once again demonstrated this perfectly at the opening of his tribute to Fred Astaire at The Oak Room of The Algonquin. Ironically, when Astaire was evaluated after an early screen test, the result came back - "Can't act; can't sing; can dance a little." Ross' show is like taking a crash course in Style and Debonair 101. Of course, it didn't hurt that a large chunk of The Great American Song Book was written especially for him by the likes of Berlin, Porter and Gershwin. Few of today's crooners has the savoir faire to pull off the magic required for an homage to Mr. Astaire. However, according to some of those who have already seen the show – Joan Rivers, Julia Meade, Judy Carmichael, Cabaret Convention founder Donald Smith and a never more glamorous KT Sullivan – Mr. Ross has it in spades.
Elizabeth Sharland, The Palm Beach Society Magazine, November 13, 2009
HIS personality is self-effacing, his voice is light and hardly mellifluous but who cares when he can interpret songs with such skill? Debonair New York cabaret artist Steve Ross, who memorably played Melbourne in 2003, presents “a disposition on the genius and words of Alan Jay Lerner”, recorded at the Algonquin Hotel. He invests such feeling – even reverence – in a lyric that he almost makes you believe you are hearing a standard like If Ever I Would Leave You for the first time. With his elegant piano accompaniments, Ross presents a delightful recital to illustrate the lyricist’s mastery of his craft. He gives a fresh sheen to staples from My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Gigi, Camelot and Paint Your Wagon but the true delights are the less-well-known songs, none better than three from the unfinished musical on which Lerner was working at the time of his death: a lilting beguine, Try Love, the bouncy Dancing My Blues Away and a cynically funny take on wedlock, I’ve Been Married. Eight-times-wed Lerner had just the credentials to write “living life connubially, isn't any jubilee”.
Jim Murphy, The Age, Australia, September 17, 2009
Singer and pianist Steve Ross is beloved by cabaret audiences across the country, but it’s his curatorial work for I Remember Him Well: The Songs of Alan Jay Lerner that is truly superb. He not only ensures that songs from the lyricist’s major shows are included (My Fair Lady, Camelot, Brigadoon and On a Clear Day...) but also some of Lerner’s lesser-known ones: Carmelina and The Little Prince.
Perhaps most notable are three previously unrecorded songs from the musical that Lerner was working on at the time of his death, a show based on the movie My Man Godfrey. Lerner’s lyrics for these songs -- particularly “I’ve Been Married” -- are witty and tart, fitted perfectly to the beguiling melodies from composer Gerard Kenny. Kenny’s work with the bouncy “Dancing the Blues Away,” is particularly choice, deftly capturing the buoyant sounds that one associates with music of the 1930s.
Ross, always a grand interpreter of lyrics, felicitously delivers Lerner’s words. His phrasing is impeccable and listeners can hear the joy that Ross feels when crooning a particularly choice bon mot within a song. As pianist, Ross is equally adept, finding nuance in the melodies of Lerner’s many collaborators.
Andy Propst, TheaterMania, August 17, 2009
Describing Steve Ross as in a class by himself is by now a cliché, but what can you do? It’s true. Ross is delightfully demonstrating his prowess, charm and individuality again at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, this time under the title “I Remember Him Well – the Songs of Alan Jay Lerner.” Ross takes to the lyrics of Lerner with panache, sailing through a repertoire of songs the distinguished lyricist wrote, mostly with Frederick Loewe and Burton Lane.
By now Ross has his cabaret persona down to what seems to be easygoing perfection. Looking elegant in his tux, he briskly takes his seat at the piano and gets down to business with “I’m On My Way” from ”Paint Your Wagon” (Lerner and Loewe). And indeed he is. His blending of virtuoso piano playing with jaunty singing communicates surely with his audience, especially in the intimate venue of the Oak Room. Ross is sprightly with “I Never Met a Rose” from”Little Prince,” wistful with “I Talk to the Trees” from “Paint Your Wagon” and romantic with “Time for a Love Song” (Lerner and Lane) from “Carmelina.” I especially like the romantic feeling and sensitivity that he pours into “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot.”
Ross plucks several songs from “Gigi” (Lerner and Loewe). He gives us a bit of a Maurice Chevalier imitation with “I Remember It Well.” He reminds us of the fun in other numbers from that work, including “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore.” He also has the right feel for the romantic intonations of the title song “Gigi.”
The entertainer, whose voice is not huge but a very pleasant one, offers a generous helping of numbers. In addition to selections from “My Fair Lady” he delves into the show “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (Lerner and Lane), and is a special standout with “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” His “Come Back to Me” from the same show doubles as a sly invitation for his audience to come back to him. No big problem there – audiences have been coming back to Steve Ross for years, whether in Manhattan or venues he has brightened abroad.
William Wolf, New York Calling, February 2009
STEVE ROSS AT PIZZA ON THE PARK, SW1
The last time I heard that dapper New York singer-pianist Steve Ross, he was cutting an irresistibly stylish path through the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. Although Ross had made his name as an interpreter of the Cole Porter school of songwriters — he still poses in top hat and tails on his website — he had no difficulty adapting to Sondheim’s angular melodies.
For his latest visit – part of Jeff Harnar’s American Songbook in London series — he explores the more romantic and occasionally whimsical realm of Alan Jay Lerner. Extracts from My Fair Lady, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi and Brigadoon dominate proceedings, although Ross also finds room for Lerner’s collaboration with Gerard Kelly on an uncompleted adaptation of My Man Godfrey.
The singer’s low-key approach always yields rewards, his semi-conversational style refreshingly free of any faux-showbiz embellishments. His piano playing is similarly unflashy, yet full of subtle turns of phrase, as he demonstrated on a brisk instrumental canter through the “almost perfect” show that is My Fair Lady.
Ross dispensed witty nuggets of biographical information along the way, leaving you to wonder what would have happened to the Pygmalion tale if Comden & Green had brought it to the stage. As Ross was the first to admit, Lerner’s repertoire is not so rich in after-hours introspection, but there was more than a hint of saloon-bar melancholy on What Did I Have That I Don’t Have? co-written by Burton Lane.
Towards the end of a relaxed set, Jeff Harnar emerged from the wings to perform a duet on Almost Like Being in Love, and the audience had its chance to join in the chorus of Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?
Clive Davis, Times Online, London, March 26, 2009
I REMEMBER HIM WELL: THE SONGS OF ALAN JAY LERNER
Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986) was the lyricist and librettist responsible for some of the most beloved musical shows to come out of American theatre. With composer Frederick Loewe he formed a duo of artistic creators second only to Rodgers & Hammerstein, although some might even place all four on the same pedestal. Good as they were, and as popular as they became, you might still call Rodgers & Hammerstein the greatest craftsmen of the Broadway musical. On the other hand Lerner & Loewe were the true artists of the genre. In “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel”, “South Pacific”, “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music”, Rodgers & Hammerstein dealt with real-life problems. In the likes of “Paint your wagon”, “Brigadoon”, “Camelot” and “Gigi”, Lerner & Loewe took a more spiritual look at life, while “My fair lady” was a mixture of both social comment and philosophy. This last is generally accepted to be the best, the most popular, the most successful and the most enduring of American musicals. Although Steve Ross here pays tribute to the words of Alan Jay Lerner, he in no way belittles the contribution of Frederick Loewe’s music to the success of the partnership and considers him to be one of the greatest of American tunesmiths.
Lerner studied at Harvard where he knew John F. Kennedy and where he contributed to college shows. His ambition was to be in musical theatre. After graduating he worked for radio until a visit to the Lambs Club in 1942 found him meeting Frederick Loewe quite by chance. The composer was looking for a lyricist, so they began working together on “Life of the party”, a musical based on a farce. It was staged by a Detroit theatre company and ran for nine weeks. Encouraged by this success they next worked on “What’s up?”, about aviators stranded in a girls’ school, which ran on Broadway for just sixty-three performances in 1943. Two years later they completed “The day before spring” and by then their partnership was sealed. Their first long-running production came with “Brigadoon” in 1947, which clocked up nearly 600 performances. Four years later came “Paint your wagon”, a reasonable success at nearly 300 performances, although it did better in London where it ran for a year. In between these shows Lerner also worked with Kurt Weill on “Love life” and with Burton Lane on the Fred Astaire musical-film, “Royal wedding”. He also wrote the screenplay for the Gene Kelly film “An American in Paris” using the music of George Gershwin.
Turning George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” into a musical show took many years of consultation between the owner of the rights, film producer Gabriel Pascal, who had already filmed Shaw’s play in 1938, and the eventual writers, Lerner & Loewe. They expressed interest early on but dropped the project for a couple of years. Others who had turned it down included Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, Cole Porter, and Rodgers & Hammerstein, the last having told Lerner it was an impossible task because it is all talk, talk, talk with no room for the songs. However, when Pascal died, both MGM and Lerner & Loewe wanted the rights. The latter did secure them and “My fair lady” was born.
Far from finding no room for the songs in Shaw’s play, the musical numbers fit perfectly around Shaw’s dialogue, most of which is retained by Lerner in his book. Indeed, if you see “Pygmalion” now, there are moments where you expect the songs to break in and develop the dialogue. Imagine, if you will, the songs we might have had, if Bernstein, Porter or Rodgers & Hammerstein had succeeded in musicalising “Pygmalion”. Actually, it doesn’t bear thinking about…
Having run for six years in New York and five in London, “My fair lady” was the most successful musical in theatre history at the time. It won six Tony awards and the film version went on to win eight Oscars in 1964.
The next project for Lerner & Loewe was almost equally auspicious, the film of “Gigi”, the last original musical to come out of MGM. This won all nine of its Academy Award nominations. “Camelot” followed in 1960 with Julie Andrews and Richard Burton in a none-too-heavily-disguised tribute to the Kennedy administration but set in the time of King Arthur. It lasted for almost 900 performances and was filmed with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.
After that Loewe retired and Lerner worked with many other composers, albeit not always too successfully. He did “Coco” with André Previn for Katharine Hepburn playing Coco Chanel, worked with John Barry on “Lolita, my love”, with Bernstein on “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue”, a show about the White House with Patricia Routledge playing all the First ladies, with Burton Lane again on “Carmelina”, a musical development of the film “Buona Sera Mrs Campbell”, and with Charles Strouse (of “Annie” fame) on “Dancer a little closer”, based on Robert Sherwood’s play “Idiot’s delight”. After Loewe came out of retirement to work on the stage musical of “Gigi”, they also adapted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s story of “The little prince” as a film musical in 1974 but it was not a success. In his last years Lerner was working on a musical of the film “My man Godfrey” with composer Gerard Kenny and he started writing “The phantom of the opera” with Andrew Lloyd Webber but illness saw him replaced by Charles Hart.
Steve Ross mainly concentrates on the songs that Lerner wrote with Loewe which were, after all, the most successful of both their careers. The title of the compilation is “I remember him well” which comes from a song in “Gigi” in which Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier look back at their former relationship even though Honoré, the Chevalier character, actually remembers very little. The full song is included and Steve Ross manages to do a convincing double act singing both parts. It’s written as a humorous number but the emotional feelings of the two elderly people trying to remember come through acutely in Steve’s performance.
He tells Lerner’s story with great sympathy, a man with foibles and addictions who had eight wives, a subject he later broached in a song from the not-produced show “My man Godfrey”. It too is a comic song called ‘I’ve been married’, and here personal experience is uppermost in Lerner’s mind. According to Ross, Lerner also seemed obsessed with plant-life as exhibited in songs such as ‘I never met a rose’ (“The little prince”), ‘I talk to the trees’ (“Paint your wagon”), and ‘Hurry, it’s lovely up here’ in which the heroine of “On a clear day you can see forever” talks to her flowers. Here we glimpse Lerner’s mystical and romantic side.
With a sensual response to the English language, Lerner was a true perfectionist who agonised over his lyrics. He wrote over ninety versions of the title song from “On a clear day…” taking eight months to do it, giving three hours a day to the job in hand. Eventually eight versions were shown to Loewe before Lerner was satisfied with the final result. In ‘Thank heaven for little girls’ from “Gigi” he worried about the lines “Those little eyes so helpless and appealing / One day will flash and send you crashing through the ceiling”, because he reckoned that you could only crash through a floor, not a ceiling. However, having laboured over finding just the right word for a line for weeks on end, he was delighted when it finally came to him. He was immensely pleased when he managed to get the word ‘pavement’ into ‘On the street where you live’ in “My fair lady”: “I have often walked down this street before / But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before”.
Good lyrics need good music, which is why Lerner & Loewe made such a successful partnership. In one part of his show Steve Ross plays a medley of just some of Loewe’s music to remind us how fine a composer he was and in so doing also demonstrates what a fine pianist Steve is. Loewe could write the most romantic of love-songs such as ‘If ever I would leave you’ (“Camelot”), ‘The heather on the hill’ and ‘Almost like being in love’ (“Brigadoon”) or the title song from “Gigi” with real sentimental feeling, and yet also turn out the most delightful of comic songs such as ‘With a little bit of luck’ or ‘Wouldn’t it be loverly?’ (“My fair lady) with the same insouciance.
Steve Ross brings his wide experience of the American Songbook to the words of Lerner and the music of Loewe, Lane and Kenny. Highlights include one of Lerner & Loewe’s earliest songs, ‘My last love’ from “What’s up?” which displays their early promise. The songs from “Gigi” show the partnership at its lyrical best. A Burton Lane medley of ‘Too late now’ (“Royal wedding”) and ‘What did I have that I don’t have?’ (“On a clear day…”) are two songs of regret that reveal a more wistful side of Lerner’s writing. The show ends with a joyous selection from “Brigadoon” and “My fair lady” in which host Jeff Harnar duets with Steve before the entire audience join in for ‘Wouldn’t it be loverly?’
All in all, this is an evening of classic songs immaculately performed by the master of cabaret: we’ll remember him well, too. A final word for Pizza on the Park’s resident pianist Leigh Thompson who, before and after Steve Ross’s performance, plays an eclectic selection of Broadway songs by Jerome Kern, Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, Sondheim and Kander & Ebb among many others.
Michael Darvell, www.classicalsource.com, March 24, 2009
CABARET'S CROWN PRINCE
Steve Ross is called “The Crown Prince of Cabaret,” and in his well-researched new tribute to the genius of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner at the Algonquin, he lives up to the label. Joyfully ranging from the western influence of Paint Your Wagon to the drawing-room elegance of My Fair Lady, the exuberant singer-pianist runs the gamut of this prolific writer’s repertoire, showing how Lerner pulled words out of his noggin like nuts from a cluttered fruit cake. “Poignant” has never been a word I associate with Mr. Ross’ raspy voice—until now. But he’s surprisingly moving on everything from “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here,” the opening number in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, to “My Last Love,” one of the first songs Lerner ever wrote with longtime collaborator Frederick Loewe, whom he met accidentally in the 1940s at the Lambs Club by making a wrong turn on his way to the men’s room. Their partnership produced many smash hits, from Camelot to Gigi, and Mr. Ross touches almost all of them. He is not a good enough actor to imitate Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold at the same time, but he sings in tune and is a great crowd pleaser. Revealing a less frolicsome side of his nature than usual, he can be touching (on a slow-tempo reading of the traditionally raucous “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?”), charming (on Jane Powell’s waltz-time ballad “Too Late Now” from the film Royal Wedding) and introspective (on a beautifully arranged “Heather on the Hill” from Brigadoon), all sung softly and straight from the heart. He’s done his homework, and the result is a revealing portrait of Alan Jay Lerner as a restless, dapper, diminutive perfectionist (91 sets of lyrics before he was satisfied with “On a Clear Day”) who was married more times than Barbara Hutton. The words and music blend artfully in a polished style that makes you feel good and go away full. You even want to sing along, but wait for instructions. Mr. Ross will tell you when.
Rex Reed, The New York Observer, January 13, 2009
LENDING AN EAR TO LERNER SONGS LESS FREQUENTLY HEARD
When the singer and pianist Steve Ross gives a musical history lesson, information that other performers might add as a footnote, if at all, can end up as a paragraph in an absorbing seminar that defies conventional expectations. Last year Mr. Ross dug up some wonderful Stephen Sondheim obscurities in his tribute to that composer. His new show, “I Remember Him Well — the Songs of Alan Jay Lerner,” at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, is an even tastier examination of the lyricist for “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi” and “Camelot.”
