Karen Akers

 

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Akers Sings Porter: Anything Goes!

 

By Elizabeth Ahlfors


Karen Akers is throwing a party in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel and she is serving the most delightful, delicious, de-lovely hors-d'oeuvres. When her co-host is composer/lyricist Cole Porter, the ambiance, obviously, is Anything Goes .

The chic, statuesque Akers brings her note-perfect musicality, intelligence, and depth to the Porter songbook, but she also includes the element of surprise. This is a key word. Akers, the cosmopolitan, so-called "ice goddess," is usually associated with interpretations of Cole Porter's luscious ballads like "In the Still of the Night," the more heart-rending, the better. Here she concentrates instead on Porter's brittle, witty tunes and she does them her way still elegant, still smart, but with a carefree appeal. The closest to sentimentality is a Paris trio, "I Love Paris, Allez-Vous-En, Go Away" and "You Don't Know Paree." The show is a delight.

Actually, this is not so surprising. Akers, an award-winning singer with a rich alto vocal tone, is also an actress, nominated for a Tony Award for her performance in the original Broadway production of Nine. . In cabaret, however, without a fourth wall, merely acting the song never convinces the audience. In this show, the fun-loving side of Akers is compelling. "Just turn me loose" she sings in a loping arrangement of "Don't Fence Me In."

Turned loose, Akers scores a ten, guided by the instincts and know-how of director Eric Michael Gillette and accompanied by musical director and pianist, Don Rebic with Dick Sarpola on bass. She applies her assets of finesse and controlled theatricality to give songs like the lacterating "Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby," a distinctive savoir faire. "Buddy Beware" has the air of a Park Avenue socialite's warning that she has high standards that must be met. With "Always True to You (In My Fashion)" Akers turns to one gentleman in the audience to deliver the title line, always with a fresh slant. He was in her pocket and so was the audience.

Cole Porter is quoted for saying that Ethel Merman had the finest enunciation of any singer he knew, but he did not know Karen Akers. Her diction is clear and precise, not a word is slurred. This clarity is vital in a show where patter songs spin out verses with dizzying verbosity. Akers' exact phrasing, stress and diction builds the pyramid of cleverness in "Let's Do It," with additional verses by Noel Coward and Irving Berlin. Many of her selections are Porter's less known, specialized tunes like "The Physician" and the hilarious list song, "Come to the Supermarket (In Old Peking)" with its of offerings of everything including, "Sunflow'r cakes, moonbeam cakes, gizzard cakes, lizard cakes, pickled eels, pickled snakes. . . noodle soup, poodle soup," well you get the idea. Akers relishes in her interpretations, and this feeling of a good time is contagious.

Akers' goodnight message is "Experiment" from the 1933 musical and film Nymph Errant. It goes like this:

" Be curious/ Though interfering friends may frown.
Get furious/ At each attempt to hold you down"

Like "Don't Fence Me In" this advice sums up a swellegant, elegant soiree.