Making his Los Angeles debut before a roaringly receptive audience, Steve Ross appeared Monday at the L.A. Stage Company West. (He'll be back there Monday.) The crowd included Liza Minnelli, whom he once accompanied, and many others who presumably had heard him at the Algonquin in New York or one of the other chic spots where his genre of cabaret singing has long been in vogue.
A tall, slender figure who wears a wing collar, Ross sang part or all of 47 songs. Because he leans toward vintage material by Berlin, Porter, the Gershwins and Noel Coward, he has been compared to Bobby Short.
At the keyboard, he is technically competent, harmonically limited; as a self-accompanist he's no Blossom Dearie. Vocally, he projects a theatrical high tenor; except when the song is strong enough to carry him, he falls far, far short of Bobby.
The difference is that whereas Short seems to be saying "Weren't those fun days?" or "How our attitudes have changed!," Ross at times takes himself back into the era and assumes its values. If there is anything more effete than the chorus of "Just One of Those Things," it is the verse of "Just One of Those Things." As for "It's D'Lovely," "Anything Goes" and "How About You," even the extra choruses of unfamiliar lyrics failed to remove the cobwebs.
Ross was at his best when his piano was subdued and his material less familiar or more recent. "Look Over There" from "La Cage Aux Folles" is a splendid song, as is Jerome Kern's seldom heard "All in Fun."
Humor is Ross' other long suit. He dealt deftly with a song about a sloth, and one about names ("If Giancarlo Menotti married Lotte Lenya, she'd be Lotte Menotti," etc.). Noel Coward's "Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington" remains indestructibly witty half a century later.
No doubt about it, Steve Ross is a classy performer, the kind you would jump at to entertain at a party in the posher parts of town. But as a stage personality, for almost two hours of concentrated listening, he tends to wear thin.
His idol was Mabel Mercer, who was only at ease in an intimate room. Short's idol was Ivie Anderson, who could blaze across the footlights on a stage of any size. Therein, perhaps, lies the difference.