One enlightening paragraph is a three-song suite from a musical adaptation of “My Man Godfrey” that Lerner was writing with the composer Gerard Kenny at the time of Lerner’s death in 1986. “Try Love,” a slinky, lighthearted beguine; the jaunty “Dancing My Blues Away”; and “I’ve Been Married,” an outrageously caustic diatribe against marriage (Lerner was married at the time to his eighth wife) from the unfinished score, may not measure up to the brilliance of “My Fair Lady” and “Gigi.” But Mr. Ross shows that these virtually unknown songs are worthy additions to the Lerner catalog. “Try Love,” in particular, has the potential for a commercial life beyond the theater.
The show is a beautifully constructed career reappraisal channeled through the voice and piano of a performer whose mild-mannered politesse is antithetical to the stentorian posturing associated with many Lerner and Loewe songs, especially those written for “Paint Your Wagon” and “Camelot.”
To hear Mr. Ross’s quiet, heartfelt rendition of “If Ever I Would Leave You” on Wednesday evening was to rediscover a ballad that is typically delivered as a fanfare of oratorical bluster. Mr. Ross’s quiet performance gently carried it into a private realm where its high-flown assertions of eternal devotion became tender endearments.
“Too Late Now” joined to “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?,” both written with Burton Lane, made perfectly matched expressions of what Mr. Ross called “rue and regret.” Singing “I Remember It Well,” the nostalgic duet from “Gigi” about faulty memory, he took both the Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold roles.
“I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” was imbued with the same all-forgiving wistfulness. The song still stands as the best musical argument I know of for embracing old age as a reward rather than as a punishment.
For years Mr. Ross was the cabaret world’s reigning Park Avenue dandy and embodiment of the Cole Porter-Noël Coward attitude of garrulous suavity. Without peeling away his polish, he has moved to a deeper place in which crooning in a voice he seems to have kept in reserve has largely replaced Mabel Mercer-inspired speech-song.
At the same time his sharply punctuated pianism has stretched out in richer, semiclassical directions. Of how many other cabaret performers can it be said that unadorned voice and piano make for a complete and completely engrossing show?
Steve Ross performs through Jan. 31 at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (212) 419-9331, algonquinhotel.com .
Stephen Holden, The New York Times Music Review, January 9, 2009
STEVE ROSS: I REMEMBER HIM WILL
In an age when urbanity is a trait often considered past its time, you can only hope the very urbane Steve Ross — still performing in black tie with boutonniere and breast-pocket handkerchief — will find appreciative audiences for I Remember Him Well, his tribute to the equally if not even more urbane Alan Jay Lerner.
Lerner is — it should be needless to say but perhaps isn't — the dedicated Broadway wordsmith of Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Camelot, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. A theatre man from head to toe during his lifetime (with him the distance was not that great), he was also fascinated, as Ross makes sure to point out, by the occult and found a way to combine those obsessions in the above-mentioned On a Clear Day.
Ross, as is his pleasure, tiptoes through Lerner's garden, interspersing his renditions of songs written mostly with Frederick Loewe and Burton Lane with a running commentary on well-known and obscure aspects of Lerner's career on Broadway and in Hollywood. He reminds his audience, for instance, that Gigi won the 1958 Oscar as best picture and for its title tune, which he sings with a Romeo's longing. He refers to the eight months Lerner took to complete the On a Clear Day title ditty.
In line with the way he likes to construct his reminiscences, Ross programs songs so familiar that with "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" (music by Loewe) the second-night audience was able to sing along. Yet he calls attention to less-familiar numbers. Doubtless the least familiar are three songs for the musical adaptation of My Man Godfrey that Lerner was working on when he died in 1986. Obtaining those, the song hound must have relied on resources who remained unnamed. Perhaps the prime resource was composer Gerard Kenny, who provided tunes on a par with the best Lerner had ever been handed. The titles are "Try Love," "I've Been Married," and "Dancing My Blues Away." Each is stamped with the words "potential standard," and it would be interesting to know how close to completion the entire project was. It may be a treasure worth uncovering.
Habitually a cabaret entertainer with a twinkle in his eye and voice and fingertips, Ross can be insouciant one moment — Loewe's "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" in a slight Maurice Chevalier accent — and robust the next, as in Loewe's "I'm on My Way" opener from Paint Your Wagon. Then he's deeply passionate, as with Loewe's "Heather on the Hill." It all comes wrapped in a sophistication that — with Bobby Short gone these last few years — probably makes him the last of his kind. Ronny Whyte and Eric Comstock take up some of the slack and add their own panache, but Ross is now sui generis.
Curiously, the night I saw him, Ross was in good but not tiptop form. For someone chatting on gallantly about his notion of a superlative lyricist, he made several uncharacteristic lyric mistakes. For instance, in "Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here," on the lines "You've got a spot to fill/A pot to fill," he sang, "You've got a spot to fill/A plot to fill." His version makes perfect sense, but it's not Lerner's choice. Or maybe it is. Maybe Ross knows something — as he often does — about many celebrated songs' original intention. And that's why he remains a cherished cabaret commodity.
David Finkle, Backstage, January 8, 2009
CABARET AND OTHER WANDERINGS WITH SANDI DURELL
The words used to describe Steve Ross are plentiful and accurate. . .debonair, sophisticated, smooth, masterful. Mr. Ross opened the legendary Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room in 1980 and 29 years later he is still the erudite master of the Great American Songbook.
As the leading interpreter of the words and music of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, he has happily turned his attention to JFK’s Harvard classmate Alan Jay Lerner. (one of the Lerner Shop descendants). Working in New York as an advertising copywriter, Lerner met composer Frederick Loewe at the Lamb’s Club and together they collaborated on some of the greatest musicals ever written: Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady (deemed ‘the perfect musical’), Camelot and the film Gigi. Lerner found great pleasure in the English language and in enhancing romantic themes. As Ross notes, Lerner seemingly had an affinity for flora. . . trees, flowers, hillsides, buds and accelerated plant growth! “I Never Met A Rose” (Little Prince), “I Talk To The Trees” (Paint Your Wagon) and with Burton Lane, “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” (On A Clear Day You Can See Forever) all sung in Ross’ amusing and mellow conversational manner.
Unproduced, My Man Godfrey finally received its New York premier at the Oak Room with some witty tongue-in-cheek lyrical matrimonial tidings “Try Love,” “I’ve Been Married” – I have tied the wedding knot until the blood began to clot – and “Dancing My Blues Away.” Maybe someone will actually produce it after hearing these songs!
Facing the terror of the blank page in trying to create a title song, eight months elapsed as Lerner wrote 91 sets of lyrics while working with Burton Lane and finally wrote “On A Clear Day You can See Forever.”
Ross continues his musical charm, wit and embracing manner on songs from Gigi, beautiful fantasy gems from Brigadoon ("The Heather On The Hill") and the perfection of My Fair Lady (written while Loewe was living at the Algonquin). Songs of regret (with Burton Lane), “Too Late Now,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” were introspective and touching, especially “Come Back To Me.”
A time warp exists in this genre of the musical salon. As I watched the reaction and faces of the audience, I saw the reality of a certain age related population who continue as lovers of the Great American Songbook and it became clearer and more urgent that evenings such as these are part of an important and wonderful heritage that must forever carry on to future generations.
Steve Ross continues these magnificent evenings throughout the month of January.
Sandi Durell, broadwaywafterdark.com, January 7, 2009
Frankly, I had almost forgotten how many extraordinary songs were written by Alan Jay Lerner. Fortunately, there is always Steve Ross to remind me.
"Confess," he asked, "how many songs do you know that are about accelerated plant growth?"
Hint – "Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here" (Lane) with wonderful rhymes like "Climb up geranium, it can’t be fun subterran-ium."
In his latest show at the Algonquin Oak Room, I Remember Him Well – The Songs of Alan Jay Lerner, Ross includes the familiar, Gigi, Camelot, and Lerner's most successful show, My Fair Lady (with Frederick Loewe). He reminds us of songs less often heard, like "I Talk to the Trees" from Paint Your Wagon. He includes three unknown songs written by Lerner when he was living in London: "Try Love (When You've Done It All)," "I'm Dancing My Blues Away," and "I’ve Been Married,” all with composer Gerard Kenny.
Lerner should know about this last tune, having been married eight times. "I’ve Been Married” includes lines like, "From counting minks instead of sheep/ I've been married." Too many marriages – too much alimony?
Reminding us of Lerner's rhymes of reason and romance, Ross approaches the work articulately and with perception. His timing is astute and he delves into the nuances of the song and its sentiment.
Alan Jay Lerner was born into the family of Lerner's, a popular women's clothing store. He had a privileged education and a strong love for musical theater that led him into writing lyrics and librettos. He is best remembered writing to the melodies of Frederick Loewe but he also collaborated with Kurt Weill and Burton Lane. Steve Ross points out that Lerner was a romantic and most of his songs reflect the flush of blooming love, its helplessness and its humor, more than the despair of lost love. Two songs of regret by Lerner and Lane are the pensive "Too Late Now" (Royal Wedding) and "What Did I Have (I Don't Have Now)" from On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, with lines like "Why is the sequel never the equal?/ Why is there no encore?"
Ross's information about the breadth of the Lerner lyric book sets up songs as exquisite as "If Ever I Would Leave You" and "Heather On the Hill" (Loewe). With impeccable stress on words, he includes the many verses of "Come Back to Me" (Lane) including, "Let your tub overflow/ If a date waits below/ Let him wait for Godot."
Steve Ross is never less than authoritative and required listening for everyone who loves good songs.
Steve Ross appears at The Algonquin Oak Room from Jan. 6 through Jan. 31, 2009.
Elizabeth Ahlfors, cabaretscenes.org, January 6, 2009
ROSS PUTS ON THE RITZ
Legendary cabaret singer Steve Ross, the longtime toast of Broadway and super clubs around the world, made a rare Los Angeles appearance on November 22, at Mark's Restaurant in West Hollywood, courtesy of Chris Isaacson and Shane Scheel's Upright Cabaret.
The world-class entertainer started his revue of evergreen Broadway songs by announcing that he was celebrating his 50th year in show business, which led to heartfelt applause. The talent and showbiz savvy that he has polished to a fine sheen over the years was much in evidence in the delightful two-hour show.
The first act was a cavalcade of some of the best from Cole Porter (Can Can, I Get a Kick Out of You, Anything Goes) and Irving Berlin (I Love a Piano, What'll I Do, Alexander's Ragtime Band), sprinkled with choice offerings from the likes of Noel Coward (Mrs. Worthington) and Henry Mancini (Two for the Road).
Act two focused entirely on the canon of Steven Sondheim, as Ross also has in his arsenal an entire evening devoted to works of the master. Favorites from Company (Another Hundred People, Being Alive, Sorry/Grateful), A Little Night Music (Send in the Clowns), Follies (Ah Paris!) were included, and I was very pleased that he included numbers (We're Gonna Be Alright, Take the Moment) from the criminally underrated score that Sondheim wrote in collaboration with Richard Rodgers for Do I Hear a Waltz?
Ross is a pianist extraordinaire (as so aptly demonstrated in his Edith Piaf suite) and sublime song stylist, imbuing the selections with passion, humor, irony, wit, and all of the other wonderful nuances to be gleaned from the Broadway treasure trove. He brings a freshness to every piece that he tackles, imbuing the material with his own trademark style. His between-songs banter is clever and urbane. He's the height of sophistication, melded with a down-to-earth warmth that captivates an audience from start to finish. It's wonderful to see all of the bright young talent that Upright so frequently offers, but evenings like this, spotlighting the work of first-class pros of the elder generation, provide a welcome balance to the mix.
Les Spindle, SoCal Stages November 25, 2008
THE SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE
American cabaret singer Steve Ross is back at the Pizza on the Park again this week for another display of his studied virtuosity on the piano and in song.
His new programme Good Thing Going: Songs of Stephen Sondheim and More is well balanced. The first half dips into classics drawn from the golden age of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, starting out with Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band and ending with several songs associated with Fred Astaire.
Devotion to good diction is one of Ross’s great attributes. So he’s able to deliver the tongue-twisting lines of the title number of Cole Porter’s Can Can in a way that every word can be clearly heard.
The second half is devoted to the songs of Stephen Sondheim, the modern flag-bearer of American music theatre, says Ross.
There’s some early obscure numbers followed by a variety of favourites from Follies, Sweeney Todd and Company.
His choice seeks to illustrate how Sondheim exploits the complexities and contradictions of being in love, wanting to be in love, loathing being in love, etc.
Some interesting lyrics supported by great music writing delivered with delightful panache by Ross in full flight.
Sebastian Taylor, Camden New Journal & West End Extra, October 23, 2008
STEVE ROSS: GOOD THING GOING
In 1970 American singer and pianist Steve Ross was lucky enough to see in New York the last run-through of a show called “Company” before it went on the road to try out in Boston. As he says in his new show, “Good thing going”, a tribute to the work of Stephen Sondheim, the musical form as we knew it was about to change again, as it does every so often. Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat” made the change in 1927 from musical comedy to musical drama, in 1943 “Oklahoma!” brought realism to the American musical, and in 1957 “West Side story” integrated song with dance in a way hitherto untried. In 1970 came Sondheim’s “Company”, a musical but not one with a linear construction. It comprised a dozen or so playlets or sketches by George Furth detailing incidents from a young man’s life in which he cannot commit to a lasting relationship such as marriage. Instead both he and the audience observe his friends and their marital status.
As Steve Ross says of Sondheim, he raised the state of the art of the musical and pushed the envelope in a different direction. Gone was the traditional musical-comedy that relied on merely entertaining the audience and in came subjects not usually dealt with unless it be in opera, such as anxiety, ageing, disillusion and despair. Sondheim was featuring the darker side of life and the human psyche. His works were not totally devoid of humour but it is of the black variety, entertaining but also intense and brutish. The immediate example of this is the show that followed “Company”, namely “Follies” – the irony is already waiting there in the title.
In “Follies” Sondheim recreated a musical follies show from a bygone era but also etched in portraits of the current follies his characters are going through – trying to relive their younger lives but not realising that the past, like all the old Follies revues, is dead and long gone. After “Follies” came “A Little Night Music”, based on the Ingmar Bergman film about marriage and other relationships, most of which are dysfunctional. “Pacific Overtures” was another immense departure, even for Sondheim, as he depicted an unflattering portrait of American colonialism in Japan. And then came “Sweeney Todd”, his musical thriller about a barber who carves up his customers and lets his landlady pop them into pies.
Was this really the stuff of the American musical? Indeed it was then and it is now and, even if it resembled more an English Victorian melodrama, it is still Sondheim’s masterpiece and shows just how far he could take his art. As you can see, Sondheim never deals in the obvious but reinvents himself.
In his one-man show, Steve Ross gives us a cross section of Sondheim’s work which, as the “Side by Side by Sondheim” compilation show demonstrated, little bites of Sondheim can be very entertaining particularly in the hands and voice of Ross. He begins with a medley of ‘Another hundred people’ and ‘Being alive’ from “Company” and then ‘Pretty Women’ and ‘Johanna’ from “Sweeney Todd”. These songs sum up Sondheim’s preoccupations with lonely and desperate people, the first telling how solitary you can feel even in a big city; the second is a cry for help by someone who cannot connect with other people on a deep enough level. The third song is about obsession with the opposite sex by men who for one reason or another have no relationships, and the fourth describes how one man plans to save the girl he has fallen in love with.
There is further gloomy philosophising in ‘Buddy’s blues’, ‘Too many mornings’ and ‘Who could be blue?’ (written for but dropped from “Follies”) and ‘I’ve got you to lean on’ and ‘Anyone can whistle’ (from the show of the same name). In all these songs there is complexity, contradictions and opposites, exemplified by a line from “Company”: “you’re sorry / grateful, regretful / happy”. This is perhaps why some of Sondheim’s work has not found a popular place with US audiences. He generally does better in the UK where irony is welcomed and accepted.
Although ‘June/moon’ rhymes will always be the staple diet of popular songs, Sondheim’s lyrics are something else again. Being not only composer but also his own lyricist, his work has a strong unanimity about it. The words and the rhymes coalesce with the music, the lyrics blending seamlessly without force or unnatural rhymes in an almost conversationally poetic style. Sondheim achieves his often clever and amusing effects with surprising brilliance but is never predictable and he never puts a word out of place.
Steve Ross is an ideal interpreter of Sondheim and he brings his own feelings and experience to bear on the songs, adding an extra level to an already-complex body of work. Other songs in the set come from “Do I hear a waltz?”, which Sondheim wrote with Richard Rodgers, “Saturday night”, “A little night music”, “Marry me a little”, a show formed of songs cut from other Sondheim musicals, and “Merrily we roll along”, which provides the title of Steve Ross’s show even though the song ‘Good thing going’ is not part of the programme. However, “Merrily” provides the last song of the evening, ‘Old friends’ (“It’s us, old friend – what’s to discuss old friend? / Here’s to us, / Who’s like us – ? Damn few.”).
