Steve Ross sings of Paris, war or no war

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  April 8, 2003 at 7:00 AM
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NEW YORK, April 8 (UPI) -- At a time when all things French are anathema to some Americans because of France's failure to support the war in Iraq, balladeer Steve Ross is performing an evening of song at the Stanhope Park Hyatt Hotel titled "An American in Paris."

"Little did I know when I was putting this show together that this situation would develop and people might not want to be reminded of anything French," Ross told UPI. "I guess my timing couldn't have been worse."

Despite the timing, Ross's fans are flocking to the Stanhope's handsome supper room to hear the only singer who can match the legendary Bobby Short for his debonair approach to cabaret entertainment. Like Short, Ross accompanies himself at the piano but without any other instrumental backup.

When Ross made his club debut nearly a generation ago, critics always referred to his "scrubbed, choirboy appearance." Time may have etched his boyish face, but black tie worn with a wing collar, a perfectly folded white pocket kerchief, and the perky red carnation worn as a boutonniere seem appropriate to the lyrics of one of the songs he sings, "Only yesterday ... when the world was young."

The show provides a movable, trans-Atlantic feast of songs by both American and Continental composers. The opening medley from the New York-Paris songbook of the 1920s and 1930s, "This Is the Time," has a lovely, introspective quality that marks all of Ross's performance of numbers by Cole Porter, Jacques Brel, Charles Trenet, and Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

He is especially generous in his selection of Edith Piaf favorites, such as "Pigalle," which he blends into "April in Paris," and "La Vie en Rose," presented in a piano interlude of songs associated with the most electric of all French chansonistes. Such interludes allow Ross to display his impressive talent as a keyboard artist a cut above most of his cabaret colleagues.

He also is unusual in being able to sing in beautiful, unaccented French, as he does for songs from "Jacques Brel, Alive, Well and Living in Paris." Singing in French may not be for every audience, but it works at the Stanhope, whose clientele is international enough to appreciate the original language subtleties of a song about making love on a wagon-lit train en route from Nice to Paris.

Ross pays tribute to one of France's great song-and-dance men with a medley of songs associated with Maurice Chevalier topped by "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" from Lerner and Loewe's "Gigi." In another medley he recalls the tenderness of Trenet's performance of ballads like "I Wish You Love" and the triumphant rendition of the anthem-like "La Mer" with its pulsing rhythm and poetic lyrics.

But he always comes back to Porter, who played a leading role in international society of the madcap "flapper" era that gave rise to much of the evening's repertory. Ross is never better than when racing through Porter's naughty "Can-Can" listing all the species that can and do make love, and he closes the show with Porter's "I Love Paris" and sings "C'est Magnifique" as an encore.

Magnifique is a word that best describes Ross's performance of the many wonderful songs that will always be treasured by discriminating audiences, war or no war.

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