[This is my review of Steve Ross' show Good Things Going for KDHX-FM in St. Louis]
When Steve Ross brought his Travels with My Piano program to the Cabaret at Savor series last year, I noted that the intimate Flim Flam Room was possibly the idea venue for him. Debonair, witty and charismatic, Ross established an immediate connection with his audience that was all the more effective when nobody in that audience was more than 20 feet away.
This year he brings his Stephen Sondheim show, Good Things Going, to the Savoy Room, where most of the audience is at least 20 feet away. And yet, on Friday night that immediate connection was there, despite the distancing effect of the Savoy Room's raised stage, the mediocre sound system, and a back injury that was clearly causing him discomfort.
Happily, even with a bad back and a room that makes it impossible for anyone except his bass player (the always-impressive Kim LaCoste) to see his piano playing, Steve Ross is still, in the words of the New York Times, "the Crown Prince of New York cabaret". His traversal of the work of the last of the great Broadway composers is just as polished, graceful and illuminating as you'd expect it to be.
I refer to Sondheim as the last of the great Broadway composers, by the way, because his work represents both the apotheosis and the termination of an art form that spanned most of the 20th century. He took the traditional Broadway musical about as far as it could go (to borrow a lyric from his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein II) and then pushed it over the edge. After Sondheim, composers had to find a new direction - which many of them are doing. But the form will never be quite the same.
Mr. Ross' show inspires such thoughts because it does such a fine job of representing the scope of Sondheim's work. From the early romanticism of "I Must Be Dreaming" (from All the Glitters, which Sondheim wrote at the tender age of 18), to the ambiguous wisdom of "Marry Me a Little" and "Sorry/Grateful" (Company) and the yearning of "Johanna" (from Sweeney Todd, undoubtedly one of the previous century's masterpieces of musical theatre), Mr. Ross filters the light of the composer's genius through is own unique prism, and the results are dazzling.
Mr. Ross delivers all this with his usual panache and, when appropriate, dry wit - some of it musical. Two examples that come immediately to mind: a quick instrumental quote from "Blue Skies" towards the end of "Who Could be Blue" (one of many songs cut from the epic-length Follies) and the musical equivalent of a tap-dance break in "Ah, Paris!" (which was not cut), with Ms. LaCoste's bass playing Fred Astaire.
In its original version, Good Things Going was a typical one-act cabaret show, but at the Savoy two acts are mandatory (due, I presume, to the profits gleaned from the bar), so Steve Ross fans get a bonus in the form of a "greatest hits" medley right after intermission. I was glad to find one of my favorite Noel Coward numbers, "Mrs. Worthington", in there (complete with some extra lyrics that were apparently considered too vulgar to be printed back in 1935, if my copy of the sheet music is any indication), along with his enchanting instrumental tribute to Edith Piaf and favorites by Porter and Berlin.
Steve Ross' Good Things Going will be entertaining and enlightening local audiences through Sunday [October 28, 2007] at the Savoy Room, just under the roof at the Sheldon Concert Hall. For ticket information, call Metrotix at 314-534-1111.
Next at the Savoy Room: Julie Budd's The Standard of Things, November 29th through December 2nd, 2007. For more information, check out the web site at www.thesheldon.org/cabaretseries.asp .