Well, hearing just a fraction of Sondheim’s output in Steve Ross’s immensely enjoyable tribute allows us to listen to some very good old friends, but who’s like Sondheim? What’s to discuss? Not even damn few, for there is nobody quite like Stephen Sondheim.
Steve Ross gives us some two dozen Sondheim songs in an evening of utter brilliance. He even manages something from Sondheim’s first-ever musical, “All that glitters” which he wrote at the behest of his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II. The rest of the evening is devoted to some of Ross’s favourite songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Charles Trenet, Murray Grand, Jerry Herman and even the first song he ever sang at Pizza on the Park at his London debut in 1982, Milton Ager and Jack Yellen’s ‘Hungry women’, a comic song about girls who want nothing else but to feed themselves. As he says, “I feed ‘em and weep”. Pizza on the Park seems to be back to its old style of cabaret, so it too must be cherished again. Steve Ross’s opening night showed just how popular this sort of show can be, so catch him while you can.
Michael Darvell, www.classicalsource.com, October 21, 2008
A MOMENT WITH STEVE ROSS
Hearing the songs of Stephen Sondheim in a New York City museum is particularly fitting these days. The Roundabout Theatre Company's presentation of Sunday in the Park with George,with its extended museum sequence, began previews on Jan. 25, 2008, at Studio 54; on Jan. 11, 28 blocks uptown, Steve Ross delivered a savvy and sweet cabaret of Sondheim songs as part of the concert and lecture series in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ross is best known for singing standards by Noel Coward, Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin in venues like New York's Algonquin Hotel, the Ritz in London, the Crillon in Paris and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Despite his international successes, Ross proudly says, quoting George M. Cohan, he was born "45 minutes from Broadway" — in New Rochelle. His claim to being a "Broadway Baby" is justified by his knowing and sensitive interpretations of Sondheim's music.
This cabaret opened with the pairing of ''Another Hundred People," depicting the fretfulness of city life, and "Being Alive," with its desperate appeal for warmth and tenderness. In many ways, Ross's selection of songs for the evening expressed those two sides of Sondheim's vision — the ambivalences and anxieties that make life more difficult, and the affections and desires that make life less painful.
Other medleys were similarly revelatory. Ross performed "So Many People" and "One More Kiss" as the bookends of a relationship: all hope and optimism at the start, and then a graceful glance backward to a love that has gone. The coupling of "Sorry-Grateful" and "Losing My Mind" created a moving drama of ambiguity giving way to passion. And then there was "Someone Like You" (from Do I Hear a Waltz?) yoked with "I Must be Dreaming" from All That Glitters, one of the four musicals that Sondheim wrote under Oscar Hammerstein's tutelage; Ross succinctly pointed out that the one has music by Richard Rodgers, and the other has music with a Rodgers-like grace. Ross's arrangements were likewise inventive. Toward the end of "I've Got You to Lean On," he cleverly folded into the accompaniment some phrases of "What Would We Do Without You?"
All of these pairings and segues reveal an astute understanding of the emotional landscapes of these songs, an impressive musical nimbleness and an insightful knowledge of Sondheim's work and career. Between songs, Ross turned to the audience, donned a pair of eyeglasses and presented a witty and intelligent commentary. Early in the evening, he declared that Sondheim both "pushed the envelope" and "raised the bar" for musical theatre, that he has the crucial quality for any creative artist: audacity.
To illustrate this, he cited the daring of Sweeney Todd. Before singing a medley of "Johanna" and "Pretty Women," Ross invited the audience either to enjoy the poetic imagery of the latter song or to hear it within its context — sung as Todd awaits the chance to cut the Judge's throat. "Isn't it nice to have options?" Ross puckishly asked before turning to the piano and singing his heart out.
Ross shared the stage with other luminous New York talent. Dizofe Avuglan brought to "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" a crystalline ornamentation - too infrequently heard when opera singers perform Sondheim. Melanie Vaughan (Celeste #1 in the original Broadway production of Sunday in the Park with George) and Eric Michael Gillett (from the Broadway production of The Frogs and the New York City Opera production of Candide) performed two duets as the dynamic little dramas they are: "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" and "Take Me to the World." They both have lovely voices, though Gillett's robustness sometimes drowned out Vaughan's beautiful clarity and expression. The entire evening was ably accompanied by double bass player Brian Cassier, about whom Ross quipped, "a fortune teller told me that I would spend a lot of time with a tall man with a large instrument."
The evening had other highlights. Not every man can get away with singing "Ah, Paris!" but Ross pulled it off with complete aplomb. One instinctively trusts that this dapper man in a tux and tails and with a white carnation in his buttonhole knows of what he sings in this song. The audience at the Metropolitan especially enjoyed Ross's performance of the full version of "We're Gonna Be All Right" (as heard in Side by Side by Sondheim); this case of marital tribulations and negotiations clearly appealed to this audience's sense of humor more than any other comic song in the program.
Ross closed the program with two songs — one perhaps inevitable and the other more surprising. His gentle performance of "Send in the Clowns" included the bridge Sondheim wrote for Barbra Streisand's Broadway Album recording, an addition that Ross believes makes a great song perfect. "A Moment with You" was a delicate reminder of the special relationship a singer can have with an audience. Certainly on the evening of Jan. 11, the heart took flight after spending a moment with Steve Ross and this tender but shrewd set of Sondheim songs.
Paul M. Puccio, The Sondheim Review, Vol. 14, No.4 Summer 2008
CREME OF THE CROP
American cabaret singer Steve Ross brought the Cabaret Creme season to a close in style. It might have been compounded by the rain, but the atmosphere of nostalgic reverie was irresistible. The lucky hundred or two who came at 5:30pm to hear Ross' A Tribute to Sondheim, and again at 8:30pm for a smorgasbord of Noël Coward, Cole Porter et al, were truly rewarded with a stylish, confident and well-executed program.
The first performance began with local jazz identities, saxophonist John Mackey and double-bassist Eric Ajaye, who brought precisions and sophistication to the evening, though their arrangements meandered a little too much at times.
After 20-odd minutes it was time for Steve Ross. During his first few songs he appeared to be battling a sore throat. By the time we heard Anyone Can Whistle however, he had fully warmed up and his singing had begun to equal his awesome piano playing.
A curious man, who looks a bit like a billionaire US presidential hopeful who never quite made the ticket, Ross exuded authoritative charm and was never for an instant supercilious or arrogant.
His affecting love of Sondheim was delivered with prepossessing innocence and breezy proficiency.
Later that night, Ross took us on a more irreverent journey through the songs of, among others, Porter and Coward. The second performance also included a breathtaking instrumental medley of the songs of Edith Piaf.
Although he chose not to sing Piaf, he did sing two songs in French, La Mer (perhaps better know to us as Beyond the Sea) and Que reste-t-il de nos amours. Both were exquisite.
Ross is a performer who balances the innocent fanaticism of a tribute act with the outright skill of an established virtuoso. Well done to him, and The Street for programming such a warming shelter from a wintry night.
Aaron Ridgway, Australia, July 7, 2008
Don't let it get around that you can catch a performer of Steve Ross's calibre in the intimacy of Bar Me. He should be in the Studio at the Opera House, but until that happens we get to enjoy him in this wonderful little room where every nuance of an understated performance becomes monumental.
Most cabaret performers struggle to put one show together, let alone the three Ross has brought to town: this Stephen Sondheim tribute called Good Thing Going, plus Cabaret Creme and To Wit: Ross on Wry.
Since the Herald last reviewed him the debonair New Yorker's autumnal voice has faded a little more, but he uses it so very adroitly that it's a more edifying experience than hearing a screamer with three octaves. Besides, the musical content is stirred and thickened by his pianistic skills – which drew attention to Sondheim's harmonic ingenuity even as Ross's voice highlighted the man's lyric genius.
This was a highly personalised wander through the Sondheim woods from one who knows where some of the rare trees and secret glades lie. These included a song from the teenaged Sondheim's All That Glitters and two from the seldom-aired Do I Hear A Waltz? (written with Richard Rodgers).
Other than two Sweeney Todd numbers, he concentrated on the pre-1974 shows, notably the pastiches and confessions of Follies. The title song from Anyone Can Whistle showed how well Ross does wistful, just as Marry Me A Little (Company) showed how well he does wry. Standing out were Losing My Mind (Follies), which was pared back to a raw nerve, and a telling, desperately restrained Send In The Clowns.
Tonight he does send them in, via the wit of Coward, Porter, Flanders and Swann and Lehrer.
John Shand, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 5, 2008
It has been said of Steve Ross that he is the Cabaret Master of New York; I would say simply that he is THE Cabaret Master. To quote Mr. Ross: "The best songs are stories, and the best singers storytellers. Great singers can make you care about what they're feeling. You have a sense of knowing them".
It was with this sensibility that Mr. Ross delivered songs by Stephen Sondheim tonight at Bar Me in Sydney's Kings Cross.
Intimate, funny, classy, wry – all the ingredients of a great storyteller came into play for what was a stunning night of classic songs from one of the great 20th century American composers.
Mr. Ross is a performer from the old school of style and sophistication, having risen to fame in the 70's in New York playing at the famed Algonquin Hotel. From there he has travelled the world, performing at the Ritz in London, the Crillon in Paris and the Imperial Hotel Tokyo.
Indeed, while sitting downstairs tonight at the less-than-salubrious Bar Me, I felt transported to another era entirely. I was experiencing the golden jazz age and Mr. Ross could well have been Cole Porter or Fred Astaire, enchanting the audience with his suave talent and old world charm.
The interpretations of the Sondheim classics were beautifully rendered, Mr. Ross breathing new life into songs that are so well known as to be almost cliché.
Buddy's Blues was played as a cheeky blues rather than the frenetic show tune it's normally performed as. Pretty Woman was played in a sweet bossanova style rather than a waltz, and Being Alive was sung as a pensive ballad rather than a big belt number.
Impressive too was his absolute mastery of the keyboard and a voice that can break your heart. However, it is really with the lyrics that Mr. Ross shines, imbuing them with a pathos that is rarely heard today.
So for all the cleverness and showmanship, Mr. Ross is primarily a performer with heart.
In summary, it is a shame that our city doesn't have a proper venue to showcase someone of Mr. Ross's international stature.While Bar Me may well accommodate some acts, it certainly didn't do Mr. Ross justice.
The piano is an out of tune disgrace, the sound system thin and noisy, the disorganised staff embarrassing. But, don't let that deter you from the next 2 nights of shows by Mr. Ross. Get there at any cost – he is that good.
Bev Kennedy, Arts Hub, Australia, July 04, 2008
STEVE ROSS – TO WIT: ROSS ON WRY
New York’s Steve Ross returns to these shores as part of the Great American Songbook in London season at Jermyn Street. His choice is to pluck some of the more quirky, ribald, witty and downright rude numbers from the mythical musical tome. His choices here are admittedly unusual but Ross certainly knows how to entertain. With a vague, almost wandering narrative and a wicked glint in his eye he feeds his audience a rich helping of comic genius from the likes of Flanders and Swann, Coward, Wallowitch and of course, that cornerstone of the songbook, Cole Porter.
Themes ranged from hard-core drugs and guns to how a widow rediscovers her taste for sex when her old husband dies. Quite frankly, Ross’s choices were superb and his delivery as wry as the title of the evening suggests. Particular favourites included A Gnu – incidentally the only number this reviewer knew from the catalogue – Delores Del Rio, Dutch Ecology and The Spider and the Fly. Although Ross obviously adores Coward, giving us a hearty rendition of You’ll Have to Show It to Mother, I am not sure it features as his best work. Playing to a practically full house on opening night, it was evident that Ross has many fans in the UK and after this run he is certain to earn many, many more.
Paul Vale, The Stage, London, March 10, 2008
THE AMERICAN SONGBOOK IN LONDON: STEVE ROSS
Steve Ross spends his career playing and singing funny songs, when he isn’t singing romantic ditties, but this is the first time he has devoted a complete show to the art of the comic song. Steve and director Duncan Knowles have ransacked the repertoire from the whole of the twentieth-century and come up with a wagonload of wit, a bouquet of barbed ballads, a compilation of comic choruses and a sack-full of salacious chansons to present “Ross on wry”.
As Steve writes: “For a while after I began my professional career, ‘funny’ songs were my stock in trade. I began with some from the music hall, moved through Flanders & Swann and ended up with Cole Porter and Noël Coward. I then discovered revue, novelty and point numbers as well as special material – all of which comprise the source material for this programme.”
Indeed, Michael Flanders & Donald Swann (‘The Gnu’ and ‘Tonga’) and Cole Porter and Noël Coward do take up a large part of Ross’s current excursion. Cole Porter is Ross’s favourite songwriter and he probably performs more of his songs than anything else. The epitome of witty material suits the man, as Steve plies his trade as the sophisticated chanteur and piano-player, he still looks as if he has just arrived from a smart Manhattan hotel lobby or stepped off an ocean liner, circa 1935.
Cole Porter’s ‘list’ songs are just perfect for Steve’s laid-back style of delivery, demonstrated in his handling of Porter’s title song to his 1953 show “Can-Can”. Porter deals in the arcane as well as the mundane and you really need a good education or an entrée into American polite society to get all of his jokes. Another great Porter song is ‘They couldn’t compare to you’ from the 1950 show “Out of this world”, in which Mercury lists all his girlfriends up on Mount Olympus. As Steve says, a lot of the songs are quite salacious because many of them deal with the art or the act of ‘doing it’. There’s a really hilarious song by Stan Daniels in which a Hollywood butler answers a call and has to explain why his master cannot come to the phone – he has sexual appointments with practically every name in the movie world’s celebrity book.
Talking of ‘doing it’ takes us back to Cole Porter and ‘Let’s do it, let’s fall in love’. Steve sings this and also Noël Coward's parody version: “E Allen Poe, ho ho ho, does it / But he does it in verse / H Beecher Stowe does it / But she has to rehearse”. There’s more Coward in ‘Bar on the Piccola Marina’ where Mrs Wentworth-Brewster found a new lease of love life after Mr W-B kicked the bucket. And in Coward’s ’You’ll have to show it to mother’, we never really find out what ‘it’ actually is – but we can always imagine the worst.
The rest of Steve’s programme is made up of rather sweet little songs like Porter’s ‘Tale of the oyster’, Murray Grand’s ‘The spider and the fly’, Milton Ager and Jack Yellen’s ‘Hungry women’ (“I feed ‘em and weep!”), John Wallowitch’s ‘Dutch ecology’, on what it’s like to be a dike in Holland and have a person stick their finger in you, and ‘Teeny tiny lady’, Marshall Barker and David Ross’s very unsettling story about a very small girl indeed: chilling but oddly funny too, and Steve gives it a touch of the macabre. The American Songbook Season host Jeff Harnar does a duet with Steve of Cy Coleman & Michael Stewart’s ‘Turning on’ from the show “I love my wife”, another list song, and Steve ends proceedings with Rodgers & Hart’s ‘At the Roxy Music Hall’ from “I married an angel”.
It’s a delightful evening and in fact one of Steve Ross’s best compilations, the ingredients seasoned with just enough chat about his career and the songs, spicing it up with a few jokes and his own inimitable witticisms, and playing all that marvellous music with his brilliant signature skills as a pianist. And they say cabaret is dead. Not while Steve Ross is around it isn't!
Michael Darvell, www.classicalsource.com, March 4, 2008
When Steve Ross brought his Travels with My Piano program to the Cabaret at Savor series last year, I noted that the intimate Flim Flam Room was possibly the idea venue for him. Debonair, witty and charismatic, Ross established an immediate connection with his audience that was all the more effective when nobody in that audience was more than 20 feet away.
This year he brings his Stephen Sondheim show, Good Things Going, to the Savoy Room, where most of the audience is at least 20 feet away. And yet, on Friday night that immediate connection was there, despite the distancing effect of the Savoy Room's raised stage, the mediocre sound system, and a back injury that was clearly causing him discomfort.
Happily, even with a bad back and a room that makes it impossible for anyone except his bass player (the always-impressive Kim LaCoste) to see his piano playing, Steve Ross is still, in the words of the New York Times, "the Crown Prince of New York cabaret". His traversal of the work of the last of the great Broadway composers is just as polished, graceful and illuminating as you'd expect it to be.
I refer to Sondheim as the last of the great Broadway composers, by the way, because his work represents both the apotheosis and the termination of an art form that spanned most of the 20th century. He took the traditional Broadway musical about as far as it could go (to borrow a lyric from his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II) and then pushed it over the edge. After Sondheim, composers had to find a new direction – which many of them are doing. But the form will never be quite the same.
