Steve Ross opened the fall season at the Oak Room at the Algonquin last week. Another way of putting it is to say that after a long absence from the just-refurbished nitery, Steve Ross is back where he belongs and where he deserves to have a permanent home. Yet another way to put it is to say that with the loss of Bobby Short, Steve Ross is the last apotheosis of the quintessential Manhattan piano man. He's a throwback to something timeless, although future generations -- having moved on -- may not see it in that regard and will never know what they've missed.
Usually inclined to fete one songwriter (Cole Porter, for instance) or one entertainer (Fred Astaire, for instance), Ross hasn't fought his inclinations much, presumably to the gratitude of the Algonquin brass. (He hasn't fought his inclination to wear a tuxedo and a boutonniere, either.) For what can only be termed a triumphant return to a doorstep he first darkened -- that's to say, lightened -- in 1981, he's made it a Stephen Sondheim show and called it Good Thing Going, although he borrows that song title but doesn't sing the song.
What he does sing are 21 other songs the East Side genius wrote himself or with Richard Rodgers. The Rodgers tunes -- "Someone Like You," "We're Gonna Be All Right," and "Take the Moment" -- are from Do I Hear a Waltz?, the 1965 Time of the Cuckoo adaptation for which Sondheim has few kind words. Perhaps he'll be kinder after he hears how lovingly and understandingly Ross does them. Employing his febrile vibrato and strong fingering like the master he is, Ross romps intelligently through some of the most popular Sondheim ditties and some barely known, like the stunning "Sand" from the unproduced movie Singing Out Loud. This is a breathtaking glimpse of a very particular and always-to-be-cherished New York.
Presented by and at the Oak Room at the Algonquin,
59 W. 44th St., NYC.
Sept. 4-15. Tue.-Thu., 9 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 9 and 11:30 p.m.