Ross Recovers a Rembrandt

Ross Recovers a Rembrandt In 1968 the globally acclaimed song-‘n’-piano man Steve Ross was still a kid kicking around Washington, D.C. “We came up to New York,” he recalls, “and went to the Stanhope Hotel on the Upper East Side to hear this Viennese singer—who was very popular in the Hildegarde days—named Greta Keller. It was called the Rembrandt Room in those days,” Ross sighs, “and we had a marvelous night. In fact, I think it was the first cabaret I ever went to in New York.”

In 1968 the globally acclaimed song-‘n’-piano man Steve Ross was still a kid kicking around Washington, D.C. “We came up to New York,” he recalls, “and went to the Stanhope Hotel on the Upper East Side to hear this Viennese singer—who was very popular in the Hildegarde days—named Greta Keller. It was called the Rembrandt Room in those days,” Ross sighs, “and we had a marvelous night. In fact, I think it was the first cabaret I ever went to in New York.”

The times of Hildegarde and Keller may be a thing of the past, but for Steve Ross and the Stanhope, everything old is new again. Starting November 7, this charming master of the cabaret scene will reinvigorate the intimate setting of the old Rembrandt Room by sitting down at a brand-new Baldwin baby grand, reviving the nightly ritual of an elegant cabaret setting at 81st Street and Fifth Avenue. Officials at the 76-year-old Stanhope, which was purchased by the Hyatt Corporation in 1999, are thrilled about the new venture. “When Peter Ligeti [Ross’s manager] first approached us,” says the Stanhope’s Brenda Miller, “we immediately thought it was a great idea for the hotel as well as for the neighborhood. And Steve truly is the perfect person to reopen the room.”

Similar to the tony yet clubby cabaret of the Cafe Carlyle, the Stanhope’s 65 seater—with its pale yellow European-flavored style—will offer dinner prior to the shows (8:30 and 10:30 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays till December 31). As for the entertainment, Ross says he’ll be mixing up his repertoire, “a little Astaire, a little Cole. Some modern seventies stuff, too.” Like Mr. Short down the street, Ross says, “I’ll be creating programs the way Bobby does.”

Still, some new international additions have been placed into Ross’s songbook. “A South American producer brought me down to Brazil this past summer. And, of course, it was so beautiful—Sao Paulo, Rio—but the audiences,” Ross marvels, “were of every age and type! They don’t have cabaret, as we know it in America, down there. So everybody was coming to see the show! It was heaven.” To find his solidarity with these enthusiastic audiences, Ross learned a rousing Brazilian anthem in Portuguese. “Basically it’s the ‘My Way’ of Brazil. They went crazy for it! And though I doubt they’ll have the exact response, I hope the crowds at the Stanhope like it.”

—By David Drake
(Playwright-actor David Drake writes the monthly column "The Cabaret Beat" for the national edition of Playbill Magazine.)