The Song is You – Steve Ross at The Pheasantry, London.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
What a brave Sunday evening this was after the first two nights of Steve Ross’ Pheasantry residency had to be cancelled after bronchitis rendered him virtually speechless.
Although still clearly underpowered, the Prince of New York cabaret somehow managed to put on a magnificently varied, straight-run-through 100-minute, utterly charming show to everyone’s delight at the Kings Road cabaret room.
Without understandably talking as much as usual, he let the songs, familiar and unfamiliar, speak for themselves, and there was nothing underpowered about his exceptional work on the piano, highlighted by a long medley of the tunes made famous by Edith Piaf.
Ross has had a longtime love affair with London and it was he who brought the curtain down on the much-loved Pizza on the Park in 2010.
Now here he was seven years later, celebrating 60 years in the cabaret business: “and still trying to get it right!”
He brought with him a new collection from what he prefers to call the Great Transatlantic Songbook rather than the Great American one and there was so much to enjoy.
One of the most moving was British rather than American, a wistful treatment of the 1957 Ewan MacColl folk song ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ that was a breakout No. 1 hit for Roberta Flack 16 years later.
Contrasting with that was the hilarious sexual fantasy of ‘The Butler’s Song’, from Joseph Stein’s 1976 flop So Long, 174th Street, where David’s butler tries to fit Greta Garbo into his boss’ hectic bedding of every other Hollywood star he can think of, starting with Dolores Del Rio.
More humour came with some readings of some outrageous lonely hearts adverts and Ogden Nash’s witty lyrics in ‘How Much I Love You’.
On the more melancholy side, was the less successful, probably given the state of his voice, a cappella version of Sondheim’s ‘With So Little to Be Sure Of’. Another Sondheim, ‘Take the Moment’ (written with Richard Rodgers for Do I Hear A Waltz?) fared better.
Particularly pleasing were the rather bitter ‘I Don’t Remember You’ (from Kander and Ebb’s The Happy Time) and Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’ – and, of course we had plenty of Cole Porter and Ross’ own favourite Fred Astaire – ‘You’re the Top’ and ‘Cheek to Cheek’ stood out.
Ross even had a crack at the Porter pop hit ‘True Love’ (from High Society), originally duetted by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly and recorded by pretty well everyone, from Elvis to Elton John.
He even unveiled a Steve Ross original, ‘Now It’s You’’, written with Barbara Fried especially for this show, in what was a clinic in the art of intimate cabaret by a master of his craft.
It begged the question of what’s going to happen to these gems, particularly the lesser-known ones, when Ross and those of his vintage cease performing them. Meanwhile, we must make the most of him while we can.