Singer/Pianist Extraordinaire Steve Ross Makes a Rare LA Appearance at Vitello's
On Saturday January 12 and Sunday January 13 internationally renowned Cabaret pianist/singer Steve Ross, who has been called the 'Crown Prince of Cabaret', brought one of his many evenings of song The Music of Fred Astaire called Puttin' On the Ritz to Vitello's Upstairs in Studio City. Ross began his career, some forty years ago, primarily as a pianist, at Ted Hook's Backstage in New York. With no singing experience, he thrust himself into the spotlight singing at the piano, developing his unmatched, uncanny style of song and repartee... and the rest is history.
As he devilishly teased us at the top "You're absolutely riddled with sophistication" he called his set in honor of Mr. Astaire the "all singing, all talking, non dancing" act. What a delicious sense of humor! "I learned to play at my mother's knees and other low joints." And... the delightful anecdotes about these legends could fill an encyclopedia. How many knew that Fred Astaire and his sister Adele were a kiddie team at a tender age on the Orpheum Circuit? Or that Astaire actually composed the tune "City of the Angels" with Tommy Wolf in honor of Hollywood? It's Ross' love of the lyrics of the songs and his ability to communicate that to us that make him even more extra special. His favorite song "Dancing in the Dark" by Dietz and Schwartz tells us we're "waltzing in the wonder of why we're here". We stop and really listen, and focus on the beauty of the lyrics... and that makes all the difference. Ross' lilting baritone and his divine artistry at the piano keys produce a 90-minute vocal montage of some 36 splendid tunes by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer among others. Brian Cassier beautifully accompanied on double bass throughout. An entertainment and enrichment master class all rolled into one! I felt like I was back in a piano bar in NYC and could have stayed and sung along all night. Smooth, elegantly dressed - when was the last time you saw a cabaret singer wear a tux? - and yes, just plain sophisticated as hell, Steve Ross does live up to every accolade that has come his way.
Other highlights of the evening included: Cole Porter's delightful "Thank You So Much Mrs. Loughsborough-Goodby", Irving Berlin's carefree "Let Yourself Go" and the oh so romantic "Cheek to Cheek", Dorothy Fields' and Jerome Kern's dreamy "The Way You Look Tonight" created for Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time, Dietz' and Schwartz' lovely "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan", Arlen and Mercer's unforgettable "My Shining Hour", as well as the ever popular "One More for the Road", and the incomparable pairing of "Steppin' Out with My Baby" with "Puttin' On the Ritz" both mesmerizing Berlin classics. Most of the tunes were presented in medleys by composers, such as a batch of Gershwin, then a potpourri of Berlin, etc all enriched with Ross' lovable patter. There was not a boring moment. How could there be with Ross' slick delivery, sense of fun and unpredictably quaint change in inflection or interpretation, which made it all quite exciting to take in like fine wine!
Let me add that this is my very first Steve Ross experience, but certainly not my last. Ross has a terrific following. Among the packed house on Saturday the 12th were songsters Nancy Dussault, Karen Morrow and Andrea Marcovicci, as well as directors Miriam Nelson and Bryan O'Halloran. Ross is revered in the field of music, much like Barbara Cook. Thanks to musicians like Cook and Ross, the beautiful music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and Irving Berlin lives on.