Steve Ross performed Ridin’ High at the Crazy Coqs, London.
Steve Ross almost sheepishly admits that he has been in the cabaret business for 54 years. It seems incredible that so accomplished a musician and vocalist is not more widely known outside the cabaret circuit. Toasted as New York’s Crown Prince of Cabaret by The New York Times, Ross has played many regular gigs in the UK and in fact was the headliner chosen to play the final performances at the popular venue Pizza On the Park in 2010. Ross’ welcome return to the UK as part of the London Festival of Cabaret sees him taking up residence at the Crazy Coqs for two consecutive weeks, opening with Ridin’ High, a tribute to the music and lyrics of Cole Porter.
Opening with a medley including ‘Looking At You’ and ‘You’re the Top’, Ross was faced with a couple of minor sound troubles, swiftly sorted by the team, but he seemed completely unperturbed, throwing in a joke about Ethel Merman and belting the music out without a microphone. This blended seamlessly with a couple of numbers made famous by Merman, namely ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ and ‘Anything Goes’, which constitute perhaps two of the composer’s most popular hits.
Of course, Merman is really only a fraction of the Porter story and Ross takes his audience on a musical tour of Porter’s career from early days as president of the Yale Glee Club through to his massive successes written for the Broadway stage.
Porter’s occasionally tricky lyrics, although considered unfashionable with lyricists today, were innovative at the time. Ross’ grasp of this language is exemplary and the artist negotiates his way through some veritable tongue-twisters, from his earliest list song, ‘Shooting Box’, written while still at Yale, through to the hilarious ‘Ooh-La-La’ from Porter’s sojourn in Paris.
One of Porter’s best loved tunes and indeed the number which Ross picks out as his personal favourite is ‘Night and Day’, written in 1932. Lyrics aside, which hint of love and not a little obsession, Ross picks up beautifully the haunting nature of the music and the unusual chord changes that thread throughout the piece. Part of Ross’ skill as a cabaret performer is his ability to render as many flashes of drama in the music as there are in the words. This is also the case for Kiss Me, Kate, a medley of which Ross plays to focus on Porter’s versatility of musical style.
‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ and ‘Begin the Beguine’ are cool and sophisticated numbers which have stood the test of time and Ross juxtaposes them gamely with the likes of ‘The Physician’ and ‘The Tale of the Oyster’, which may be less familiar but showcase Porter’s occasionally wacky sense of humour. Ross draws the curtain on Porter’s career with a selection of New York numbers, a city the composer once dominated and epitomised – well, the Upper East Side and Broadway at least. Ross’ choices in Ridin’ High might be impeccable, but it’s the Prince of Cabaret’s wealth of knowledge, engaging delivery and remarkable talent that earned him a couple of well-deserved encores on his opening night.
Check out reviews of other performances in the London Festival of Cabaret: