Steve Ross on Broadway continues at the Crazy Coqs, London until 7 November.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Where would Crazy Coqs be without its annual visit from ‘the crown prince of New York cabaret’”, that evergreen entertainer Steve Ross?
Nobody today has his knowledge or repertoire of the Great American Songbook and on this visit to the cosy Piccadilly nightspot he served up, among the usual classics such as a stunning ‘Begin the Beguine’ instrumental, ‘All the Things You Are’ and ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, a good few humdingers that have got lost along the way.
This 75-minute trawl through material taken from Broadway shows was an education even to those who thought they knew their musicals. Who remembers ‘The Unrequited Love March’ from New Faces of 1968, ‘Call Me Back’ from Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen, a 1970 show based on 1956 movie The Teahouse of the August Moon, or even ‘Comes Once in a Lifetime’ from a Comden and Green/Jule Styne 1961 collaboration Subways Are For Sleeping?
All lovingly introduced with Ross’ droll urbanity and wit. He is the epitome of cabaret and anyone wanting to hone his or her skills in this specialist art form should get along along to sit and marvel at a true master of it.
We got the ‘modern’ greats such as Sondheim and Kander and Ebb, but it wasn’t the stuff we were most familiar with. Whatever happened to Zorba, from which Ross sang the beautiful ‘Only Love’? Kander and Ebb’s dark musical was last seen on Broadway in 1983 and plans for an overdue revival seem to have stalled.
And he picked Sondheim’s least successful show, Anyone Can Whistle, which ran for only nine performances even with Hollywood stars Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury making their Broadway bows, and “one of his most rapturous melodies”, ‘With So Little to Be Sure Of’.
This was one of three compositions by “the genius of our day” – from Follies came a truly haunting ‘Losing My Mind’ – introduced to launch his new all-Sondheim CD Good Thing Going which he was signing at the end of the show.
Well ‘new’ is a bit of a misnomer – it is the 23-song pick of the live Pizza on the Park show in Knightsbridge seven years ago – but well worth the wait.
As ever with the debonair Ross there had to be his beloved Cole Porter too, and it was the witty ‘Nobody’s Chasing Me’ from Out of this World (as well as ‘Begin the Beguine’, of course, and what a joy he is on the piano).
More humour came from the less obvious source of Kurt Weill in a rare but very successful collaboration with American poet Ogden Nash called ‘How Much I Love You’, from the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus that made a star of Mary Martin.
Plenty of Gershwin too and two from Schwartz and Dietz – ‘I Guess I’ve Got to Change My Plan’ a real treat – and an all-join-in (second) encore ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby’, by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, not a song usually associated with Broadway but this future pop standard made its debut, Ross told us, in Blackbirds of 1928.
That’s the beauty of Ross – you learn so much. But who’s going to preserve and keep performing this extraordinary material once Steve, now well into his 70s, hangs up his piano?
This wasn’t always Ross at his absolute best, but even 90 per cent of this consummate performer beats 100% of most anybody else. It’s great to have you back, Steve.