Steve Ross: They All Fall in Love
Kicking off with Cole Porter’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz”, Steve Ross knows his audience: Dressed up like a million dollar trouper/Trying hard to look like – he gestures toward the crowd which calls out – “Gary Cooper!” super duper. “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” (Irving Berlin) weaves in seamlessly, two songs partnering in a snap-happy arrangement.
“The lyrics to ‘Younger Than Springtime’ (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) could just as easily have been sung by the planter Emile de Becque as young Lieutenant Cable,” Ross tells us. His version is deepened by the older character’s (and Ross’s own) experience. We hear sincerity and gratitude with a poignant hint of doubt, as if he can’t believe love will be returned.
“At Long Last Love” (Cole Porter) sequentially arrives hopeful. The performer seems to be genuinely asking questions. Tempo is his own. Ross sings, speaks, and pauses musing. He imbues meaning to usually tossed off lyrics without losing the song’s buoyancy. Leitmotif of this show is more personal than the artist’s usual offering. Less guarded, he enriches every minute with a sense of where life has brought him. Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye” is tender, rueful.The performer shakes his head. Insouciance dissolves.
“I Was Beautiful” (Murray Grand), no longer confined to women’s concerns about aging, follows with signature aplomb. Musical arrangement is not just supportive, but as original as the lyric. Also delivered with casual irony is “The Butler’s Song” (Stan Daniels) based on an excerpt from a Carl Reiner memoir. His master can’t come to the phone because He’s screwing Dolores Del Rio…scheduling every notable Hollywood actress at the time as it were, back to back: …There’s Miss Crawford and then Sonja Henie/They’re going to try it on skates…Ross’s deadpan delivery makes this hilarious.
Grateful acknowledgment of Mabel Mercer who provided Ross’s “total initial cabaret baptism” in surprise tears and Marilyn Sokol (in the audience) with whom he made his first professional tour and who encouraged solo performance follows. Like Mercer, Ross’s expressiveness grows year after year. Like the icon, he gets to core truths without pushing and handles drollery with equal finesse. Young people might learn.
“Just One Person”: If just one person believes in you…(Hal Hackady/ Larry Grossman) couldn’t be a more fitting thank you to Sokol. Heartfelt and understated, it’s almost a bow. “This is one of the songs she sang that broke my heart every time,” introduces “My Buddy” (Walter Donaldson/Gus Kahn). Even Ross’s piano tugs at the heart. On the flip side, “Hello, My Baby” (Joseph Howard/Ida Emerson) replete with verse and John Kander/Fred Ebb’s “Go Visit Your Grandmother” skip in on music hall piano. Ross bounces on the bench, shoulders dancing.
The tender “Sometimes When You’re Lonely” (Cy Coleman) and urbane “Just One of Those Things” (Cole Porter) are distinctively paired. Ivor Novello’s “We’ll Gather Lilacs” emerges lilting, cozy as an old sampler. “Old Friend” (Gretchen Cryer/Nancy Ford) is sweet and reflective with pauses like gold. Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” swirls in. “Sway discretely in your chairs,” Ross amiably suggests. A light touch “Nowadays” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) ends the evening with nuance and panache.
To my mind, “The Saga of Jenny” (Kurt Weil/Ira Gershwin) felt awkward and “Cohen Owes Me Ninety-Seven Dollars” (Irving Berlin) needs a better Yiddish accent. (A for effort.) Neither ruined an excellent show.
Over the last few years, Steve Ross’s acting ability blossomed (a Fyvush Finkel story is amusingly delivered on his feet; songs are even more inhabited). His voice has opened further and settled. High notes are airbrushed, long phrases more confident. New alchemy is at work. Making it personal leaves emotional fingerprints. More please.
Steve Ross: They All Fall in Love
315 West 44th Street