Mr. Ross' show inspires such thoughts because it does such a fine job of representing the scope of Sondheim's work. From the early romanticism of "I Must Be Dreaming" (from All the Glitters, which Sondheim wrote at the tender age of 18), to the ambiguous wisdom of "Marry Me a Little" and "Sorry/Grateful" (Company) and the yearning of "Johanna" (from Sweeney Todd, undoubtedly one of the previous century's masterpieces of musical theatre), Mr. Ross filters the light of the composer's genius through is own unique prism, and the results are dazzling.
Mr. Ross delivers all this with his usual panache and, when appropriate, dry wit – some of it musical. Two examples that come immediately to mind: a quick instrumental quote from "Blue Skies" towards the end of "Who Could be Blue" (one of many songs cut from the epic-length Follies) and the musical equivalent of a tap-dance break in "Ah, Paris!" (which was not cut), with Ms. LaCoste's bass playing Fred Astaire.
In its original version, Good Things Going was a typical one-act cabaret show, but at the Savoy two acts are mandatory (due, I presume, to the profits gleaned from the bar), so Steve Ross fans get a bonus in the form of a "greatest hits" medley right after intermission. I was glad to find one of my favorite Noel Coward numbers, "Mrs. Worthington", in there (complete with some extra lyrics that were apparently considered too vulgar to be printed back in 1935, if my copy of the sheet music is any indication), along with his enchanting instrumental tribute to Edith Piaf and favorites by Porter and Berlin.
Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX-FM, St. Louis, November 1, 2007
In early September, Steve Ross returned to the Hotel Algonqun's Oak Room with his act "Good Thing Going," a tribute to Stephen Sondheim. Ross didn't put a foot wrong during the entire evening. reinventing some of Sondheim's greatest hits in a an elegant, unself-conscious way, never destroying the illusion that he is making it up as he goes along. It was a masterly turn.
Brian Kellow, Opera News, October, 2007
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN – THE LIFE AND SONGS OF ARTHUR TRACY "THE STREET SINGER"
Ten years ago this week the singer Arthur Tracy (aka “The Street Singer”) died in New York aged 98. He had come a long way in nearly a full century. Born Abba Avron Tracovutsky in the Ukraine, he emigrated to the US at age six with his family who settled in Philadelphia. After graduating in 1917 he studied to be an architect but soon left to take up singing. Moving to New York he appeared in vaudeville and was seen by a talent-scout and given a radio programme. He assumed his sobriquet of “The Street Singer” to avoid embarrassing his family. By the early-thirties he had appeared in a film with Bing Crosby, “The Big Broadcast of 1932”, and went on to make five more. He became a phenomenally successful singer in concerts and on record, selling some six million discs and just as many copies of the sheet music of his songs. He was a ‘bari-tenor’ who specialised in performing a repertoire of popular love songs and ballads of the day, material that would now be considered cheesy. But in 1930s’ America and for five years in Great Britain where he topped the bill at the London Palladium, these were the songs that audiences loved to hear.
His signature song was ‘Marta, rambling rose of the wildwood’ which he sang as he stepped on to the stage, as “The Street Singer” seemingly playing the accordion, an instrument which Tracy never actually learned to play. His material was unashamedly romantic but he sang some of the best popular songs ever written, from Romberg and Hammerstein’s ‘One alone’ and ‘Softly, as in a morning sunrise’ to Duke Ellington’s ‘Solitude’ through the Gershwins, Harry Warren and Al Dubin, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields and Otto Harbach to Noel Coward and Kurt Weill. He sang the material in a strong, earnest voice that was obviously very appealing to a lot of people.
Performing the songs here are writer and director Gregory Moore, an opera singer now concentrating on cabaret and concert work. He has a stentorian voice, much like Tracy and he puts across the material with warmth and feeling for the sentiments expressed in these numbers. He shares the singing with pianist and vocalist Steve Ross, an old hand at this sort of material. Far from being “The Street Singer” Steve Ross is more the sleek or chic singer and he puts a different spin on the numbers that is his familiar trademark. The accordion accompaniment by Romano Viazzani provides a neat background to the period in this most charming and civilised of entertainments. It’s not often you have the chance to enjoy these sorts of songs and here they are presented with passion and delight.
Tracy’s main period of popularity was during the 1930s and ’40s but, when Swing came in, his sort of songs went out of fashion. He toured here and in the US but eventually the work dried up and he made his money out of ‘real estate’ instead. However, many years later his 1937 recording of ‘Pennies from heaven’ was used in the 1981 US film of the same name (based on the Dennis Potter play) with Steve Martin and suddenly audiences wanted to know him again. The following year he appeared in cabaret in New York where Steve Ross saw him. Later on Tracy appeared in a Broadway show, “Social Security”, and had a bit part in the film “Crossing Delancey”. When Tracy’s papers were filed at Lincoln Center, Ross was asked if there was a show in his story. The result is two hours of very best kind of musical nostalgia.
Michael Darvell, www.classicalsource.com, October 4, 2007
PENNIES FROM HEAVEN
Arthur Tracy achieved huge popular acclaim in the early thirties as the Street Singer, a mysterious vocalist of indeterminate origin who wandered the CBS airwaves.
With a strong classical training, his forte was the sentimental ballads such as Danny Boy, Just a Gigolo and the number that became his theme tune, Marta, Rambling Rose of the Wildwood.
Tracy moved to the UK and was an instant hit on these shores recording such classics as Cocktails for Two, Keep the Homefires Burning, If You Were the Only Girl in The World and the immensely popular Pennies From Heaven.
Providing the musical accompaniment and narrative for the evening is internationally acclaimed cabaret performer Steve Ross. Ross makes an engaging and entertaining storyteller, particularly describing the moment when he finally met Tracy in the early eighties. But it is through the piano his fondness for the Street Singer shines through and at a emotional level, September Song struck a deeply poignant chord for a worldwide legend who is now largely forgotten.
This evident affection for Tracy is matched only by singer Gregory Moore whose voice has a distinctive timbre that lends itself perfectly to this style, with particular highlights being The Way You Look Tonight and the Kern/Hammerstein classic, Ol’ Man River. Complimenting this duo is virtuoso accordionist Romano Viazzani. Although often portrayed as a skilled accordionist himself, Tracy never actually learned to play one.
Moore as the author gives us woefully too little information on Tracy himself, with too few facts to link his one successful ballad after another.
Paul Vale, The Stage, London, October 3, 2007
GOOD THINGS COME IN PAIRS
Last week at the Algonquin, in the middle of Steve Ross's marvelous Stephen Sondheim show, there was a moment, in the middle of "Sorry-Grateful," when Mr. Ross modulated up a half step. I suddenly realized that this was an auspicious occurrence: the first key change of the fall — now the cabaret season had officially begun. Too bad for you if you couldn't make it back from the Hamptons (and put your white slacks into winter storage until Memorial Day) in time for Mr. Ross's two-week stint: He remains one of the very best old-school pianist-singers, down to his tuxedo and bow tie (nothing as retro or recherché as a tailcoat). No one is better at making Sondheim's pastiche songs from "Follies" sound like they were written in the jazz age.
Will Friedwald, The New York Sun, September 19, 2007
STEVE ROSS: GOOD THING GOING
Steve Ross opened the fall season at the Oak Room at the Algonquin last week. Another way of putting it is to say that after a long absence from the just-refurbished nitery, Steve Ross is back where he belongs and where he deserves to have a permanent home. Yet another way to put it is to say that with the loss of Bobby Short, Steve Ross is the last apotheosis of the quintessential Manhattan piano man. He’s a throwback to something timeless, although future generations—having moved on—may not see it in that regard and will never know what they’ve missed.
Usually inclined to fete one songwriter (Cole Porter, for instance) or one entertainer (Fred Astaire, for instance), Ross hasn’t fought his inclinations much, presumably to the gratitude of the Algonquin brass. (He hasn’t fought his inclination to wear a tuxedo and a boutonniere, either.) For what can only be termed a triumphant return to a doorstep he first darkened—that’s to say, lightened—in 1981, he’s made it a Stephen Sondheim show and called it Good Thing Going, although he borrows that song title but doesn’t sing the song.
What he does sing are 21 other songs the East Side genius wrote himself or with Richard Rodgers. The Rodgers tunes—“Someone Like You,” “We’re Gonna Be All Right,” and “Take the Moment”—are from Do I Hear a Waltz?, the 1965 Time of the Cuckoo adaptation for which Sondheim has few kind words. Perhaps he’ll be kinder after he hears how lovingly and understandingly Ross does them. Employing his febrile vibrato and strong fingering like the master he is, Ross romps intelligently through some of the most popular Sondheim ditties and some barely known, like the stunning “Sand” from the unproduced movie Singing Out Loud. This is a breathtaking glimpse of a very particular and always-to-be-cherished New York.
David Finkle, Backstage, September 7, 2007
SONDHEIM SAMPLER, STYLED FOR TUXEDO
In Cairo you find bizarre bazaars,
No, it’s not Cole Porter. But as performed at full gallop by the supremely dapper singer and pianist Steve Ross, “Ah, Paris!” — Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant, often overlooked Porter parody from “Follies” — might as well be. Mr. Ross, who opened the fall cabaret season at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel on Tuesday evening with an all-Sondheim show, “Good Thing Going,” has built his career paying homage to that holy trinity of old-time super-sophisticates: Porter, Noël Coward and Fred Astaire.
For a performer like Mr. Ross, who prefers to keep things light, Mr. Sondheim’s songs pose a challenge. If his lyrics match Porter’s and Coward’s in verbal ingenuity, his wit can only go so far in camouflaging the anxiety, disillusion and the awareness of mortality that seep through so many Sondheim lyrics. Mr. Sondheim takes a certain cruel pleasure in reminding us that inside the skin of the tuxedoed gadfly swooping across the parquet in patent leather shoes is a suffering human being. In the pretty language of “One More Kiss,” the soaring operetta parody from “Follies” that Mr. Ross brings down to earth, “Dreams are a sweet mistake/All dreamers must awake.”
This show goes out of its way to examine the obscure nooks and crannies of Mr. Sondheim’s catalog. It includes some real winners. In addition to “Ah, Paris!” there is “We’re Gonna Be Alright,” a collaboration with Richard Rodgers from the 1965 musical “Do I Hear a Waltz?” about mismatched mates rationalizing their desolate marital futures:
If we can just hang on,
Then there’s “Sand,” from an unproduced 1992 film musical, “Singing Out Loud,” which observes that “Love is just grand/ Until you feel it stinging your eyes.” Among sand’s other treacherous qualities, the song notes, it slips through your fingers, provides no solid footing and gets stuck in your hair.
Now and again Mr. Ross abandons his usual comfort zone to embrace danger, but in his own understated way. In his interpretation of that diva war horse “Losing My Mind,” which invites every shade of high drama, this torch song becomes the partly spoken monologue of a man futilely trying to shake off a nagging obsession. Mr. Ross, accompanied on bass by Brian Cassier, demonstrated that a tear-jerker usually performed by a woman pulling out the emotional stops can be just a wrenching when delivered as the murmur of a man on the brink of a breakdown: that low drama can be as effective as high.
Stephen Holden, The New York Times Music Review, September 6, 2007
CABARET BALLADEER STEVE ROSS SINGS STEPHEN SONDHEIM
Steve Ross has opened the fall cabaret season at the Algonquin Hotel's legendary Oak Room with a program of Stephen Sondheim songs culled from the popular composer-lyricist's Broadway musicals, an unproduced movie, and the cutting room.
Ross, who made his debut at the Oak Room 28 years ago, is doing for Sondheim what he has done for Cole Porter and Noel Coward in past New York appearances, and doing it splendidly. Perhaps no other singer on the supper club circuit today could so unerringly mine Sondheim's songs for their reflections on the serious emotional aspects of human experience beneath the frothy surface of life so wittily celebrated by Porter and Coward. "Sondheim delves into the dark side of our psyches unlike any other composer," Ross observes. "With his arrival, a new language was being spoken on Broadway."
The 2l-song show titled "Good Thing Going" was premiered recently by Ross with greats success in London as part of the American Songbook series at the Jermyn Street Theater and will be presented at the Oak Room through Sept.15. As usual, Ross is accompanying himself on the piano in a sprightly keyboard style, but he has one backup musician, Brian Cassier on bass.
Early in Ross' cabaret career, critics often referred to his "scrubbed, choirboy appearance", a look that has been replaced by that of the debonair boulevardier, graying at the temples. His customary performance uniform - black tie worn with a wing collar, a perfectly folded white pocket kerchief, and a perky red carnation worn as a boutonniere is perfect for the performance persona he has cultivated.
Ross keeps his remarks to the audience to a minimum, devoting most of his 90-minute show to singing in his silver-edged tenor. He points out to the audience at the beginning of the show that Sondheim was "an audacious composer, always pushing the envelope and lifting the bars" to accommodate sentiments he considered suitable for the musical theater, and Ross then proceeds to illustrate this in song.
He launches the show with Sondheim's most famous patter song, "Another Hundred People" from "Company", which describes New York as a "city of strangers" and then segues in to "Being Alive", another song from "Company" sung by its lonely bachelor protagonist, Bobby, who is thirsting for love to give meaning to his life. Ross then tips his hat to "Sweeney Todd" with a lovely rendition of "Johanna", a tender song of yearning, and "Pretty Women", a paean to the feminine gender.
Ross notes that Sondheim occasionally paid tribute to the operetta tradition in the form of parody, and he sings as an example "One More Kiss" from "Follies", a love song worthy of Rudolf Friml, who preceded Sondheim on Broadway by two generations. In the same vein he sings "Someone Like You" from "Do I Hear a Waltz", a Richard Rodgers musical with lyrics by Sondheim, and "I Must Be Dreaming", one of Sondheim's earliest ballads, written in1949.
Two of Sondheim's most rarely performed songs provide the show with novelty. They are "Sand", a number with particularly clever lyrics likening love to sand, written in 1992 for a musical film, "Singing out Loud", that was never produced, and "Who Could Be Blue?", a lilting antidote to the blues written in 1971 for "Follies" but cut out of the show along with several other songs. Ross also sings "Ah, Paris" from "Follies", a patter song he tosses off with panache.
Ross is at his very best in "Losing My Mind", a torch song written for an actress in "Follies" and is successful in giving it a male point of view, and he also dares another sex change, singing Sondheim's catchy diva song, "Broadway Baby", also from "Follies". He gets the biggest applause of the evening with what he describes as Sondheim's "most beautiful and original song, "Send in the Clowns" from "A Little Night Music", making every word of this bittersweet number about frustrated love count.
As an encore, Ross has appropriately chosen "A Moment With You", a song from Sondheim's nearly forgotten 1953 musical "Saturday Night", which contains a veritable roster of celebrity names of the era and recalls Coward's penchant for dropping society names in his songs. It is one of the most amusing offerings of an enchanting evening.
Frederick M. Winship, United Press International, September 5, 2007
STEVE ROSS: GOOD THING GOING
Steve Ross is best known as a sophisticated, old-school interpreter of composers like Cole Porter, Noel Coward, and George and Ira Gershwin. In fact, there is hardly anyone better at illuminating their work than this erudite and witty performer. But in Good Thing Going, his new show at the Algonquin Hotel's recently renovated Oak Room, Ross has extended his reach to the far more modern Stephen Sondheim, while the Oak Room has also extended its reach to include more tables as well as a more modern lighting system.
It will come as no surprise that Ross excels with Sondheim songs that are genial throwbacks to an earlier musical comedy style like "Ah Paris!" "Buddy's Blues," and "We're Gonna Be All Right." These are songs that come to him as naturally as juggling comes to a clown, and like a clown he knows how to juggle a lyric until he gets a laugh. The actual surprise is that Ross, with a modest piano-man's voice and an otherwise dapper and sly performance style, can so deeply delve into the emotional complexities of songs like "Sorry-Grateful" and "Losing My Mind," by coupling both songs into a moving dramatic arc.
The wise and revelatory coupling of songs is, indeed, the hallmark of this show that Ross debuted in London. Some of the time, Ross sings through both songs, segueing from one into the next with a powerful effect. Such is certainly the case in his opening medley of two songs from Company: "Another Hundred People," which establishes the high potential for despair among all of the hopefuls who come to New York, and "Being Alive," which stresses the equally desperate need for human warmth and connection.
On other occasions, however, he only sings part of a Sondheim song to set up the second; for example, crooning a single verse from "Johanna," to highlight the love of one woman, before quickly opening that sentiment to include a great many more young women with "Pretty Women." While we admit this sort of musical slice and dice can oftentimes work in the masterful hands of a performer like Ross, we're nonetheless of the opinion that if the song is worth singing, it's worth singing all of it.
