Puttin’ on the Ritz:
The Music of Fred Astaire
Upstairs at Vitello’s
North Hollywood, CA
Steve Ross is the essence of cabaret. He sings sweetly, interprets intelligently, emotes appropriately and enunciates perfectly. He performs with style, elegance, wit and simplicity and, when you combine those characteristics with songs introduced by Fred Astaire, you have an unbeatable combination that ensures a winning evening of pure entertainment.
Ross, an unquestioned genius on the piano, sang approximately 35 songs in a 90-minute show — nearly three times the song count in a typical cabaret act. With a few minutes for patter and applause, that’s an average of one song every two minutes, which is par for his approach — singing each song once through “in two” — pretty much the way most of them were originally written. Ross had strong support throughout the evening from Brian Cassier on bass.
Ross combined several songs into medleys — usually grouped by composer or subject — often moving from one familiar melody to another so smoothly, with such easy transitions, that a less-informed listener might think they were a single song. For example, an extraordinary string that included the Gershwins’ “He Loves and She Loves,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “Shall We Dance?” with Berlin’s “It Only Happens When I Dance with You” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”
One medley combined “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” with “No Strings” (both by Berlin), while another joined Berlin’s “I Won’t Dance” with “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” (Johnny Mercer/Harry Warren), and a third allowed Ross to sing Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” while alternating verses of one with the other in a true mash-up.
Though Ross’s voice occasionally wavered, he was particularly strong on a nicely nuanced “Dancing in the Dark” (Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz), a warmly touching “Night and Day” (Cole Porter), and earnest versions of Porter’s “I Concentrate on You” and the Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen classic, “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).”
One of the evening’s surprises was a soft ballad written by Astaire himself, with lyrics by Tommy Wolfe: “City of the Angels.”
The Astaire canon is full of so many standards that one could almost feel the audience bursting to sing along, so that once Ross finally invited it to do so — on “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” (Gershwins) — it had no qualms about joining in enthusiastically on his final three songs as well — “Cheek to Cheek” (Berlin); “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” (Berlin); and “Nevertheless (I’m in Love with You)” (Harry Ruby/Bert Kalmar).
January 12, 2013