Steve Ross is one of the world’s great cabaret performers. The New York Times described him as “the crown Prince of New York cabaret,” he’s been called the “quintessence of old school urbanity” and one reviewer said, “no one performing today is his equal”. I always say how excited I am to be interviewing whomever I happen to be interviewing (and I always am) but spending 50 minutes in conversation with Steve Ross was as much an inspiration as it was eduction.
Compared to singers in Broadway shows, “The whole point of the cabaret experience,” says Steve, “is to find someone who has found his or her voice.” When researching new material he always goes to the sheet music first – never fake books or other recordings – and it all starts with the lyric, after all, he says, “cabaret is a word media, it’s not about high notes”. Mabel Mercer would have agreed. Steve got to know her somewhat in New York and explains what made her so special. Despite her success, she never said anything on stage – no chat – a big shock for me. I’ve always understood the chat to be a key part of any cabaret show, but Steve said Mabel Mercer managed to say everything though her songs and the audience we rapt
Steve explains exactly how he constructs his shows from the very beginning, how he tries them out in front of friends and where he finds inspiration. It’s a rare and fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Thank goodness Steve is so generous in sharing his secrets so the rest of us can learn.
Surprising to me was that Steve performs the same songs and tells the same anecdotes on whichever side of the Atlantic he’s appearing. When he’s in Brazil though he does feature the songs of Fred Astaire. That’s a name they know because of the movies, that great export from the United States.
We share the challenges of singing well known songs and being able to perform them in such a way that makes the audience listen to them with fresh ears. Steve wants his audience to go along with his agenda but is mindful not to make them work too hard. Our challenge is to keep regular cabaret audiences interested whilst keeping the attention of less sophisticated cabaret goers. It’s a tricky balance to find.
We also cover working with Directors, mining for contemporary repertoire (as Barb Jungr does so well), dealing with nerves, reading our own reviews, tending our fragile egos and getting “notes” from well meaning friends.
You can connect with Steve here.
Recorded in London 5th November 2013.