Karen Akers





September 24, 2009

Music Review

I’m Always True to You, Porter, in My Fashion ...


Karen Akers has what used to be called perfect elocution. Whether singing or speaking, every syllable of every word from her lips is elegantly turned. This refined enunciation gives song lyrics an extra weight, because you sense every verbal nuance. And when the lyricist is Cole Porter — Ms. Akers is paying homage to him in her new cabaret show at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel — the music buried in his words becomes almost as pronounced as the actual melodies.

Her new show, “Akers Sings Porter: Anything Goes!,” includes many of Porter’s wordiest concoctions. There are zany list songs like “Can-Can” and “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking,” in which delicious rhymes are piled onto one another to whip up a deliriously nonsensical froth. And there are naughty list songs like “Let’s Do It” and “Always True to You in My Fashion,” jam-packed with sexual double-entendres that still elicit little shivers of titillation.

The verbal ingenuity of “Let’s Do It” was such that Irving Berlin and Noël Coward tried their hand at writing extra verses, a few of which Ms. Akers inserted into her rendition at Tuesday’s opening-night show. Clever as they are, they don’t match Porter’s sizzling insouciance.

Accompanied by Don Rebic on piano and Dick Sarpola on bass, Ms. Akers took most of the songs at a slower than usual pace, the better to savor the wordplay in her arresting contralto. Absent from her show, directed by Eric Michael Gillett, were such great Porter love songs as “Night and Day,” “In the Still of the Night” and “I Concentrate on You.”

For the show is not about passion but about wit. Front and center were comic tours-de-force like “The Physician,” a rhymed catalog of body parts that a besotted female patient enumerates as a handsome doctor examines her: “He simply loved my larynx/ And went wild about my pharynx,/But he never said he loved me.”

As always, Ms. Akers’s innate aristocratic decorum and her impulse to flout the rules pulled at each other. Musing out loud about Porter’s ersatz cowboy classic, “Don’t Fence Me In,” she joked, “I know what you’re thinking — Karen Akers in chaps. Hot!”

Actually yes.