In any event, some numbers stand alone – and do so with impressive results. Regardless of his ever-youthful appearance, one wouldn't think that this elder statesman of cabaret would sit behind a piano and sing "Broadway Baby," yet his winsome rendition is one of the many highlights in this winning show. And nothing is more stunning than his piercingly acted version of "Send in the Clowns, with which he closes his act.
You can always count on Ross for sharing a fair share of little known gems, and he does not disappoint when he gives us a song called "I Must be Dreaming" from a show Sondheim wrote when he was in college in 1949 called All That Glitters. The lyric was a bit weak but the melody was lovely, and we are thankful for the opportunity to hear it, just as we are thankful for this lovely show.
Barbara & Scott Siegel, Theater Mania Music Review, September 5, 2007
GOOD THING GOING: STEVE ROSS SINGS STEPHEN SONDHEIM
At the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, Steve Ross talked of four kinds of love: "I was in love, I am in love, I will be in love… and New York, New York." He then walked to the piano and delivered Stephen Sondheim's own complex interpretation of love, Losing My Mind, a song of stunning emotion. While Ross has been long associated with the arch sophistication of an earlier era, he has always rendered a particularly compelling version of this Follies song, decades removed from Porter, Astaire and Coward, so it is not surprising to feel the contained compassion in his riveting rendition. He reaches a pinnacle of heartbreak with: "You said you loved me, Or were you just being kind?"
Ross does not ignore a sampling of Sondheim's more uptempo tunes like Buddy's Blues, Broadway Baby and Ah, Paris! from Follies, and I've Got You to Lean On from Anyone Can Whistle, but the mood of the evening is thoughtful with interpretive takes on romance. Sondheim's love songs are never merely messages of affection or even obsession. They are intricate and their messages cross ranges of passion.
Steve Ross's arrangements illustrate the Sondheim complications with additional dimensions, like Losing My Mind wrapped inside Sorry-Grateful from Company. The lyrical combining of So Many People (Saturday Night) with the usual operatic, One More Kiss (Follies), highlighted the nostalgia in both songs. With So Little to Be Sure Of and Take the Moment were two wistful segments from two Sondheim shows in the 1960's, Anyone Can Whistle and Do I Hear a Waltz?.
Ross stepped around the piano when he wanted to say some words about Sondheim. His patter was selective and illuminating. Accompanied by the sensitive bass-manship of Brian Cassier, his voice, while not traditionally pretty, is evocative and his musicianship, feeling, and interpretation are at a peak, proven with the plaintive aura of Send in the Clowns (A Little Night Music). He included Sondheim's additional lyrics for Barbra Streisand's Back to Broadway album.
Watching Steve Ross is seeing a master rule his craft. These songs were rendered apart from their shows; they were communicative for the occasion, and the cabaret Steve (Ross) bringing the theatrically enigmatic Steve (Sondheim) into the intimacy of the traditional Oak Room, underscores the versatile creativity of these two talents.
Elizabeth Ahlfors, Cabaret Scenes, September 4, 2007
NOT A DAY GOES BY
Steve Ross is playing the Oak Room at the Algonquin–need we say more. Yes, he's doing the songs of Stephen Sondheim
When Steve Ross renders a theater song by Stephen Sondheim, it's like hearing it for the first time.
The veteran saloon singer, who has been dubbed the crown prince of cabaret, has opened the season at the hallowed Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel for a limited run through Sept. 15th. A boldly assured pianist with a light, reedy and brittle voice, Ross brings a fresh and insightful new appreciation to Broadway's foremost living composer-lyricist.
The rich expansive program boasts twenty provocative and brightly clever songs that define Sondheim's extraordinary gift for composition. Ross gives a smoothly functional, yet adventurous performance, adding a brief, insightful and witty narrative.
The literature of the Broadway musical can boast no riches more worthy than Being Alive from Company, and Pretty Women from Sweeney Todd and With So Little To Be Sure Of from Anyone Can Whistle. Ross reveals the reverence and the rapture.
From Follies, Sondheim's radiant and irreverent portrait of aging showgirls, Ross summoned the heartbreak of Losing My Mind, the sweet whimsy of Broadway Baby and the joie de vivre of Ah, Paris. And it is doubtful one can find any waltzing poignancy as lovely as One More Kiss.
Skirting some of the composer's more obvious choices, Ross mines the Sondheim legacy, unearthing a few rare gems. There is the plaintive I Must Be Dreaming from All That Glitters Sondheim's experimental college composition that offered an early promise of sound harmonic structure and a sweet ardent flavor. Another distinctive lost treasure is Sand. The song comes from a 1992 unproduced film project, Singing Out Loud.
Following an obvious, but sweetly tempered Send in the Clowns, Ross drafted A Moment with You from Sondheim's first professional musical effort, Saturday Night. The song of sweet dancing simplicity, penned when the composer was twenty-four, later surfaced in the collective revue, Marry Me a Little. The Ross charm governed the repertoire right up to the final glorious note.
Opening night found veteran doyenne Julie Wilson on hand with divas KT Sullivan, Barbara Rosene and the unsinkable Tammy Grimes along with cabaret impresario Donald Smith, who will helm the 18th anniversary of his four day Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center on Nov. 5.
Robert L. Daniels, Theater News Online, September, 2007
STEVE ROSS MINES GOLD FROM THE IVORIES AT LE CHAT
The only thing wrong with Steve Ross is that his four-day engagement at Le Chat Noir is already half over. A superb pianist, spellbinding song stylist, self-deprecating wit and the very definition of sophistication, he is a master, world-class cabaret entertainer.
He begins beguilingly with two-song medleys by different composers: Irving Berlin's raffish "Puttin' on the Ritz" and "Steppin' Out with My Baby"; Jule Styne's "Just in Time" and "Time After Time"; the Gershwins' "Nice Work If You Can Get It" and "S'Wonderful." What you notice first is his assured, light tenor and immaculate, clipped diction. Then there are the arrangements -- all his own -- in which he will change tempos several times in a song, playing intricate contrapuntal harmonies against the melody line. This is carefully crafted, cosmopolitan musicianship and a joy to experience. His humor runs along the lines of "These are songs I learned at my mother's knee -- and other low joints" and the occasional, perfectly timed verbal aside.
You'll know most of his repertoire, but in his hands -- literally -- standards are refreshed and one gets a sense of the Champagne fizz a Cole Porter or Noel Coward song had on its initial hearing.
When he goes for emotion, the results are exquisite: "What'll I Do?," "How Deep is the Ocean?," "I Concentrate on You," "In the Still of the Night," "All the Things You Are," "Two for the Road."
There are comic songs so old that they're new again: Eddie Cantor's 1929 "Hungry Women" and Ivor Novello's 1921 "And Her Mother Came, Too," which still gets solid laughs 86 years later.
Ross talk-sings his way into "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington," which, with its sly lyric emphases and pauses, may be funnier than Coward's own version. An instrumental of Coward's "I'll Follow My Secret Heart" is bracketed by sung versions of "Somewhere I'll Find You" and "I'll See You Again." But nothing can top the saga of Mrs. Wentworth Brewster's shameless behavior "In a Bar on the Piccola Marina."
Of course there are Coward's louche lyrics to Porter's "Let's Do It," several Porter standards and his brilliant "The Tale of the Oyster."
Speaking of brilliance, Ross wisely plays, but does not sing, a medley of Edith Piaf songs and does sing Charles Trenet's "Beyond the Sea" and "I Give You Love," in their original French.
David Cuthbert, The Times-Picayune, July 28, 2007
Steve Ross confesses he has great respect for Stephen Sondheim's work. "When you sing a Sondheim song, it's a different kind of air that you breathe," he notes, praising the "brilliance of the lyrics and the thought-out beauty of his music with its obscure, poetic images." Ross's performance certainly did Sondheim justice. He managed not only to perform the more romantic love songs with intensity and soul, but also to deliver the fast-paced lyrics of the show songs with ease.
Ross knows when to embellish the songs and when to let them speak for themselves, giving even the well-known Send in the Clowns a fresh perspective, and discovering new meanings to the ambiguous lyrics, including the extra verse penned for Barbara Streisand. His take on Losing My Mind was one of the most moving pieces of the night, and had the audience believing that here was a man who had really lost his mind over losing his love.
He has a nostalgic quality to his voice, reminiscent of Fred Astaire in tone and style, perfect for the way he delivers the songs. His vocal ability is even more impressive when you learn that he started off his career as a pianist. In fact, he has accompanied many great stars including Liza Minnelli in theatrical, post-show, celebrity joints in New York. His dexterity on the piano captivated the Jermyn Street audience. His playing style is seemingly effortless, his shoulders moving occasionally, in time with the music.
After an hour of Sondheim, Ross moved on to numbers from the the American Songbook. This section of the show was more light-hearted and he succeeded in getting the audience involved. At the start of I Can't Give You Anything But Love, the whole audience spontaneously sang along, providing the night's showstopper. In the encore, Ross showed off his considerable pianos skills to full advantage, performing a series of Edith Piaf numbers that were breathtaking – you could almost hear her deep, heavily accented voice fill the room.
Laoise Davidson, Jewish Chronicle, February 23, 2007
THE AMERICAN SONGBOOK
Ross is a veteran cabaret artist having made many appearances in the Oak Room of New York's famous Algonquin hotel and his experience is evident, panache oozing from every pore, his material given that extra boost of being narrated with an engaging, laconic humour. He explains how no-one else quite captures the truth of relationships the way Sondheim does, his innate empathy for emotional ambivalence providing the musical theatre with some of its finest songs as Ross evinces. Famous songs like 'Losing My Mind', 'Being Alive' and 'Send In The Clowns' receive due recognition – all ably accompanied by David Johnson on bass– but there are lesser-known numbers too, the aim being to give a good cross-section of Sondheim's range.
Such an intimate setting, one that's 'bijou', as Ross wryly calls it, is perfectly suited to this type of material, the lyrical impact of Sondheim's incisive songs feeling freshly minted... Ross' consummate professionalism– hopefully echoed by his colleagues – provides a superb way for anyone to unwind after a busy week and one can only hope that the Songbook will be back in town again soon.
Amanda Hodges, ThreesACrowdOnline.com, London, February 27, 2007
CABARET: STEVE ROSS
Over the years the New York singer-pianist Steve Ross has been indelibly associated with the frothy repartee of Cole Porter. The idea of his devoting an entire programme to Stephen Sondheim seemed unpromising on the face of it, especially for the minority of us who find that the composer’s arch wistfulness works best in carefully administered doses.
What a revelation this show was. After Andrea Marcovicci’s compelling opening residency in the American Songbook in London series, Ross managed to go one better... his immensely thoughtful arrangements ensured that this was much more than a treat for Sondheim completists.
One failsafe test, I suppose, is whether a performer can find any way of making a song as familiar as Send in the Clowns seem freshly minted. There were no doubts on this occasion. In a venue that is small enough to allow the audience to catch the faintest of sighs, Ross’s careworn delivery expressed a rare sense of pathos.
He brought so much conviction to Sorry-Grateful that you almost believed the song was as profound as Sondheim’s admirers claim it to be. The same applied to the urban hustle-bustle of Another Hundred People. As for the delightful love letter to grimy Manhattan in What More Do I Need?, Ross injected just the right note of wide-eyed optimism.
Could he make Broadway Baby sound like his personal property? Absolutely. The debonair Ross conjured an image of Fred Astaire tapping a path down the Great White Way. It made perfect sense for him later to take a detour into a brief sequence of Astaire classics.
Clive Davis, The Times, London, February 22, 2007
A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC HITS ALL THE RIGHT NOTES
The Jermyn Street Theatre is one of the West End's few cosily intimate venues, hidden in the heart of Theatreland only yards from a tourist-thronged Piccadilly Circus. It is a thoroughly friendly and welcoming theatre and, on the evening I was invited along to see Steve Ross sing Sondheim, it was filled with an audience which was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject and entirely appreciative of the performance from start to finish.
The evening was introduced by Jeff Harner as “Everything’s coming up Ross’s ” and it was. Sondheim is a fascinating composer, his songs – masterpieces of wit and bittersweet love – each telling a story, and Steve Ross’s selection was for me both a mixture of personal favourites and previously undiscovered treasures. His knowledge of, and obvious love for, the composer's work was apparent in every number and his understated singing style, dry wit and personal arrangements, always delightful. Ross intersperses his set with humorous and appropriate anecdotes and we discover that his appreciation for Sondheim stemmed from a preview performance of Company in 1970. How many can claim provenannce of that calibre for their love of Sondheim’s works?
Listening to Steve Ross bring Sondheim’s brilliance to life, on the small stage shrouded in heavy red velvet drapes, behind his Steinway, accompanied only by David Johnson on Bass, felt completely appropriate and made a thoroughly spellbinding evening. Exactly what Sondheim cabaret should be.
Geoff Ambler, ReviewsGate.com, London, February 16, 2007
THE AMERICAN SONGBOOK IN LONDON – STEVE ROSS SINGS STEPHEN SONDHEIM
The second week in the season of “The American Songbook in London” has singer-pianist Steve Ross featuring the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, indisputably the greatest living American writer of music theatre. Although his main interest has always been working in theatre, he is one of very few people to have won an Academy Award, many Tony Awards, countless Grammys and a Pulitzer Prize.
Around the time of his parents’ divorce, aged ten, he happened to befriend Jimmy Hammerstein, son of legendary Broadway lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. It is due to Hammerstein acting as surrogate father and mentor in all things musical-theatre that Sondheim is where he is today. In his range of material he has arguably surpassed the work of his mentor, although in the field of popular hit songs that became classics, Hammerstein has the edge. Oscar did after all write the lyrics for ‘When I Grow To Old to Dream’, ‘I Won’t Dance’, ‘The Folks Who Live on the Hill’ ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ plus Sigmund Romberg’s “The Desert Song”, most of Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat” and, with Richard Rodgers, “Oklahoma!”, “Carousel”, “South Pacific”, “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music”, among others.
Sondheim, however, has one up on Hammerstein. Apart from contributing just the lyrics to three major shows, “West Side Story”, “Gypsy” and “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, Sondheim has been his own composer and lyricist and produced some of the most complex music theatre songs imaginable.
It is just this flavour that Steve Ross brings out in his Jermyn Street show. Ross is a seasoned cabaret artist well-known to New Yorkers from his engagements at the Algonquin Hotel, and to London audiences from his appearances at The Ritz and Pizza on the Park over the last quarter century.
Although he has often included Sondheim songs in his act, this is the first time he has attempted a complete Sondheim tribute. There is nobody better qualified than Ross is to present the work of Sondheim. His musical taste, like that of Sondheim, is impeccable and he presents the material not as it was written for the stage but in expert arrangements performed with his signature vocal timbre that adds another level of enjoyment to this already outstanding musical output.
Ross dates his appreciation of Sondheim from seeing a run-through of “Company” in 1970, a show that has 15 perfect numbers with no song that does not earn its place, but then this can be said of most of Sondheim’s shows. Think of “Sweeney Todd”, Sondheim’s most accomplished theatre piece with about two dozen numbers and none is superfluous or out of place. From “Company” Ross essays ‘Another Hundred People’ and ‘Sorry/Grateful’, two songs imbued (as much of Sondheim is) with a mixture of happiness and sadness, because nothing is easy in his world and everything is shot through with irony. From “Sweeney Todd” Ross sings ‘Pretty Women’ and ‘Johanna’, again bringing out the incipient sadness of what are essentially expressions of love. Even ‘Buddy’s Blues’ from “Follies” is, yes, a love song, but not as we know it.
Sondheim’s biggest hit number that everybody and his wife has recorded and one that Sondheim wrote overnight for the show’s star, Glynis Johns, is ‘Send in the Clowns’ from “A Little Night Music”. Here Ross includes the extra lyrics that Sondheim wrote for Barbra Streisand’s Broadway album and convinces us that this is exactly what the song needs – something to expand or explain the emotions depicted. On the other hand he also includes some of the less well-known numbers from less successful shows, such as “Do I Hear a Waltz?” and “Anyone Can Whistle”. It’s a stunningly well put together show, a template for others of this ilk, a sort of “Side By Side By Sondheim” but without most of the chat, just the occasional link to make the piece appear seamless.
Host Jeff Harnar introduces Steve and joins him for a few duets, too, accompanied by David Johnson on bass in a show that deserves a much longer run. Steve ends the show with a selection of his favourite songs by Cole Porter and others, and also demonstrates his excellent pianistic skills in a medley of Edith Piaf songs. A great evening indeed.
