by Alix Cohen
Our audience takes its seats confident that if Steve Ross likes tonight’s especially chosen material, so will we. Taste is one of the artist’s signature attributes. There will be well known songs, those for which we have particular affection, and unfamiliar ones that intrigue and delight. At ease with wit and true with sentiment- two characteristics ascribed to Noel Coward, Ross’s performance of favorites bodes well.
Who else would start a show with “Tuscaloosa’s Calling Me But I’m Not Going” (Hank Beebe/Bill Heyer) as preface to a medley celebrating New York? Cole Porter’s “Take Me Back to Manhattan” replete with dancy, hat-and-cane chorus and a lilting “I Happen to Like New York” follow. “I took a trip to Hackensack…” he sings looking stunned ever to have done such a thing.
Continuing in travel mode are songs of Noel Coward’s London, the jaunty “London (Is a Little Bit of Alright)” and oom-pah “Saturday Night At The Rose and Crown” raise spirits. KT Sullivan, with whom Ross is currently playing in Love, Noël at Irish Repertory Theater, guests for several duets. “You Were There” is utterly charming. “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart,” featuring Sullivan’s discreet trill, is wrapped in music so expressive it’s as if we’re hearing a third vocalist.
Paris is manifest by Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris” evoking a dreamy accordion waltz. “Que-reste-t’il” = What Remains of Our Loves? in French, finds the artist’s heart in his throat: “…A photo, an old photo, of my youth./What remains of the love letters/the months of April, the rendez-vous?…” It’s sweet, melancholy, weary. (Charles Trenet/Leo Chauliac). My companion comments that Ross breathes with his piano. I think that’s true.
“Vienna, City of My Dreams,” in English and German, takes us from cobblestones of Montmartre to a polished floor. Skirts are held high in opera-gloved hands, hundreds of candles flicker. (Rudolf Siecynsky/English lyrics Edward Lockton.) Ross unconsciously sits up straighter. Innate elegance shimmers.
“Morphium” (Mischa Spoliansky/English lyrics Michael Steffan) couches horrific lyrics in gorgeous melody, a Weimar signature. Andrew Lloyd Webber/Trevor Nunn’s “Memories” cries out but is swallowed by its indomitable predecessor. “Just a Gigolo” (Leonello Casucci/ Irving Caesar) closes the parentheses. It’s bone real. “There will be a day…” he shrugs “…when youth will pass away…” We see a whole life in the gesture.
A group of love songs by George and Ira Gershwin, John Kander and Fred Ebb, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, Stephen Sondheim are affectingly sincere. With less fanfare (and fuss) than anyone in the business, Ross can be heartbreaking.
“Das Lied Ist Aus”= Don’t Ask Me Why is instrumental. Its lyrics, were we to hear them, they include “Do not ask why I’m leaving/ do not ask why/Whatever happens/ do not ask why…” Never a mere accompanist even in his own service, Ross illuminates with music. (Robert Stolz, German lyric-Walter Reisch, English lyric- Joe Young)
Kurt Weill/Maxwell Anderson’s “It Never Was You” ends this evening with palpable wistfulness. We exit thinking about our own if-only. Lovely.
Photos: Stephen Sorokoff
July 5, 2019
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