Karen Akers


Music Review | Karen Akers

So Lucky to Be Loving


Published: April 19, 2007

With a fierce beating of wings, the butterfly has finally escaped her chrysalis and taken flight. That bursting into the light describes the metamorphosis of the cabaret singer Karen Akers from the demure, statuesque ice goddess of more than a decade ago into the warm, funny, vulnerable entertainer she has become in her extraordinary new show, “Simply Styne,” at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel.Skip to next paragraph

“Simply Styne” is an instance of a performer having her cake and eating it too. That is to say Ms. Akers takes the mostly sunny catalog of the composer Jule Styne and, with the assistance of her pianist, Don Rebic, and director, Eric Michael Gillett, turns its classic love songs into a running dialogue about the truth and fiction of romantic ballads that have left several generations misty-eyed.

By singing them beautifully, with perfect enunciation in her dark, alluring alto, Ms. Akers honors the melodies of songs like “Time After Time,” “I Fall in Love Too Easily” and “Long Before I Knew You.” But she also turns the songs inside out, comparing their happily-ever-after sentiments with the reality of love betrayed and lies casually told.

The subversions begin with “It’s Been a Long Long Time,” in which Sammy Cahn’s blissful lyrics are questioned through the sarcastic emphasis on a single word, “long,” which Ms. Akers twists to suggest just how exasperating wartime separation has been. Ms. Akers even makes fun of her earlier self. The material interpolated in a medley of “Let Me Entertain You,” and “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” mocks her earlier incarnation as a cool, haughty chanteuse singing in French. That’s not who she is anymore.

More serious subversion begins in a sequence that opens with “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” in which Mr. Rebic’s spoken commentary turns a feel-good celebration of a “theme” that “recalls a favorite dream” against itself. As he mutters the standard lies, excuses and denials of a cheating husband, these clichés become a different song. The sequence continues with “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (more lies and denials) and ends with “If You Hadn’t, but You Did,” a sharp, witty scolding with lyrics by Comden and Green from “Two on the Aisle.”

The story takes Ms. Akers through a despairing postmarital funk to shaky self-assertion before reaching an upbeat ending with “Make Someone Happy” and “People,” both sung with an intense fervor.

You might describe “Simply Styne” as a moving, witty cabaret answer to “Scenes From a Marriage.”