The elegant Gotham troubadour Steve Ross, making a resplendent appearance in white tie and tails, is the latest entry in the recent spate of tributes to Fred Astaire. Long one of the most polished interpreters of the artful legacy of American film and theater song, Ross is a smoothly appealing light baritone and a pianist of nuance and flourish. Approaching his repertoire with a fierce dedication to a song’s intent, he never toys with an original lyric. He sings them they way they were written; the polish comes in his keenly structured phrasing.
The Astaire legacy is a bountiful one, and Ross glides through more than 16 selections from the pens of Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and the Gershwins.
His take on “Night and Day” is a veritable concerto, “Dancing in the Dark” assumes simmering poetic proportions, and “Shall We Dance” is so buoyantly airborne that one finds it difficult to remains seated,
“Please Don’t Monkey With Broadway,” a Porter tune that served as a duet for Astaire and George Murphy, remains a jaunty valid plea, and Ross frames “It Only Happens When I Dance with You” with a romanticism that aims straight for the heart.
Ross is assisted by pianist Tom Jennings, and they wrap up the first act with a soaring instrumental medley of “The Carioca” and “Flying Down to Rio” that evokes airy imagery of Fred and Ginger dancing on highly polished floors.
The balance of the program is nestled in familiar Ross concert and club repertoire, that features a plaintive romantic reflection with “Song on the Sand” from “La Cage aux Folles” and Stephen Sondheim’s rarely heard “Who Could Be Blue” that reignites the torch song. He adds a postscript with Berlin’s “Blue Skies” that offers a ray of hope for the brokenhearted.
Ross injects a few witty anecdotes along the way, and adds some flavorful naughty songs about the sex lives of dolphins and a doomed relationship between “The Spider and the Fly.”
The new theater, which wisely puts its address in its name at 59E59, is an attractive and comfortable performance space.