JOHN WALLOWITCH & BERTRAM ROSS
John Wallowitch is a cabaret veteran–a longtime vocal coach, accompanist, club manager, and songwriter whose material has been recorded by the likes of Blossom Dearie and Dixie Carter. Bertram Ross is an actor and onetime Martha Graham dancer who came to cabaret relatively late. Together these two tuxedoed, elderly gents make up one of the oddest club acts I’ve ever seen. Their principal focus is what Wallowitch calls “ancient ditties”–little-known pre-World War II novelty numbers by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, Irving Berlin, and Billy Rose. These are augmented by eccentrically funny Wallowitch originals, in which he emulates Cole Porter’s style of wordplay with finesse. How many ways can you rhyme “Bruce,” for example? The answer is in Wallowitch’s hilarious song of that name–purportedly a lecture on fashion given by Diana Vreeland to a drag queen. And Porter would surely envy the witty rhymed name-dropping in “I’m 27,” Wallowitch’s catty song about aging celebrities. The program also rummages through long-neglected, sometimes embarrassing nooks and crannies of our musical heritage to dig up numbers like “Panamania,” “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars,” and “Mahatma Gandhi” (“Mahatma Gandhi / Your legs are bandy / But you are the straightest man we ever knew”). There’s also a Berlin tune about going to Cuba to escape Prohibition (my, times have changed) and a decidedly strange version of “My Favorite Things,” sung to the darkly dissonant melody of The Threepenny Opera’s “Pirate Jenny.” While Wallowitch, a nimble-fingered pianist, remains at the keyboard, Ross takes the role of front man, looking elegant but a bit befuddled as he croons creaky ballads in a slightly slurred style and performs eccentric little dances with his hands. The result–elevated by the obvious affection the two have for each other–is by turns howlingly funny, endearingly recherche, and just plain weird. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, and next Friday and Saturday, July 18 and 19, 9 and 11 PM, Toulouse Cognac Bar, 2140 N. Lincoln Park West, 773-665-9071. ALBERT WILLIAMS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.