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,Wallowitch & Ross: This Moment
The fact that John Wallowitch and Bertram Ross are
darlings of the New York cabaret world is completely understandable. These two
septuagenarians are sophisticated, charming, and eminently lovable. Wallowitch composes
hilariously comic and wistfully romantic songs which he then plays on the piano
accompanying Ross, his elegant straight man. Their voices may not be great, but their
hearts certainly are, and together they create a unique, if unlikely, style.
Now director Richard
Morris has preserved this remarkable partnership in a 77-minute documentary, Wallowitch
& Ross: This Moment. Alternating between stories and songs, including both formal
and informal performances by the duo, the film provides historical perspective, with
commentary by a variety of colleagues, as well as archival footage, posters, and programs.
Bertram Ross, the
tall handsome vocalist with impeccable comic timing, wasnt always a singer. He
joined the Martha Graham Company as principal dancer in 1947, resigning in 1973. For most
of those years he was also co-director of the company. He and Wallowitch began their
cabaret career together in 1984.
at Juilliard where his classical piano training led to a Carnegie Hall recital. He has
written over 100 songs, including "Come a Little Closer," "This
Moment," and "Bruce." Many of his songs have been recorded by leading
artists - Blossom Dearie, Morgana King, Margaret Whiting, Karen Akers, and Shirley Horn.
romantic relationship is shown, but never made the focus of the documentary. They were
introduced by friends over thirty years ago, after Wallowitch had seen Ross dance, and
Ross had picked up one of Wallowitchs recordings by chance. They obviously know each
other intimately: in song and in
conversation they complement each other perfectly. When Ross went to London for an
extended period, Wallowitch wrote "My Love Went to London," which was recorded
years later by Tony Bennett.
There is a brief
appearance by Dixie Carter and an affecting scene with Wallowitch at the piano with Lyn
Lobban singing "Runaway," a poignant song that Wallowitch composed at the age of
thirteen. In addition to performing Wallowitchs original compositions, the team also
sings Berlin, Gershwin, and Porter. Together they tell a touching tale of regularly
serenading Irving Berlins Manhattan home with friends on Christmas Eve. One year
they were invited in, and after singing "White Christmas" to the fragile
composer, were told that their performance is the best Christmas present he has ever received.
The camerawork and
editing are sometimes lax and the identification of commentators occasionally
inconsistent, but these minor defects fail to detract from the shows shining stars.
The portrait ends on a suitably sweet note, with Wallowitch declaring "Bertram Ross
is my life," and then giving
him a big kiss on the cheek. What more need be said?
- Jim Van Buskirk