Michael Darvell, ClassicalSource.com, London, February 13, 2007
STEVE ROSS AT THE CABARET AT SAVOR
Although the intimate, gem-like Flim Flam Room at Savor restaurant isn't large enough to contain a stage, Steve Ross is presenting theatre in its purest sense. The theme here is travel, and his selection of material is impeccable: Noel Coward, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter. Because Ross is a servant to the lyric, songs from lesser-known shows like Sail Away and Carnival receive a new lease on life, while already popular tunes from musicals like Can-Can sound so fresh, it's as if you've never heard them before. For New Yorker Ross, this return to St. Louis is probably just another out-of-town gig. But for the viewer, to see a one-man show of this caliber is to witness the essence of simplicity raised to an artful level not soon to be forgotten.
Dennis Brown, Riverfront Times, St. Louis, November 2, 2006
TRAVELS WITH MY PIANO
The late Mabel Mercer is generally regarded as a seminal figure in the art form now known as cabaret – so much so that the annual Cabaret Convention in New York now has as award named after her. Last month the second annual Mabel Award went to Steve Ross, in recognition of “his four decades of style, taste, flair and communicative power as the American troubadour”.
None of that will come as a surprise to local audiences. Ross has been a regular here, both at the Grand Center Cabaret series and now in a new concert series at the Savor Restaurant in the Central West End. Set in the intimate Flim-Flam Room, which seats around 60, the Savor cabaret series offers what may the ideal venue for Ross. Debonair, witty and charismatic, Ross establishes an immediate connection with his audience that's all the more effective when nobody in that audience is more than 20 feet away.
Ross is an international traveler with a particular fondness for Paris and London, so it's only appropriate that Travels With My Piano focuses on those two cities as well as on his home base of New York. As a result, the evening includes a lot of familiar material, including Cole Porter's “I Love Paris”, “C'est Magnifique”, “You Don't Know Paree” and, happily, the endlessly inventive lyrics of “Can-Can”; Gershwin's “Foggy Day”; and Noel Coward's two great urban anthems, “London Pride” and “I Happen to Like New York”.
Ross is a man of eclectic tastes, however, so you also get Coward's delightful “Why Do the Wrong People Travel” and inspirational “Sail Away” (both from his 1961 show Sail Away – a flop despite the presence of the great Elaine Stritch in the lead), Bob Merril's wistful “Mira” from Carnival, and Arlen and Harburg's “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”. There are a number of rarely-heard gems as well, including Portia Nelson's “Confessions of a New Yorker” (in which she confesses to being “in hate/love” with the town), Murray Grand's droll “The Spider and the Fly” and one of Ross' own compositions, the nostalgic “Manhattan Moon”. There's even Irving Berlin's “Harlem on Her Mind”, from the “Headline Musical” As Thousands Cheer – an uncharitably chauvinistic take on Josephine Baker's spectacular Parisian career.
Paris, in fact, provides the inspiration for well over a third of the program. Like many of the songwriters he most admires such as Gershwin, Porter and Coward, Steve Ross has a special affection for Paris, where he recently had the distinction of being the first American to play the Bar Vendôme at the legendary Paris Ritz Hotel. So, in addition to the numbers about the City of Light cited above, Ross also treats the audience to a set of songs, in French, by the noted singer/songwriter Charles Trenet, including “La Mer” – made famous by Bobby Darin as “Beyond the Sea”. He also repeats his instrumental tribute to Edith Piaf, which made such a strong impression during his set at Chez Leon last fall.
Ross delivers all of this, as usual, with a breezy elegance that's reminiscent of Fred Astaire or the late Bobby Short. Listening to him, it's easy to imagine that you've been transported back to a late-1930s RKO musical, lounging around a small table in an Art Deco rooftop nightclub with a glittering Manhattan skyline visible in the background instead of the Cecil B. DeMille Egyptian décor of the Flim-Flam Room.
That's why the New York Times has called Steve Ross the “Crown Prince of New York cabaret" and also why you should reserve your tickets now by calling 314-531-0220 or surfing over to licketytix.com. Tickets for the show can be purchased with or without dinner, although given the high quality of Savor's food you'll probably want to enjoy both. It's what Fred and Ginger would do, after all.
Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX.ORG, November 2006>
The Sounds of Cabaret, Both Innocent and Elegant
The singer and pianist Steve Ross received the second annual Mabel Award on Monday evening “in recognition of his four decades of style, taste, flair and communicative power as the American troubadour.” The words of that citation, bestowed at Rose Hall in the opening-night program of the Cabaret Convention, say a lot about the event, produced by Donald Smith, the executive director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation.
The convention, now in its 17th year, evokes the musical ambience of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, circa 1959, as an urbane utopia. To attend a Cabaret Convention event is to enter a world in which Bob Dylan, that quintessential American troubadour, might as well not have been born.
In receiving his award, Mr. Ross talked about “sophistication,” a word that when applied to popular music was once synonymous with popular standards interpreted with particular attention paid to witty double-entendres and racy metaphors. But in today’s verbally forthright pop climate, the word has come to connote nostalgia for good manners, taste, discretion and subdued elegance. In a sense, yesterday’s worldliness has become today’s innocence.
“Say It With Music,” the first of five programs, was devoted to the songs of Irving Berlin. Mr. Ross distilled the tone of the evening by recollecting his first encounter with Mabel Mercer, the international chanteuse (and the convention’s spiritual godmother) who died in 1984. Her emotional empathy, he recalled, helped him recover from a broken heart. By turns breezy and bittersweet, he channeled both Mercer and Fred Astaire in his impeccable, understated renditions of “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Cheek to Cheek” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”
Barbara Carroll, who won last year’s Mabel award, brought a similar grace, understanding, classical refinement and charm to “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” and “Blue Skies.” Klea Blackhurst channeled Ethel Merman with lusty versions of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Judy Blazer (“What’ll I Do?” ) echoed Judy Garland’s vocal quaver, and Lumiri Tubo (“Harlem on My Mind,” “Supper Time”) suggested Ethel Waters by way of Josephine Baker.
The evening’s comic high point was K T Sullivan’s deliciously saucy “You’d Be Surprised,” an uncharacteristically sexy Berlin song from 1919 to which she brought a Mae West swivel. (“He doesn’t look much like a lover/ But don’t judge a book by its cover.”) A slow, ruminative “Always,” by Sandy Stewart (accompanied on piano by Bill Charlap), sung in broken phrases that divided the song into different registers, struck the deepest note and turned the song into a lingering meditation on time itself.
Stephen Holden, New York Times, October 18, 2006
An Evening With Steve Ross
The New York Times once dubbed singer and pianist Steve Ross the "Crown Prince of New York cabaret", but I'm not sure the title is appropriate. To begin with, it's not nearly exalted enough; I'm thinking "King" or "Emperor" might be nearer to the mark. And in any case, it's hard to picture the debonair Mr. Ross decked out with an orb, scepter and crown. A top hat, white tie and tails, on the other hand...
The fact is, Mr. Ross – who is appearing locally at the Chez Leon bistro through Saturday, November 5th – has a breezy elegance on stage that's reminiscent of Fred Astaire, Noel Coward, Cole Porter and, above all, the late and much lamented Bobby Short. Listening to Mr. Ross traverse the Great American Song Book, it's easy to imagine that you've been transported back to a late-1930s RKO musical, lounging around a small table in an Art Deco rooftop nightclub in tails or evening dress (as is your wont) with a glittering Manhattan skyline visible through the windows.
The intimate, cosmopolitan atmosphere of Chez Leon enhances the illusion. Normally we Mound City denizens get to see big-name cabaret acts only in the more formal setting of the Sheldon Concert Hall, so it's a treat to see someone like Mr. Ross in the more typical setting of a small supper club (90 seats when it's full, which it was on opening night), with a gourmet French dinner tucked away and a respectable Bordeaux readily at hand. Acoustically, Chez Leon is no match for the Sheldon – the acoustic tiles in the high ceiling aren't helpful and on opening night the microphone didn't always pick up Mr. Ross' voice effectively – but for ambience it's hard to beat.
Mr. Ross' program for the evening will be familiar to fans of the Grand Center Cabaret Series, where he has become something of a regular. There's lots of Cole Porter – a composer for whom Mr. Ross clearly has great affinity – as well as Gershwin, Berlin, Kern and Coward. There's also an instrumental medley of Edith Piaf songs, obscure comic numbers such as "He's Screwing Delores del Rio" (from the short-lived musical Say Goodbye to 174th Street) and Ivor Novello's witty "And Her Mother Comes Too", and a couple of Sondheim tunes – "Being Alive" and the song it replaced in Company, "Marry Me a Little". They're all delivered with the panache that I have come to associate with Mr. Ross' appearances, and which his fans have undoubtedly come to expect.
The bottom line is that if, as Mr. Ross suggests at the end of his set, you've always wanted to be Fred Astaire and/or Ginger Rogers – or even if you just love a classic song delivered with impeccable style – you'll want to catch Steve Ross at Chez Leon. Tickets are, according to my sources, getting scarce, especially for the dinner and show combo; call 314-361-1589 for more information. Chez Leon is at 4580 Laclede, just east of Euclid in the Central West End.
A final note: if you do attend, please remember that even in a more relaxed venue like Chez Leon, the basic rules of theatre etiquette still apply. That means no loud yakking during the Piaf medley and no getting up to walk out in the middle of "Send in the Clowns". This is an audience with the King of Cabaret, after all.
Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX.ORG, November 4, 2005
Pianist plays on his French connections
Stylish Steve Ross is back in Knightsbridge, digging into popular song with an archeological expertise that makes him the supper-club sultan of Manhattan . Few New Yorkers can sing in French, but Ross’s latest solo show, an American in Paris , tackles this challenge head-on. All the great songs are there, and while his pronunciation won’t fool the gendarmes, his spirited delivery is spot on.
A rollicking version of The Night They Invented Champagne evoked the great Maurice Chevalier and a rousing piano medley, including La Vie en Rose and Je Ne Regrette Rien – “I won’t presume to sing these songs, but they must be played” – celebrated the power of Edith Piaf.
As always, Ross supplied gems of insight, noting that Charles Trenet, composer of the wonderful La Mer, had been badly served by English translators. I Wish You Love, had a brooding Gallic lyric, more like What’s Left of Our Love? And Josephine Baker, the singer and dancer who clawed her way out of East St. Louis “on pride, charm and sheer grit,” had captured Paris in a costume of simulated bananas. “You don’t find those as much as you used to, ” mused Ross.
And few knew that Yip Harburg, lyricist of April in Paris , never set foot east of Brooklyn. “Yeah, it’s true,” Harburg admitted later, “but then I never was over the rainbow either.”
Jack Massarik, March 23, 2005
Bobby Short’s death last week symbolized the end of an era in New York cabaret. The kind of the Carlyle is, of course, quite irreplaceable, but it is still reassuring to discover that Steve Ross, another of Manhattan’s saloon fixtures, is in such beguiling form.
The programme that the singer-pianist brings to London – a celebration of Paris through the eyes of Cole Porter, Edith Piaf and their contemporaries – is the most sprightly and inventive show he has delivered in years. Franco-American relations need all the help they can get at the moment. (If you want o hear the spirit of chanson mixed with contemporary soul-jazz and a hint of flamenco guitar. I recommend Dee Dee Bridgewaters’ new album, J’ai Deux Amours.) Cynics might argue that Ross, with his trademark tuxedo and carnation, conjures up a sentimentalized image of the City of light that would have seemed outmoded even when Porter was still alive.
But what’s wrong with that? If you want reality, you can go eat a BigMac in Les Halles any day of the week. As he delivers a crisp instrumental version of Sous le Ciel de Paris and breaks into a poised tribute to Charles Trenet on La Mer and Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours? Ross demonstrates that the illusions are still worth clinging to.
In the past, his porter-Astaire pastiches have sometimes seemed a shade predictable. This programme allows him ample room for manoeuvre. He adds a steely version of Jacques Brel’s la Chanson des Vieux Amants, wallows in the picture-postcard romance of Lerner and Loewe’s songs from Gigi and plays up the wry humour of the Tale of the Oyster, the high-society ditty from Fifty Million Frenchmen, a show that was recently revived in Ian Marshall Fisher’s Lost Musicals series…Ross’s French accent is less than perfect, yet only pedants would worry too much about that. Nor does he pretend to be one of the world’s great singers.
He is a conversationalist at heart, his unassuming voice bolstered by some artful piano-playing. His Piaf medley was a robust instrumental showcase, ranging from La Vie en Rose to a suitably emphatic treatment of Padam. He can be bluesy too, as he demonstrated on his sequence dedicated to Josephine Baker. One thoughtful juxtaposition followed another. Just a Gigolo segued into Johnny Mercer’s elegiac lyrics on When the World was Young. A boulevardier on the loose, Ross seemed incapable of putting a foot wrong.
London Times, March 31, 2005
Going Out in London: Cabaret Singer Steve Ross Celebrates Paris
March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Anyone who wondered about the lost era of high-toned, late-night singing should hotfoot it to Steve Ross's London residency at Pizza on the Park. Though it may be in a smart location between Knightsbridge and Belgravia , the low-ceilinged dark room can't rival the elegance of New York venues like the Algonquin, the cabaret room Ross re-opened after 40 years' silence in the 1970s. Still, the right performer easily reminds audiences why Pizza on the Park remains London's leading spot for cabaret.
Seated at a piano in tuxedo, sporting a red carnation and armed with a trove of classic songs, Ross's latest outing borrows its title from the Gene Kelly 1951 movie ``An American in Paris.'' Ross's crisp vocal style is a million miles from that of Billie Holiday though he might just as well have used her album title ``Songs for Distingue Lovers.'' Loves lost and won slip in and out of these songs evoking the French capital.
It's not often that you can describe a singer by what he doesn't sing. Ross
announces that when it comes to Parisian
David Benedict, Bloomberg News, March 28, 2005
“The elegant Gotham troubadour Steve Ross, making a resplendent appearance in white tie and tails, is the latest entry in the recent spate of tributes to Fred Astaire. Long one of the most polished interpreters of the artful legacy of American film and theater song, Ross is a smoothly appealing light baritone and a pianist of nuance and flourish. Approaching his repertoire with a fierce dedication to a song's intent, he never toys with an original lyric. He sings them they way they were written; the polish comes in his keenly structured phrasing.
The Astaire legacy is a bountiful one, and Ross glides through more than 16 selections from the pens of Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins.
His take on "Night and Day" is a veritable concerto, "Dancing in the Dark" assumes simmering poetic proportions, and "Shall We Dance" is so buoyantly airborne that one finds it difficult to remains seated,
"Please Don't Monkey With Broadway," a Porter tune that served as a duet for Astaire and George Murphy, remains a jaunty valid plea, and Ross frames "It Only Happens When I Dance with You" with a romanticism that aims straight for the heart.
Ross is assisted by pianist Tom Jennings, and they wrap up the first act with a soaring instrumental medley of "The Carioca" and "Flying Down to Rio" that evokes airy imagery of Fred and Ginger dancing on highly polished floors.
The balance of the program is nestled in familiar Ross concert and club repertoire, that features a plaintive romantic reflection with "Song on the Sand" from "La Cage aux Folles" and Stephen Sondheim's rarely heard "Who Could Be Blue" that reignites the torch song. He adds a postscript with Berlin's "Blue Skies" that offers a ray of hope for the brokenhearted.
Ross injects a few witty anecdotes along the way, and adds some flavorful naughty songs about the sex lives of dolphins and a doomed relationship between "The Spider and the Fly."
The new theater, which wisely puts its address in its name at 59E59, is an attractive and comfortable performance space.”
Robert L. Daniels, Variety, December 2004
“...No such reservations attach to the thoughtful, wryly urbane Ross, whose Astaire tribute forms half of Steve Ross Stars, the two-act concert he is performing at 59e59. The Theater setting is not ideal, but this master of bittersweet suavity has a natural affinity with the material. His gentle
singing with its pervasive suggestion of gray skies, stores reserves of feeling beneath a camouflage of nonchalance. And Ross even captures a sense of Astaire's movement, through his fluid and expressive piano playing. He dances on the keys: elegant, graceful and here to be heard.”
Time Out NY, Dec. 16, 2004
“With three productions at once featuring Fred Astaire songs, how does a cabaret-goer choose? Actually, there’s no need to: this reviewer has seen all three shows; each is happily different from the other, and each ranks among the season’s top musical entertainments. In his evening, Steve Ross Stars, playing at 59E59 through the end of December, Ross comes closest to embodying the special qualities that audiences treasured in Astaire: a light, smooth style, a gentle and gentlemanly manner, and elegance. Add Ross’s imaginative keyboard stylings and his strength as a superb interpreter of lyrics, and you’ve got an Astaire-way to paradise.
