Together With Music: I’m in Love with Vienna – Steve Ross at The Crazy Coqs

I’m in Love with Vienna
A cabaret with songs, music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Gus Kahn, Bronislau Kaper, Walter Jurman, Sigmund Romberg, Dorothy Donnelly, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, Emmerich Kalman, George Marion Jr, Frederick Loewe, Earl Crooker, Alan Jay Lerner, Paul Lincke, Johnny Mercer, Robert Katscher, Buddy DeSylva, Leonello Casucci, Irving Caesar, Ronny Graham, Rick Besoyan, Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz, Nicholas Brodszky, Johannes Brand, Sammy Cahn, Kurt Weill, Ogden Nash, Ira Gershwin, Maxwell Anderson, Johann Strauss II, Tony Scibetta, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Richard Rodgers, Joe Young, Walter Reisch, Robert Stolz, Franz Lehár, and Lorenz Hart

Steve Ross (singer & pianist)

Reviewed by: Tom Vallance

Reviewed: 19 December, 2012
Venue: The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly Circus, London

Steve Ross. Photograph: Mike MartinThe successful first season of the new London cabaret room, The Crazy Coqs, has come to an end with the “king of cabaret”, Steve Ross who brought us a new programme dedicated to European composers, notably the Viennese who purveyed succulent waltzes and operetta fairytale plots. Many consider that the operetta style died with the advent of ragtime and the modern syncopations of composers like Jerome Kern (with his legendary Princes Theatre shows), Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, but it in fact continued to flourish. In 1925, the year of No, No Nanette, with its modern flappers and jazzy tunes, the most popular show on Broadway was the Ruritanian romance, The Student Prince, with melodies by Sigmund Romberg, which ran for two years.

Ross regards Romberg as one of the greatest of tunesmiths, and demonstrates this with a medley including ‘The drinking song’ (The Student Prince opened at the height of Prohibition!), ‘Deep in my heart, dear’, and ‘Serenade’ (lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly). And as late as 1938 (the year Ross was born), Kern was returning to his operetta roots when he collaborated with Oscar Hammerstein on Music in the Air, from which Ross performs the wistful hymn to contentment, ‘In Egern on the Tegern See’ plus two standards, ‘I’ve told ev’ry little star’ and ‘The song is you’.

More recherché is the work of Emmerich Kalman, to whom Ross pays tribute with a selection of numbers from Marinka (1945, words by George Marion Jr). Marinka has just been a title in reference books until I heard Ross’s delightful selection. The prolific Kalman is generally considered one of the two greatest operetta composers – the other was Franz Lehár, and Ross sings several numbers from his masterwork, The Merry Widow. The English lyrics he sings are, surprisingly, by Lorenz Hart, who wrote them when working for MGM in the mid-1930s. Nicholas Brodszky, who made a career in Hollywood, composed with Sammy Cahn the great hit for Mario Lanza, ‘Be my love’. A film Ross surprisingly omits is Spring Parade (1950), starring Deanna Durbin with melodies by the celebrated Robert Stolz (‘Waltzing in the clouds’ and ‘It’s foolish but it’s fun’ were two of them), but from the Stolz catalogue he gives us two fine songs, a spirited ‘Two hearts in three-quarter time’ and a passionate ‘Don’t ask me why’, the latter frequently included in Marlene Dietrich’s act.

Johann Strauss II is represented by ‘I‘m in love with Vienna‘, while more recent sounds are evoked in Paul Lincke’s ‘Glow worm’ (words by Johnny Mercer) and Robert Katscher’s ‘When day is done’. There are Frederick Loewe’s numbers with Alan Jay Lerner from My Fair Lady and Gigi, and Kurt Weill’s ‘September song’, ‘Speak low’; and ‘One life to live’ with words by Maxwell Anderson, Ogden Nash and Ira Gershwin respectively. Probably the least known composer featured by Ross is Leonello Cassuci, who wrote just one hit, ‘Schöner Gigolo’ which, with English lyrics by Irving Caesar, became the haunting lament, ‘Just a gigolo’, sung with superb resignation by Ross, who has also unearthed a little-known treasure in ‘How do you say auf wiedersehen?’ by Tony Scibetta and Johnny Mercer.

The waltzes of operetta, though often gorgeous, are associated in some quarters with schmaltz or corn, and Ross has fun with some of the numerous parodies that have been fashioned on the subject, such as Cole Porter’s ‘Wunderbar’, which though originally performed by Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison as an hilariously exaggerated duet Kiss Me Kate, ironically became popular. Ross also sings, tongue firmly in cheek, Ronny Graham’s ‘Waltzing in Venice’ (“If we should take one more step than we oughta / We could be doing the waltz under water”) and a number from Rick Besoyan’s Little Mary Sunshine, a whole show dedicated to spoofing the genre.

The difference between opera and operetta, states Ross, is that operas have unhappy endings and operettas have cheerful ones. A version of the Mayerling tragedy, for instance, ends with the lovers settling down in Connecticut to live happily ever after, and another little-known production was The Happy Nibelungen to complete an offbeat, beautifully researched and richly rewarding evening full of enthralling anecdotes and enchanting songs.

The 2013 season, from January, at The Crazy Coqs includes Miss Hope Springs, Barb Jungr, Janie Dee, Lorna Luft, John Standing, Stacy Sullivan, Jennifer Sheehan, and Kit & McConnel.

  • The Crazy Coqs is at Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Piccadilly Circus, London W1
  • Bookings 020 7734 4888

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