Steve Ross: An American in Paris

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Steve Ross

An American in Paris

Birdland, NYC, October 1, 2018

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Steve Ross

C’est magnifique! From the opening piano medley of lilting melodies and poignantly Parisian vocals delivered by Steve Ross in his new show at Birdland, you are obviously in the presence of a master. Ross, a self-described Francophile, interprets his Gallic side through music as An American in Paris, sometimes literally, sometimes emotionally. This day took on a special poignancy with the death of Charles Aznavour and the recent passing of Liliane Montevecchi, so Ross dedicated the show to these two captivating Parisians.

He arranged a songbook reflecting the allure of Paris that still fascinates him and so many others. His piano renderings are layered with emotions—the joy of “Valentine” (Henri Christiné),

the carefree rhythm of Hubert Giraud’s “Sous le ciel de Paris,” and the reflective “I Love Paris” by Cole Porter. Ross later delivered Porter’s amusing myth, “The Tale of the Oyster,” another reminder of Porter’s close connection to the City of Lights.

Edith Piaf’s tremendous popular appeal is reflected in songs stamped with her signature sound. In a highlight piano medley, Ross played her most famous songs, immensely touching for the many Piaf devotées who know her hits like, “Milord,” “Hymn à l’amour,” and “La Vie en rose.” Vocals were not needed for this “Piano pour Piaf” medley; his piano expressed the passion and drama whirling around Piaf’s short life.

Vocals included two songs by French songwriter Charles Trenet. Ross, thankfully, chose the original French version of “Que reste-t-il de nos amours?,” a picturesque song of romantic nostalgia. (An English version lends the song a sunny feel of bluebirds and lemonade, nowhere approximating the emotional Trenet lyrics).
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Also by Trenet, Ross delivered “La Mer,” the songwriter’s poetic visions of the sea.

Many know its English lyrics by Jack Lawrence, “Beyond the Sea,” a love song that became a signature song for Bobby Darin. 

Ross is authoritative in his interpretations of songs nuanced with the honest sentimentality of “When the World Was Young” (M. Philippe Gerard with English lyrics by Johnny Mercer) as well as the comic, “Jackie” (Jacques Brel/Gérard Jouannest; English lyrics by Mort Shuman/Eric Blau).

Guest performer Jean Brassard delighted the full-house audience with another Brel classic, “La valse à mille temps,” starting slowly and accelerating into tongue-twisting acrobatics. The duo’s lovely duet of “Plaisir d’amour” (J.P. Clarisse de Florian,/Jean-Paul-Égide Martini) was a touching addition.
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Other great songwriters inspired by Paris were Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, who won the Academy Award in 1941 for “The Last Time I Saw Paris”; Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi; and Stephen Sondheim’s list song, “Ah, Paris!” from Follies.

Ross looks back fondly at Lili’s hometown in Bob Merrill’s “Mira” (Carnival) and finds the bittersweet undercurrent of “Just a Gigolo” (Irving Caesar/Leonello Casucci). Two selections with sing-along segments were neatly paired: “Song on the Sand” (Jerry Herman) and “One of Those Songs” (Will Holt/Gerard Calvi).

Relevant in today’s world, E.Y. Harburg/Jacques Offenbach’s “Adrift on a Star” from The Happiest Girl in the World suggests that connecting with another person helps in this life where so many seem adrift.

With profound love and understanding of his songbook, Steve Ross’ musicianship and interpretation stands out, working around lyrics he draws from the heart and communicates to a rapt audience. He is still the master of his game, the cream of the crop at the top of the heap.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.