In many ways Shana Farr and Steve Ross are a study in performance opposites. She has a powerful contralto replete with back of throat vibrato, Ross a voice that expresses with decidedly light touch. Farr’s face animates emotion, Ross subtly conveys feeling with a sigh, a pause, a lilt. As collaborators, however, their allegiance to songs’ original intent exists in tandem. Mutual affection and respect run through the evening like vertebrae.
We’re Old Fashioned contains a large number of Kern songs (he wrote over 700), yet comes in just over an hour and never feels overstuffed. The show includes excerpts with such adroitness, we don’t feel deprived. It smoothly segues from one selection to the next with well arranged duets and solos whose deft sequence creates storytelling. Lack of patter works.
The pair’s wry take on “You Never Knew About Me” (lyrics PG Wodehouse) morphs into an effervescent “Blue Danube Blues” (lyrics Anne Caldwell), then a genial, counterpoint “Let’s Begin” (lyrics Otto Harbach). It’s charming. Ross’ “Long Ago and Far Away” (lyrics Ira Gershwin) breathes a wistful sigh into every line. And then I knew, he sings with a gesture to Farr.
Her response? The warning “I’ll Be Hard to Handle” (lyrics Bernard Dougall) to which Ross protests “She Didn’t Say Yes”…She didn’t say no…(lyrics Otto Harbach) Back and forth they argue as if in dialogue, Farr frustrated, Ross steady, shrugging. A Dorothy Parker poem sets the tone for Ross’ insouciant “All in Fun” (lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II) followed by“In Love in Vain” (lyrics Leo Robin). Like Fred Astaire, the performer’s delivery is low key; lyrics hit home.
Farr shows range with a besotted “In the Heart of the Dark” (lyric Oscar Hammerstein II), the humorous, here wide-eyed, “My Husband’s First Wife” (lyrics Irene Franklin), and a rendition of “Yesterdays” (lyrics Otto Harbach) that uncoils like satin ribbon in slow motion. A song or two in contrasting sotto would be welcome.
Ross plays an instrumental medley from Showboat sensitively mining diverse emotion. Original interpretive touches and polished piano skill reign. “Old Man River,” with which it ends, is exhausted, resigned, proud. The artist’s “Don’t Ever Leave Me” (lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II) arrives as moving as “Pick Yourself Up” (lyrics Dorothy Fields) dances in infectiously jaunty.
We’re Old Fashioned closes with a sing along “Look to the Silver Lining” (lyrics B.G. De Sylvia) which most of the audience knows. The room collectively smiles.
Opening Photo by Tony Cangelosi
The Players Club