Cabaret’s Crown Prince

Steve Ross
Algonquin

Steve Ross is called “The Crown Prince of Cabaret,” and in his well-researched new tribute to the genius of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner at the Algonquin, he lives up to the label. Joyfully ranging from the western influence of Paint Your Wagon to the drawing-room elegance of My Fair Lady, the exuberant singer-pianist runs the gamut of this prolific writer’s repertoire, showing how Lerner pulled words out of his noggin like nuts from a cluttered fruit cake. “Poignant” has never been a word I associate with Mr. Ross’ raspy voice—until now. But he’s surprisingly moving on everything from “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here,” the opening number in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, to “My Last Love,” one of the first songs Lerner ever wrote with longtime collaborator Frederick Loewe, whom he met accidentally in the 1940s at the Lambs Club by making a wrong turn on his way to the men’s room. Their partnership produced many smash hits, from Camelot to Gigi, and Mr. Ross touches almost all of them. He is not a good enough actor to imitate Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold at the same time, but he sings in tune and is a great crowd pleaser. Revealing a less frolicsome side of his nature than usual, he can be touching (on a slow-tempo reading of the traditionally raucous “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?”), charming (on Jane Powell’s waltz-time ballad “Too Late Now” from the film Royal Wedding) and introspective (on a beautifully arranged “Heather on the Hill” from Brigadoon), all sung softly and straight from the heart. He’s done his homework, and the result is a revealing portrait of Alan Jay Lerner as a restless, dapper, diminutive perfectionist (91 sets of lyrics before he was satisfied with “On a Clear Day”) who was married more times than Barbara Hutton. The words and music blend artfully in a polished style that makes you feel good and go away full. You even want to sing along, but wait for instructions. Mr. Ross will tell you when.

rreed@observer.com Cabaret’s Crown Prince