February 28, 2008
Karen Akers at Jermyn St Theatre, SW1
Your average rapper would not think twice about urging an audience to “grind your behind”, but it is odd to hear the words coming from the lips of Karen Akers, a singer renowned for her demure, Garbo-like poise. Over the years we have grown used to her holding court as a performer of chansons, her versions of ballads by Piaf, Trenet and Barbara conveyed in an impeccable, if sometimes chilly, French accent.
We hear a fleeting reference to La Vie en Rose in her new show; otherwise Akers is determined to prove that she can handle the demotic energy of the classic Broadway repertoire. Simply Styne, her salute to one of the most fertile songwriting talents of the past century, is a genuine surprise, and a treat as well.
With her bobbed hair and regal cheekbones, Akers still looks like the sister of the fashion journalist Anna Wintour, yet she adds a touch of old-fashioned burlesque. True, she lacks the brassiness required on Some People, that defiant salvo against dull, grey convention - Akers's diction is so precise, so measured, that it's hard to imagine her doing anything more shocking than forgetting to take her poodle to its weekly manicure.
But that is only a quibble. The sheer variety of Styne's music - and an impish duet sequence with Jeff Harnar, the genial producer and host of the American Songbook in
The ebullient pianist Leigh Thompson and bassist Dave Johnson accompany Akers on her leisurely journey. Time After Time and I Fall in Love Too Easily shimmered seductively, and she convincingly switched into comic mode on the intricate insomniac monologue 10,432 Sheep.
There was more humour when Harnar joined Akers for a tongue- in-cheek examination of the many and varied virtues of married life. With Akers perched atop the piano, singing I've Heard That Song Before, Harnar delivered a deadpan counterpoint constructed of the kind of excuses husbands resort to at moments of marital crisis. Akers's sparkling residency continues until Sunday.