Having had a chequered career in the past, in its last three weeks the venue has been getting full houses – too late, however, for the welcome reprieve of a three-month stay of execution which was then subsequently denied it. So, Pizza on the Park will shut down to make way for a new hotel. It would be too much to hope, however, after twenty-eight years, for a music-room to be built in the basement. If not, then hope is not entirely lost for another Pizza Express venue is going to stage jazz and cabaret evenings from 26 June with some of the names mentioned above at the Pheasantry in King’s Road, Chelsea. Originally a Georgian house with grounds for raising game-birds, the Pheasantry has been a nightclub in the past, having played host to the early careers of Lou Reed, Queen and Hawkwind. Dylan Thomas drank there and Eric Clapton used to live there. The future for cabaret in London is in the balance but suddenly looks brighter.
Barry J. Mishon, who has booked many performers and staged shows at Pizza on the Park over the years, has been programming the venue’s last three-week closing season, with Andrea Marcovicci, Karen Akers and Steve Ross. Mishon is looking at putting on artists at the Pheasantry from October this year, assuming that the new venue proves to be an acceptable alternative to Pizza on the Park. Mishon favours American cabaret artists so, if all goes well, we could be seeing the likes of Steve Ross back in town again. Meanwhile Steve is taking us back though his twenty-eight years of visits to London by singing and playing some of his favourites from the many shows he has compiled; for instance the work of Alan Jay Lerner, Cole Porter, Noël Coward, Fred Astaire, Frank Loesser, Edith Piaf, and Flanders & Swann.
Opening night comprised over forty songs in an hour-and-a-half of non-stop entertainment of which Steve Ross is the epitome and in his own inimitable way – witty, sly, and always an expert deliverer of the best material from the Great American Songbook. He has impeccable taste and sublime musical manners. He is an excellent piano-player and much of the enjoyment of his talent comes through watching his seemingly effortless mastery of the keyboard. At one point he gives a medley of songs made famous by Edith Piaf, just on the piano in almost total darkness, the spotlight being reserved for the music itself and he proves his musicianship is equal to none. Steve Ross is known in New York as the “crown prince of cabaret”. Well, at least they have some venues to accommodate it, whereas in London there will soon only be Jermyn Street Theatre, which sometimes does cabaret work between mounting plays.
The theme of Steve’s final show at Pizza on the Park is, vaguely, time, perhaps merely because the venue is running out of it and because Steve has spent a lot of his life there. His repertoire includes obvious titles such as Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’ and Jule Styne’s ‘Just in Time’ and ‘Time After Time’ but it is interspersed with songs about love and life, romance and regret, the stuff of popular-song since, well, forever. He opens with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Irving Berlin’s ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ coupled with Stephen Foster’s ‘Old Folks at Home’ and then has a few numbers by Jule Styne, Barry Kleinbort and Jim Croce before getting down to Jerry Herman’s ‘Song on the Sand’ from “La Cage aux Folles” which the composer allowed Steve to introduce to London before the show itself arrived. It is suitably plaintive, wistful and nostalgic.
Then it’s into Lerner & Loewe and ‘Time for a Love Song’ (“Carmelita”) and ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’ (“Camelot”). Frank Loesser, famous for “Guys and Dolls” and perhaps not so well-known for “Where’s Charley?” and “The Most Happy Fella”, has his tribute before Steve moves on to that other Steve – Sondheim and a couple of ironic, edgy numbers, ‘We’re Gonna Be All Right’ (“Do I Hear a Waltz?”) And ‘With So Little To Be Sure Of’ (“Anyone Can Whistle”). Irving Berlin is represented by ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ and ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’, after which comes a real tear-jerker with ‘Old Friend’ from “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road” by Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer. It’s a song that Steve has sung many times in London and, in its depiction of lost love, has no better interpreter. It is the mark of a great artist that Steve can take songs from all periods in popular-musical history, put them together, and not let any of them feel out of place.
Then it’s back to Noël Coward and Sandy Wilson, interrupted only by Albert Hammond’s ‘99 Miles from LA’ which then leads into the Schwartz and Dietz ‘Dancing in the Dark and ‘I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan’, before the Gershwins’ ‘A Foggy Day’ and Cole Porter’s ‘Can-Can’. Following the Piaf medley there’s Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’ (in French too) before more Cole Porter, Gershwin and Berlin. The audience participation number is Flanders & Swann’s ‘Mud Glorious Mud’, the famous ‘Hippopotamus Song’ and the evening ends with Gracie Fields’s signature-song ‘Sally’ which Steve has always wanted to perform in London.
What a night, what a man, what a repertoire. This surely isn’t the last London will see of Steve Ross. With Barry J. Mishon and his like in the game, there is still a future for cabaret in London. Thank you Steve, thank you Barry, and thank you Pizza on the Park for many great evenings.
- Steve Ross is at Pizza on the Park, 11-13 Knightsbridge, London SW1 until Friday 18 June 2010, the final date a black-tie evening with guests including Gerard Kenny and Janie Dee
- Bookings 08456 027 017
- Pizza Express Live