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.
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.
Photos By Russ Weatherford
Steve Ross on Broadway
Directed by Walter Willison
With Special Guest Liliane Montevecchi
Birdland -315 West 44th Street–July 27, 2015
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