To diehard Cole Porter fans, this show, featuring many less well known songs, is an effervescent tonic. Those more moderately versed will find themselves illuminated and entertained. No one performs Steve Ross’s favorite Episcopalian better than the stylish, sensitive, wry artist himself.
“I’m devoting this session to a special variety of song…Porter took the bawdy, sexual 1920s and pushed them into the sophisticated 1930s…” Don Giovanni introduced the catalog aria, vaudeville continued with improvised inventories, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado sanctified the form with its very own List Song, and we, Ross points out, have rap. Occasional historical and biographical references are salient.
Porter’s first recorded song “A Shooting Box in Scotland” (See America First) is witty and conversational in Ross’ capable hands; tossed with precision. From Aladdin, we then hear “Come to The Supermarket in Old Peking,” a tongue twister if there ever was one. The artist revels in amusing.
1941’s Let’s Face It, about bored Long Island ladies finding love at a dairy farm, left us the only song with which I was unfamiliar, “Pets:” …Some folks collect horses/Others we know Reno divorces/But I, Little Me/Well, I just can’t wait till you see my/Pets…I’ve a dinner jacketed penguin who gives me lessons in poise/And a very sexy old peacock who makes such an in’tresting noise/But the pride of my collection is my bevy of Harvard boys… Vocalist Karen Murphy is flirty and insouciant, just the right tone.
“Cole and Linda Porter worshiped at the altar of culture and hedonism…” introduces “You’ve Got That Thing.” (Fifty Million Frenchmen), first its splendid, rarely heard verse. The songwriter found (or created) rhymes without compromising spirit and meaning. “Porter gave sex rhythm, rhyme, and reason.” Ross insinuates with this one. Joe Kennan’s marvelous contemporary parody of “Anything Goes” should be giggled at in person.
Three selections from 1950’s Out of This World, the most unabashedly salacious musical Porter wrote, begin with “I Jupiter” in which the god makes no secret of his rampant libido. The chorus, Ross points out, sounds just like a college frat song: I Jupiter, I Rex/I Jupiter, am positively teeming with sex./Brek, ek, awek, awex! It’s wonderfully ridiculous, robust and sexy. Unaccustomed to touting ego, Ross is having a good time.
We then hear “Nobody’s Chasing Me” from the goddess Juno abandoned on Mt. Olympus: The flood is chasing the levee/The wolf is out on a spree/The Ford is chasing the Chevvy/But nobody’s chasing me…Murphy seems frustrated and distressed, eyebrows meeting in a point. …I’ve got a lot of you-know/And you know what, she sings. Attitude and phrasing are spot-on. And, lastly, the god Mercury’s faux-conciliatory “They Couldn’t Compare to You” – a bit too fast to savor.
Written for Gertrude Lawrence, “The Physician” (Nymph Errant- produced on The West End, never Broadway) arrives with similar frisky, but puzzled demeanor. Murphy’s adorable without tripping on a single, multi-syllable anatomical term. Her mid-range soprano vocal sails with skill and urbanity, ending in an apt pout. The duet from Du Barry Was a Lady gives the collaborators a chance to bounce off one another.
Murphy offers “I Concentrate on You” (Broadway Melody of 1940), Ross, “In the Still of The Night” (Rosalie.) Neither “listy or lusty,” both emerge deeply tender. Accompaniment is lush (not excessive.) It would enhance if they sang to one another.
“Can Can” (from the show) is infectiously exuberant. Ross’s creative piano skills are front and center. FUN! The pair close with a duet of “Let’s Fall in Love” (Paris), a musical wink.
There isn’t an audience member not smiling.
NEXT FOR STEVE ROSS in NEW YORK: This show will be repeated at Birdland Monday March 2, 2020
Thursday March 5 at 12:00 Ross presents Coward in New York (That’s Noel Coward)
Steve Ross- Easy to Love: Cole Porter Songs From List to Lust
Guest Vocalist Karen Murphy
January 23, 2020
92Y at Lexington Avenue