The evening is divided into two halves. The first is the Astaire songs – reprising an earlier, successful show, Steve Ross Sings Fred Astaire – with selections created, of course, by Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Schwartz and Dietz, Kern and Fields, and Arlen and Mercer. Following intermission, he offers a mixture of standards by Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Jerry Herman and others. Accompanying Ross, in rich arrangements created by the late Wally Harper, are Tom Jennings on a second piano and Nicholas Walker on bass. Your cabaret season is incomplete without this visit with Steve Ross.”
Peter Haas, Cabaret Scenes, December 2004
“Fred Astaire must be dancing on heaven's ceiling. Currently, there are three major New York shows about the 20th century's greatest song-and-dance man. We already wrote about one of them: Andrea Marcovicci's insightful and sensuous cabaret act at The Oak Room at the Algonquin. The second is a new version of an Astaire show that Steve Ross performed many years ago. This time, he's added a second piano (and pianist) to the adventure, as well as a bass player
Ross is perhaps today's most ideal channeler of Astaire as a singer; he's holding forth through the month of December in the largest of the spiffy new theaters in the 59E59complex. His patter is smart and dryly comic, his piano playing is smooth as silk, and he sings with an honesty and integrity that makes you quickly forget that his voice is nothing special. Of course, that's what a lot of folks said about Astaire, yet the greatest composers of his day -- Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, the Gershwins – wanted him to introduce their songs because he always sang them with honesty and integrity.
The first act of Ross's show is devoted entirely to standards made famous by Fred Astaire: great material, great arrangements, great interpretations. The second act is an eclectic mix of songs that have served Ross well over the years. A kind of "Best of Steve Ross," it's a delightful set of obscure comic gems, delicate ballads, and so on. Steve Ross is an American cabaret treasure, and this is a wonderful opportunity to see and hear him in a theater setting.”
The Siegels’ Column, Theatremania, December 2004
The performing life of the singer-pianist is a strange one; there is plenty of room backstage, but noone to share the blame for any onstage disasters. All the performer has is a piano, a voice and possibly a good suit.
Steve Ross has a very sharp tux, and nimble fingers, but it’s his voice that really captured the audience at the National Press Club last Saturday night. It puts me in mind of Fred Astaire (whose influence as a singer was such that Mel Torme once named him as his all-time favourite vocalist).
It’s a light, fragile sound, and it suits Ross’s material perfectly. Once, it reminds us, male singers actually got quieter as they got higher, as if to draw the beloved closer, and not deafen her with testosterone.
“If it weren’t for unrequited love, I’d be out of a job,” Ross remarked, and his presentation of romantic material throughout the evening was a miniature how-to manual for aspiring balladeers. It’s almost impossible to perform Rodgers and Hart’s Spring is Here, Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle and Noel Coward’s Someday I’ll Find You without a trace of irony or a hint of camp, but Ross managed it with apparent ease.
He also demonstrated that he may be, apart from Dame Judi Dench, the only performer we should allow to sing Send in the Clowns.
There was plenty of rhythm as well as romance, and Ross delighted his audience with little-known gems such as Johnny Mercer’s Last Night on the Back Porch.
He has a prodigious memory for lyrics, and a lot of them were Lorenz Hart’s and Cole Porter’s naughty original lines that never made it to Hollywood.
Ross plays the piano in a lush style that I always associate with New York cabaret. It’s astonishing how intricate his self-accompaniment is, given the amount of vocal attention his songs require.
And the piano is not merely noodling; I particularly liked the whole tone scale that plays under the mention of Debussy and Ravel in Cole Porter’s Can Can. It also takes a brave pianist to present a medley of Edith Piaf songs sans lyrics.
Cabaret performers can fall into the trap of presenting mere tributes to dead songwriters, but Ross made the material his own, sometimes with little more than a sideways glance.
By evening’s end he had transported a room of grateful people back to a time that probably never existed; a between-the-wars world, where reticence and understatement were sexy, and songwriting really mattered.
Peter Casey, Canberra Times, June 5, 2004
Showman at his finest
New York’s Steve Ross epitomizes what most people probably think of as cabaret: one man and his piano, dressed in tuxedo and carnation, armed with a grab-bag of devastatingly witty ditties, sentimental favourites and wicked one liners.
What they might not realize is how delightfully fresh and funny these timeless tunes and this tried-and-true formula can feel in the hands of a master showman.
He launches straight into a jazzy interpretation of Puttin’ on the Ritz, then reduces the audience to tears of laughter with the devastatingly clever Depression-era humor of Hungry Women.
He shows a sentimental side with Irving Berlin’s melancholy What’ll I Do,? takes us striding through the ridiculous upbeat rhythms of The Unrequited Lover’s March and even tackles “modern songs” – such as 1974’s Time in a Bottle.
When it’s time for Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick out of You and Anything Goes, Ross’s fingers fly across the keys, while his tongue twists in turn around the frenetically funny lyrics of Can-Can and an oyster’s unfortunate ode to social aspirations.
Ross demonstrates he’s no slouch when it comes to songwriting, either, with his influences shining through brightly on Manhanttan Moon, sandwiched between some Noel Coward and the saucy closer, You’ll Have to Show It to Mother (Before You Can Show It to Me).
Patrick McDonald, Adelaide Cabaret Festival– June 18, 2004
Steve Ross was born into the wrong era. You can tell from the music he performs, from the red carnation adorning his tuxedo, and from his urbane and self-effacing variant of that old-fashioned thing called charm. It all suggests the New Yorker is about 70 years out of his natural temporal milieu.
Lucky us. The Ross school of cabaret is a ready-made master class for the scores of bright young things who crowd our stages with abundant talent, raucous energy and in-your-face discharges of undiluted ego. Ross makes the songs the stars of his shows, and, via his shrewdly judged readings, enchants us with his own wit, sincerity and flair.
Thanks to his instinct for understatement, he slides between comedy and heartbreak astonishingly effortlessly, without the least sense of jarring. Although it is the wit – spoken, and in songs by the likes of Porter and Coward – that is immediately engaging, his treatment of more penetrating songs is just as masterful.
Like the best comics, there is an aura of sadness around him, which, when he is being funny, emerges in his dry delivery. Then, rather than trowelling on the sentiment for the serious material, he sings with the poignancy of one trying to be stoic in the face of adversity. "If it weren't for unrequited love," he told us, "I'd be out of a job." He could have added that some ardent, carnal requiting helps flesh out the repertoire, too.
This audience lapped up the more risque songs, such as Ladies and Gentlemen That's Love, And Her Mother Came Too and A Bar on the Piccolo Marina, all thriving on Ross's arched-eyebrow sophistication.
Like the funny songs being balanced by the sad, there were also newer ones to complement the old, such as the superb Unusual Way from Maury Yeston's Nine, and Ross's own Manhattan Moon.
His crisp piano playing crystallised into an elegant interlude in Some Day I'll Find You and fuelled the yearning lyric of 99 Miles From LA, one of the songs for which he darkened his breezy voice, like a mood change in the lighting. The setbacks, laughs, loves and bawdiness all glided past, as though seen through the windows of a 1930s Rolls-Royce. Called Rhythm and Romance, the ride is highly recommended.
John Shand, Woodfire Cabaret, June 14, 2004
“Steve Ross is a performer who likes to remain above the fray, frolicking in a high-rent urban time warp of his own imagining. To hear this dapper singer and pianist who has put down roots in the dining room of the Stanhope Park Hyatt Hotel (opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art) is to absorb the Playboy philosophy as it might have been written by Noël Coward: keep things light and airy with just a dash of the bittersweet. And when life in one place becomes too dull or complicated, simply "sail away," to quote Coward's paean to the therapeutic benefits of travel.
Mr. Ross's performances have nothing to do with vocal splendor, harmonic depth, pianistic virtuosity or rhythmic complexity. They're all about maintaining a cultivated facade and telling a story that camouflages the dark side of life with elegant wit. Many of the rhythms in "Rhythm and Romance," which plays through May 15, are agile fox trots played in a galloping society-piano style. That piano propels and punctuates the stories Mr. Ross spins in a dry, perfectly enunciated speech-song, illustrated here and there with a raised eyebrow and a knowing smile.
“Under the collective title of "Rhythm and Romance," Gotham troubadour Steve Ross boasts a flexible repertoire of love songs that express varied emotions. The suave and savvy veteran of cabaret crooning suggests his bracing collection of theater and film songs can be easily categorized under the collective reflections "I was in love," "I am in love" or "I want to be in love." In his return engagement at the posh Stanhope Park Regency, Ross is a personable host for a lyrical stroll down lovers' lane.
A staple of Manhattan's cabaret scene for more than four decades, Ross exudes great charm, sings with an appealing light baritone and plays piano with a flowery grace and dizzying assurance. Ross balances an expansive body of songs from the 1920s and '30s that reach forward into the more contemporary terrain of Jim Croce, Maury Yeston and Stephen Sondheim.
And when is the last time you heard all of Cole Porter's deliciously clever verses for "It's De-Lovely"? It goes on forever, with five choruses boasting a heady dose of je ne sais quoi.
Just when you thought you'd heard quite enough of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," Ross takes you back into the circus ring for yet another chance to reflect upon life's romantic misfortunes.
When it comes to the legacy of Noel Coward, there is no cabaret singer in town to match Ross' interpretive skills. From his wildly irreverent antics of "The Bar on the Piccolo Marina" to the ardent confessionals of "I'll See You Again" and "I'll Follow My Secret Heart," Ross targets both the funnybone and the heart with accuracy.
Yeston's "Unusual Way" from "Nine" also summons a trembling heartbeat, as does Jerry Herman's "It Only Takes a Moment."
There are many more pleasures here. A racing tempo braced by dazzling piano runs complements Irving Berlin's "Let Yourself Go," while Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" is rendered as a most captivating romantic observation.
For sheer unadulterated fun, "Last Night on the Back Porch -- I Loved Her Most of All" is a giddy showstopper. It's a mere eight decades old and the art of kissing has never been more delightfully defined.
This time around, Ross has the luxury of Brian Kassier's full-bodied bass accompaniment to provide a nice cushion for the expansive hour that Ross fills so luxuriously.”
Robert Daniels, Variety, April 2004
“Singer/pianist Steve Ross has returned to the Stanhope Park Hyatt with his newest show, Rhythm and Romance, a delightful show by one New York's finest 'café' cabaret performers. As always, Ross displays a keen, dry wit and an understated delivery that oftentimes brings new understanding to familiar numbers. One such surprising occurrence happened with the most unlikely of songs, the 70s pop classic "Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce. Thelayers of schmaltz have been stripped away to reveal a surprisingly poignant and beautiful song, which has been effectively paired with a new number, "Time," from Barry Kleinbort/Joseph Thalken's upcoming musical, Was. Equally surprising was the effectiveness of one of the most overdone Numbers in cabaret, Sondheim's one true standard, "Send in the Clowns." Ross' interpretation of the song, which is rarely performed by men, ranks among the best I have heard, thanks to a layer of disappointment and a trace of anger with which he infused it.
Of course, Ross' chief strength his interpretation of numbers displaying a dry wit, especially those by Noel Coward, and in that arena he does not disappoint, thanks to a sparkling rendition of Coward's "A Bar on the Piccolo Marina." Other comic highlights include "Teeny Tiny Lady" (Marshal Barer and David Ross), Cole Porter's "It's De-Lovely," and the very Porter-esque "Ladies and Gentlemen That's Love" (Lew Brown/Ray Henderson).”
Jonathan Frank, Talkin’ Broadway, 2004
Over at the Stanhope Park Hyatt, two shows are being performed in its dining room that recall the bygone days of New York cabaret at its most elegant: Steve Ross's’ My Manhattan and Anna Bergman's Across a Crowded Room. Steve Ross, whose show celebrates his thirty-five year love affair with Manhattan, is one of the few proponents left of the 'café' style of cabaret; a more civilized and intimate form of entertainment when the music never went above a certain decibel level and the wit was as dry as the martinis. The simplicity of his delivery oftentimes brings out fresh levels of vulnerability and intimacy to his numbers, such as Cole Porter's "Down in the Depths (of the Ninetieth Floor)." Usually delivered in an ironic, self-mocking manner, the song has become a soliloquy of gentle, self-realized heartbreak in Ross's hands. Its unlikely pairing with Stephen
Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" is surprisingly effective as it brings to mind another mob of people descending on the city to break one's heart. Another tender highlight of the evening is the little-known "A Tree in the Park" from Rodgers and Hart's Peggy Ann, which ranks as one of the most tender love songs composed by the team.
Ross's greatest strength is his dry wit, which is present in all of his patter and a great many of his songs, such as Portia Nelson's love/hate song of the city, "Confessions of a New Yorker," and Murray Grand's comic cautionary fable, "The Spider and the Fly." His wit also appears in his stellar piano playing, such as his inclusion of quotes of "The Man Who Got Away" in his pairing of Peter Allen's "6:30 Sunday Morning" and the Mercer/Arlen classic, "One for the Road."
Jonathan Frank, Talkin’ Broadway
NEW YORK – 11/03
“From now until January, Steve Ross, who is a sitdown troubadour, a minstrel at the Baldwin, is giving vocal ability and undying affection to songs about New York. He’s such a classy guy at delineation that some of the more banal tunes sound better in his keeping. That rarity “City Lights” gets things started and then there is Porter in the mix – “Don’t Monkey With Broadway” and “Down in the Depths on the Ninetieth Floor” are certainly C.P.s. In selling sophistication and charm, Ross is boss. Sondheim, hart, and George M. Cohan are not neglected. If this be autumn in New York and the winter wonderland that is ultimately Manhattan in December, credits to you Ross for being a welcome ambassador of song.”
Gary Stevens, NNA
Manhattan may not be the personal property of the elegant saloon singer Steve Ross, but it would be hard to deny the rightful claim he has staked on the isle for over three decades. The Gotham cabaret staple is as much a part of the city lights as Times Square, the Empire State Building and all those glittering bridge spans. When not appearing in a smart boite, handsomely tuxedo clad and wearing a flowery boutonniere, he cuts a modestly familiar city figure cycling about town on his bike.
His reedy, light baritone voice has a caressing, seductive way of involving the listener, and his spirited piano boasts uncanny assurance. His fingers gallop through complex musical figures by the likes of Sondheim, Gershwin and Fats Waller with startling and effortless assurance.
The new Ross show, "My Manhattan," is a blatantly gushing love letter to the Big Apple that spans several decades, from George M. Cohan's "Give My Regards to Broadway" to Ross' own picturesque "Manhattan Moon."
The infectious repertoire evokes some obvious musical toasts to the big city, from Rodgers and Hart's "Manhattan" to Cole Porter's curt dismissal of Hackensack, "I Happen to Like New York." But with the eye and ear of a consummate explorer of song, Ross reveals some insightful musical tributes to the city we love and adore. Kander and Ebb may have spread the news with "New York, New York" (which Ross avoids except for a brief piano quote), but the team crafted a dazzler of a tribute with "City Lights," from "The Act." It's included here, and the neon colors all glitter and glow.
Broadway legend Harry Richman once belted "Do the New York," in the "Ziegfeld Follies of 1934," and for romantic misery at a high level, Cole Porter designed "Down in the Depths (of the 90th Floor)." Both are given skyscraper salutes, and Ross reveals the real issue of traffic and alienation with a couple of profound underground statements, summing it all up with Sondheim's "Another Hundred People." It seems that some things never change.
The late Portia Nelson probably expressed it best with "I Hate/Love New York," a love letter that expresses a sardonically brittle, tongue-in-cheek canvas of Manhattan's highs and lows. It's deliciously perceptive and cunningly precious, and Ross is a consummate insider who knows it all too well.
And, yes, he does take a possessive stand, with Cy Coleman's own claim on New York, "My Personal Property."
Robert Daniels, Variety, Nov. 10, 2003
Over at the Stanhope Park Hyatt, two shows are being performed in its dining room that recall the bygone days of New York cabaret at its most elegant: Steve Ross's’ My Manhattan and Anna Bergman's Across a Crowded Room. Steve Ross, whose show celebrates his thirty-five year love affair with Manhattan, is one of the few proponents left of the 'café' style of cabaret; a more civilized and intimate form of entertainment when the music never went above a certain decibel level and the wit was as dry as the martinis. The simplicity of his delivery oftentimes brings out fresh levels of vulnerability and intimacy to his numbers, such as Cole Porter's "Down in the Depths (of the Ninetieth Floor)." Usually delivered in an ironic, self-mocking manner, the song has become a soliloquy of gentle, self-realized heartbreak in Ross's hands. Its unlikely pairing with Stephen Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" is surprisingly effective as it brings to mind another mob of people descending on the city to break one's heart. Another tender highlight of the evening is the little-known "A Tree in the Park" from Rodgers and Hart's Peggy Ann, which ranks as one of the most tender love songs composed by the team.
