Jerome Kern's 'I Won’t Dance' segues into a suave evening of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin downstairs at His Majesty's.
Image: Steve Ross photograph by Mike Martin.
Sophisticated F Scott Fitzgerald types draped around a piano-playing raconteur – this is the image evoked after an evening such as I Won’t Dance. New York based cabaret pianist Steve Ross is ideally suited to the hits of 1920s and 30s in his ‘non-dancing tribute to Fred Astaire and Cole Porter' with a grand piano, suave patter and the odd bit of support from singer Rebecca Moore. Back in Perth after 30 years – the New York Times dubbed ‘Crown Prince of Cabaret’ grows on you until you are applauding wildly.
His voice is deceptively low key but suited to this style of dapper – as we launch straight into Putting on the Ritz. He moves through the Cole Porter tongue twisters with ease and assurance; not surprising since he has been doing this since the late 1970s. Performing across six continents at places such as The Ritz in London, the Crillon in Paris and Imperial Hotel Tokyo. By his own description he started out as a ‘background piano player’ playing all the music he’d grown up with from listening to his mother play Gershwin, Coward and Porter; and you can still see this in his somewhat restrained style.
The thing about these hits is that they really tell a story and in Ross’s clear style of singing you can hear just about everything. Not necessarily a given with today’s performers. It was a revelation to hear so many of these older style songs that rarely get an outing; and even though there were several numbers that the 150 strong audience gleefully sang along with, there were many more surprising beauties. Ross ran through A Fine Romance, Fascinating Rhythm, Embraceable You – a medley from Swing Time the movie written for Fred Astaire with a backdrop of audience members saying, ‘oh I love that one!’ Dancing in the Dark by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz was an unknown discovery. First recorded by Bing Crosby in 1931 this song gorgeously suited Ross’s range and its sad beauty meant it stayed at the top of the pops for 6 weeks.
Cole Porter’s Night and Day was another that drew gasps of appreciation from the audience where Ross elegantly sung the upper range of, as he quipped; ‘best song about sexual obsession’. We heard the great fun Can-Can which was written when Porter’s wife was very ill and dying but the description of someone who worked with Porter was ‘he would think up the rhythm, then he would write the words to fit the rhythm and then he’d write the music to fit the words’, and you can hear that clever construction in the lyrics. ‘I get a kick out of you’ with its famous lines: “I get no kick from Champagne, mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all”…was another that had the audience singing along. The light breezy piano playing continued with Anything Goes.
The off Broadway hit show, more properly entitled I Won’t Dance: The Songs of Fred Astaire and Cole Porter are so beautifully interwoven with enchanting stories of the period you can easily see where Ross’s second career as public radio broadcaster and educator lies; honing his passion of American popular music of the era. Years of residency at the celebrated Oak Room at Hotel Algonquin put him in the vanguard of the cabaret revival.
Steve Ross’s bespoke green velvet smoking jacket is his most ostentatious prop - which we later hear is bequeathed from the Noel Coward Society in the UK to him. Ross was gracious enough to come back for an encore – 'Let’s do it, let’s fall in love’ - a resounding endorsement for a good fun night gently being guided into new areas of musical discovery by a seasoned cabaret performer who in 2015 received the Manhattan Association of Cabarets Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
I Won’t Dance
Performed by Steve Ross with guest performance by Rebecca Moore
Writers include Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Noel Coward.
His Majesty’s Theatre (Downstairs) Perth
30 June - 2 July 2016
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level