Note the languorous stretching of the word “so” as he sings the words “You’d be so nice, you’d be paradise to come home to and love” and his touching, wistful approach to ‘Just one of those things’. In best cabaret style, he blends the great perennials (‘Begin the beguine’, ‘Night and day’, ‘I’ve got you under my skin’) with songs that are undeservedly not so well known, such as ‘Everything I love’ (from Let‘s Face It), which was a hit for Glenn Miller in 1941, even rarer numbers like ‘I’ve a shooting box in Scotland’ (1916, the first Porter song to be recorded), and a ditty he wrote while a freshman at college, ‘When the summer moon comes down’.
Ross’s deft handling of Porter’s lyrics result in one overlooking his superb skill as a pianist. Several songs are given gorgeous treatment, notably the haunting ‘Were thine that special face’, from Kiss Me, Kate, to which Ross pays tribute with a medley that includes ‘So in love’ and ‘Wunderbar’. The under-appreciated (at the time) score for Can-Can also gets highlighted, with ‘Allez-vous en’, ‘C’est magnifique’, and ‘I love Paris’ cueing a mention of Porter’s great affection for the city of light, the inspiration for such songs as ‘You don’t know Paree’, ‘Who said gay Paree?’ and ‘Give him the ooh-la-la’.
The anecdotes that pepper Ross’s performances are both humorous and informative. He notes that William Gaxton, male lead of the original Anything Goes, refused to accept ‘Easy to love’ because of its difficult range. Porter took it to MGM, where it became the title song of a movie in which it was sung by James Stewart, who had virtually no range at all. Ross also recounts that when Fred Astaire’s sister Adele left the act to marry, every Broadway producer wanted to sign Astaire. He accepted Porter’s offer of The Gay Divorcee (it was "Divorce" in the UK) after the composer played him not ‘Night and day’ but the less celebrated ‘After you, who?’.
Ross does not neglect Porter’s trademark ‘list’ songs (and how nice to hear the English pronunciation of “Derby” in ‘You’re the top’). One of Ross’s specials, the astoundingly inventive ‘Can-can’, stops the show, and he surprises with some rarely heard choruses for ‘It’s delovely’. He has wicked fun with the myriad medical terms in ‘The physician’, introduced by Gertrude Lawrence in Nymph Errant. From the same show, Ross gives a heartfelt rendition of the affirmative ‘Experiment’.
When Ross announces he will perform his two favourite Porter songs, one wonders how he could choose from such a rich catalogue. I won’t reveal what they are, but I got only one right. This is indeed a succulent feast of popular song at its best. It is hard to imagine anyone doing greater justice to the banquet than Steve Ross.
- Steve Ross is Ridin’ High at The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Piccadilly Circus, London W1 until Saturday 9 November 2013
- Bookings 020 7734 4888