Ross's greatest strength is his dry wit, which is present in all of his patter and a great many of his songs, such as Portia Nelson's love/hate song of the city, "Confessions of a New Yorker," and Murray Grand's comic cautionary fable, "The Spider and the Fly." His wit also appears in his stellar piano playing, such as his inclusion of quotes of "The Man Who Got Away" in his pairing of Peter Allen's "6:30 Sunday Morning" and the Mercer/Arlen classic, "One for the Road."
Steve Ross's airy new cabaret show,
"My Manhattan," is the musical equivalent of an
elegant photography exhibition that contemplates roughly a century of New York life (mostly upscale) and encompasses
material from Broadway's toddler years (Victor Herbert's
The show — at the Stanhope Park Hyatt Hotel through Jan. 3 — is a celebration of the unchanging allure of this city of change. As much as the skyline may have altered, the thrill of contemplating it hasn't. The same goes for the glamour of Broadway, which produced many of the program's nearly two-dozen songs. Although this debonair singer and pianist prefers an upbeat, frisky mood, his set has its reflective pauses, like Peter Allen's "6:30 Sunday Morning," that distill the lump-in-the-throat moment when personal romantic expectations fuse with a sense of Manhattan as a wondrous enchanted island.
“Autumn in New York, Why does it seem so exciting?” – and who better to serenade this city -- the East Side, West Side, the Ninetieth Floor penthouses -- than Steve Ross?
My Manhattan, Ross’ autumn in New York show at the Stanhope Park Hyatt Hotel, affectionately salutes his town with a well paced sampling of tunes; some songs are obvious choices like Manhattan and Autumn in New York, while others, like One For My Baby (And One More For the Road), link to the city theme through Ross’s incisive observations and personal experiences.
Ross is effective pairing songs together to create an image or deliver a point. Down in the Depths (on the Ninetieth Floor) evinces the loneliness many feel in the midst of the throng; Ross follows this with the hectic chatter of Another Hundred People. He selects from an eclectic song list, delivering a wry, Spider and the Fly, the melancholy, A Tree in the Park, an urgent, I Gotta Get Back to New York, and Ross’ own Manhattan Moon written with Richard Crosby. The show harks back and forth from different eras, including a medley by George M.Cohan, Sidewalks of New York by Victor Herbert, and Peter Allen’s reflective, Sunday Morning. The dreamy, Penthouse Serenade defines Manhattan, at least as it was in the l930’s film versions.
Some nimble finger work boosts the ebullient Ross/Manhattan synergy, building toward Fats Waller’s Handful of Keys, and the stentorian chords of I Happen to Like New York.
Steve Ross is a transplanted New Yorker, but no native more evokes the spirit of Rodgers and Hart’s, “the city’s a wondrous toy”. The Café Carlyle has Bobby Short singing of New York’s charms, and how astute of the Stanhope to display its own stamp of Manhattan glamour with Steve Ross. He will perform My Manhattan through January 3.
Cabaret Scenes Magazine
At the grand piano, impeccably attired in dinner suit, complete with red rose in buttonhole, Steve Ross epitomizes the cabaret performer of the 1930 or 1940s – which is perfect, since that’s where his repertoire comes from.
The debonair New York entertainer is not the world’s greatest singer nor it’s most gifted pianist, but his fusion with the material – mainly the songs of Cle porter, Noel Coward and Irving Berlin – is almost eerie. Somehow, when he lovingly teases out the sublime melody of the artfully simple What’ll I Do? Or liltingly evokes the dancing feet of Fred Astaire in Isn’t it a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain,? he manages to persuade you that you’re hearing these songs for the first time.
His art is the ability to freshen them up, put his own stamp on the delivery of the words and play around with the accompaniments, without compromising the timeless melodies and supreme lyrics. Ross is a custodian of all that is special about the literate lyricists and creative composers from the golden age of popular song.
Classic romantic ballads of the Easy to Love, I’ve Got You Under My Skin and time After Time variety are mixed in with boisterous numbers such as Let Yourself Go and I’m Throwing a Ball Tonight and witty comic songs, at which he shines. His timing and delivery of I Went to a Marvellous Party and Mrs. Worthington yields nothing to Coward himself, and his rendition of Porter’s Tale of the Oyster is unsurpassed. Deliciously funny is The Dolphin, a giddy, American revue song about the mating habits of our fishy brethren and perfect companion piece to the better-known Let’s Do It, which is Ross’s encore.
Ross gets through 36 songs in the course of the show and he leaves you wanting to hear the other 800-odd tunes he could have done.
Ross’s two nights at Chapel off chapel, supported by smoky chanteuse Bille Wilde, were his first appearances in Melbourne in 18 years. He must not wait so long again.
Chapel off Chapel, Prahan, Melbourne July 9
-- At a time when all things French are anathema to some Americans because of France's failure to support the war in Iraq, balladeer Steve Ross is performing an evening of song at the Stanhope Park Hyatt Hotel titled "An American in Paris."
"Little did I know when I was putting this show together that this situation would develop and people might not want to be reminded of anything French," Ross told UPI. "I guess my timing couldn't have been worse."
the timing, Ross's fans are flocking to the Stanhope's handsome supper room to
hear the only singer who can match the legendary Bobby Short for his debonair
approach to cabaret entertainment. Like Short, Ross accompanies himself at the
piano but without any other instrumental backup.
Frederick M. Winship, United Press International, April 8, 2003
STEVE ROSS The dapper lad recalls that during his early piano-man days, he graced a “louche” east side boite. He’s now graduated to a tres intime cream-colored room that matches him for, in Baudelaire’s phrase, luxe, calme, and volupte. The days may be numbered when Noel Coward’s “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party” will receive such a humorous reading – or worse, when anyone will want to render a song so intelligently hilarious. Ross also shows how deep the more recent Albert Hammond-Hal David “99 Miles From L.A.” can run. Bravos to him and to the Stanhope for setting him like a diamond in platinum.
David Finkle, The Village Voice, Dec. 11–17, 2002
Steve Ross, long one of Manhattan's most appealing troubadours, is newly nestled in the Stanhope, an elegant listening dining room on the Upper East Side, just across the street from the Met. His slate is a finely tailored program of revered theater and film songs, plus a few fanciful rarities. As a pianist he plays with the assurance of a concert artist, and as a piper, he sings in a comfortable, distinctive, reedy light baritone. Ross, a Manhattan fixture for four decades, has a firm hold on the musical terrain. A romantic Jule Styne time capsule merges the Sammy Cahn screen classic "Time After Time" with the Comden & Green show tune "Just in Time." Another tandem trip is "Two For the Road" coupled with "99 Miles From L.A." by Burt Bacharach & Hal David, and it's a plaintive hitchhiker's fantasy come true.
Music polls often suggest "All the Things You Are" just may be the most beautiful love song ever written. It was born of a 1939 flop show called "Very Warm for May," which racked up a mere 59 performances and was penned by Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein. Ross did the verse and caressed its "promised kiss of springtime and moment divine."
No Ross perf is complete without a heady dose of his personal icons, Cole Porter and Noel Coward. He may be the foremost interpreter of the legendary composers, and with tongue firmly planted in cheek he warns, "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington" with impish glee. Coward's haunting "I'll See You Again" summons fond memories of "Bitter Sweet," which climaxed with a departed Nelson Eddy in the clouds dueting with a weepy Jeanette MacDonald in her rocking chair. Teary stuff here, and sublimely framed.
The Porter segment featured a sprightly "Can Can," "From This Moment On" and an exquisite parting thought, "Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye." Ross sings "I Get a Kick Out of You" as it was first heard in 1934. We may enjoy the liberties Ol' Blue Eyes took with the lyrics, but Ross takes it back to its original form and reminds us it's an exquisite and lovely romantic statement.
Introducing the legacy of composer Ivor Novello (portrayed by Jeremy Northam in "Gosford Park"), Ross sang the delightful account of a persistent tag-along chaperone, "And Her Mother Came, Too." Unknown to the singer, "Gosford Park" helmer Robert Altman was in the room and expressed delight at the musical nod.
Ross is the personification of the suave saloon singer and one of the last of a rare breed. Jerry Herman's "Song on the Sand" from "La Cage aux Folles" probably defines his unerring rush of romanticism best. One leaves the Stanhope in search of love.
Robert Daniels, Daily Variety
In his show Mr. Ross refers to the "upper Fifth Avenue" world his songs conjure as though it still existed. But as he performs a program that focuses on the wittier lyrics of Cole Porter, Noël Coward and Rodgers and Hart, what shimmers are fantasies of Astaire-Rogers movies, costume balls given by Elsa Maxwell and strains of a Porter beguine wafting over the parquet in a sky-high penthouse.
Where other performers put a contemporary spin on the wry verses of Porter and Coward, Mr. Ross virtually channels these songwriters' spirits. His dry, slightly self-effacing style and polished piano-bar keyboard work are especially well suited to the trickier, more pattery material.
Two of the high points of his show are Coward's half-spoken, name-dropping monologue "I've Been to a Marvelous Party" and Porter's rollicking title song from "Can-Can," a tongue-in-cheek barrage of wacky innuendo. The faster his piano gallops, the more his sense of merriment bursts forth in perfectly articulated effusions that make every syllable and accent count.
For his ballads Mr. Ross keeps strong emotion discreetly under wraps, letting the lyrics and piano (the tumbling keyboard chromaticism of Albert Hammond and Hal David's "99 Miles From L.A.") insinuate a passion he is too polite to unleash.
Stephen Holden, New York Times, November 12, 2002
Steve Ross may use the words and music of others in his performances, but you could swear they were meant just for you, as he demonstrated at Caramoor on Tuesday evening. Ross is charming and suave and all about intimacy and communication. He is not out to wow you with his vocal or pianistic technique but to entertain and seduce you with clever songs and lyrical poetry, and he succeeds. This concert was devoted to the satirical, sometimes sentimental and often humorous songs of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, with one funny addition by Ivor Novello, from the movie “Gosford Park.”
Ross does not try for tears; he is too clever for that. But he does make you laugh, and when you’re not laughing you feel warmly nostalgic and affectionate – as witnessed in the number of couples seen holding hands during the romantic sons. The Donors’ Dining Pavilion at Caramoor was transformed into an intimate setting, with small tables and soft lighting.
A few of the highlights among the less familiar songs were Porter’s “I’m Throwing A Ball Tonight” and “Down in the Depths” and Coward’s “A Room With A View” and “Saturday Night at the Rose and Crown.” Among the more familiar were Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out of You,” Night and Day” and I’ve got You Under My Skin” and Coward’s “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart.”
But the attraction is not so much in what Ross performs as in how he puts it across. Cabaret carries an aura of sophistication and wit – polite entertainment for a genteel society not used to sharing feelings. But Ross has a way of connecting with the audience and drawing it into his emotional orbit.
His repartee is sprinkled with anecdotes and asides delivered with sparkle. His master of rhythm and his command of the repertoire allow him to explore the vibrancy of the language. His piano playing is effortless and fluid and provides a powerful ally to his generally conversational singing style.
If sentiment, urbane wit, sophisticated language and an unusual mix of material from an enormously rich heritage of song appeals to you, Steve Ross will beguile you with his performance.
Journal News (Westchester County, NY) August 8, 2002
Steve Ross at the Grandel Theatre Cabaret -- That statement, all by itself, will be enough to convince anyone fortunate enough to catch Ross in one of his four previous appearances in St. Louis to rush out and buy tickets. Which, judging from the packed house on opening night, many have already done. For those of you who, like me, somehow managed to miss out on the delightful experience that this master of cabaret provides let me just say that Mr. Ross’ performance is not to be missed. Debonair, witty and charismatic, Steve Ross never fails to get straight to the heart of every song, whether it’s an obscure comic gem like “Teeny Tiny Lady” (which I haven’t heard in decades), a sentimental standard like “Thanks for the Memory” (Bob Hope’s theme song, which he introduced in The Big Broadcast of 1938), or Jacques Brel’s darkly comic “Jackie”. Without fail, Ross makes certain that you not only hear but actually listen to the lyrics – a skill that many other performers would do well to emulate, if they can.
What’s all the more amazing is that Ross does this with a voice that, technically, isn’t all that great. It’s breathy –almost hoarse – and not always all that accurate. The intelligence behind that voice, however, is formidable and that, combined with Ross’ easygoing, assured style and ability to immediately connect with the audience are what make an evening with Steve Ross an object lesson in why cabaret is such a vibrant art form.
Steve Ross is also a canny programmer. He crams over thirty songs into his two hour and twenty minute show, and yet it never seems rushed. And the variety is astounding. There are standards like the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful”, Mercer and Mancini’s “Two for the Road”, the bluesy Arlen/Mercer classic “One for My Baby” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”; little-known nuggets such as “Hungry Women”, “The Dolphin” and “Subway to the Country”; and new takes on songs most of us probably thought we knew, such as a version of “Mr. Cellophane” (from Chicago) that segues into and out of Scott Joplin’s “Solace” so easily that you’d think that’s what Kander and Ebb had in mind all along.
In short, if you really love musical theatre, it doesn’t get much better than this. Steve Ross will be appearing at the Grandel Theatre Cabaret through this Sunday; call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 to order tickets. And if you’re part of the wired world, check out Mr. Ross’s web site at http://www.steveross.net.
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Chuck Lavazzi for KDHX, St. Louis.
Cabaret star Steve Ross has never better displayed his brillance as a singer, pianist and sophisticated showman than he did Tuesday evening, the opening night of a 12-day engagement in the Plush Room. His eclectic selection of songs, his astonishingly appropriate keyboard accompaniment and his delightful, refreshing voice and manner took the large crowd on a memorable musical journey.
There were songs by Irving Berlin, Noel Coward and Cole Porter, and still others by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Charles Trenet, Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, Jerry Herman, plus a few more. Ross doesn't just sing and play songs -- he treasures them, loves them, making each one his own. His piano syncopated the tricky rhythms of Berlin's "Puttin' On the Ritz" as if Fred Astaire's dancing shoes were on the keys. His ragtime piano on Berlin's 1911 "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was exquisite, and his insertion of a chorus of "Swanee River" into the number was wonderful. If Ross' blending of Porter's gorgeous, contemplative "I Concentrate on You" and "In the Still of the Night" tugged at the emotions, then another Porter pair, "Let's Do It" and "Can-Can" -- let alone an old Eddie Cantor favorite, "Hungry Women" -- brought remarkable buoyancy into the show. His keyboard work on "Mr. Cellophane," from Kander and Ebb's "Chicago," was in the parlor-piano style of Scott Joplin or Jelly Roll Morton; the melody is close to Morton's "Don't You Leave Me Here." Ross spoofed Porter's weird "Little Skipper (From Heaven Above)" by adopting Jimmy Durante's vocal style -- Durante had sung it in the 1936 production "Red, Hot and Blue." Herman's nostalgic waltz "Song on the Sand," with a calliope-style piano accompaniment, blended nicely into the beautiful melody of "One of Those Songs" (by Will Holt and Gerald Calvi) -- and then Ross shifted back to the carousel tempo of Jacques Brel's "Fanette." Ross performed the exquisite "Old Friend" -- by Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer -- and Coward's "Sail Away." His renditions of Coward's "Mrs. Worthington" and Porter's "Tale of the Oyster" and "Who Said Gay Paree" were masterfully crafted.
The show ended with an audience-participation version of "Let's Do It." Ross maintained a brisk pace throughout, occasionally commenting about the songs and sometimes reflecting on his fondness for songs of love and friendship. Attending a Ross performance is like opening a treasure chest of great, often rare, songs. No one performing today is his equal. They just don't make 'em like this anymore.
Philip Elwood, Chronicle Jazz Critic, July 26, 2001
TRAVELS WITH MY PIANO
“Talk about vacations, Steve Ross has Travels With My Piano, a two disc package which was recorded for BBC radio. No song was written after 1963. It’s a fabulous mix of ballads, up-tempo songs and a few tasty morsels of clever information thrown in for good measure. Porter, Kern, Cohan – are all represented here with much care and obvious affection by Ross. ….the magic is in the lyrical beauty on numbers like Autumn in New York and London Pride. Ross is charming and adorable joking with the audience and accompanying himself on the ivories. It’s a must for every cabaret lover’s collection.”
Lesley Alexander's Cabaret Update, June 15, 1999