The popular image of Sir Noel Coward—a black-tied sophisticate tossing off martini-dry witticisms with understated aplomb—reveals just one facet of the legendary artist affectionately known as The Master. One of cabaret’s leading performers, Steve Ross, reveals more aspects of the creator and the man in an evening of words and music in the dazzling Coward spirit.
Coward (1899–1973) began his career as a boy actor and spent a lifetime in the spotlight, mastering the roles of performer, playwright, composer, film and television star, poet, short-story writer, painter, and (briefly) wartime espionage agent.
In sparkling comedies such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter, and Blithe Spirit, Coward crafted a glossy, glamorous world for which he was he was the ultimate poster boy. He could, as well, write about ordinary Londoners (This Happy Breed), middle-class suburbanites flirting with forbidden romance (Brief Encounter), and rouse film audiences with deeply felt wartime patriotism (In Which We Serve).
Coward also managed to invent the upstairs–downstairs historical genre in his patriotic 1931 epic Cavalcade. As the composer of hundreds of songs and more than a dozen musical theatre works, Coward’s melodies created a signature soundtrack for the England of the 20th century: romantic (“I’ll See You Again”), comic (“Mad Dogs and Englishmen”), and stirring (“London Pride”).
Though the man and his plays were dismissed as unfashionably dated in the 1950s, Coward trumped his critics and ended his career as a revered theatrical figure—and a knight of the realm. He’s now seen as an artist whose wit, sophistication, and sheer Englishness found their perfect reflections in stage, film, and musical works that are as fresh and fun today as when they were premiered as long as 90 years ago.
International cabaret and concert artist Steve Ross is based in Manhattan where he held forth for many years at the fabled Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, among the first places Coward visited on his initial visit to America in 1921. He has performed The Master’s songs for decades all over the world, principally in New York, London, Sydney, and Melbourne. He appeared on Broadway in the 1994 production of Present Laughter starring Frank Langella.
Ross offers a tribute to Coward’s work and his stellar contribution to American and British theatrical culture. He uses songs, poems, and diary excerpts to provide a glimpse into his world that we know— and a closer look into one he kept nearer his heart. The evening also offers a rare chance to hear previously unrecorded songs from his new CD, Noel Coward: Off the Record. Join us for a sublime celebration of surprisingly present laughter from a bygone era.
Watch Coward perform his comic song "Nina".
Penelope Keith and Alec McCowen spar in a 1976 television production of Private Lives.
See and hear more about Steve Ross and his music on his site.