Promoted inhouse. Steve Ross (vocals, piano), with Putter Smith (bass). Opened, reviewed Aug. 23, 1995. Runs through Aug. 27. They call New York-based Steve Ross the “crown prince of cabaret” and, like so many royals in exile, he is a noble without a homeland: Aside from a handful of successful practitioners, the era of the nightclub singer has all but passed. Those who survive need a hook, and for Ross it’s his abiding passion for witty lyrics. His show is sufficiently entertaining to earn him the right to wear the crown, which in his case is a top hat. More troubling is that some of the tricky lyrics prove too much even for the prince himself, who tripped over the words in a number of songs and in other cases forgot whole verses. He attributed the flubs to jet lag, though some less forgiving audience members may have read it as sloppiness.Ross builds his first local engagement in nine years around the work of two master wordsmiths: Oscar Hammerstein Jr. and Lorenz Hart. So he had great fun with the Rodgers & Hart song “At the Roxy Music Hall,” from the show “I Married an Angel.” The lyricist finds a rhyme in “ushers,” a fountain that “gushes” and seats that caress behinds with their “plushes.” Ross — backed by bassist Putter Smith, who by all appearances met the headliner two minutes before taking the stage — dispensed with his tribute to Hammerstein and Hart midway through his 90-minute set, turning to gems from other writers. He’s droll and self-pitying with Dion Titheradge & Ivor Novello’s three’s-a-crowd song, “And Her Mother Came Too”: “We eat at Maxim’s, and her mother comes too/How much a snack seems, when her mother comes too.” In all, Ross offered an entertaining, breezy evening that celebrates the dying art of witty lyrics (thank God for Randy Newman and Stephen Sondheim!). It lacks the heft and emotional weight of fellow nightlifer Mary Cleere Haran, but, like many other members of ’90s royalty, this prince favors the high-life anyway.
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