Who: Karen Akers
What: Akers Sings Porter: Anything Goes
Where: Cabaret St. Louis at The Kranzberg Center,
When: April 28 through May 1, 2010
Cole Porter was a great songwriter. "Of this there can be", to quote another dab hand with lyrics (W. S. Gilbert), "no possible, probable shadow of doubt, no possible doubt whatever". Porter the composer of achingly beautiful melodies was matched only by Porter the author of witty and rueful lyrics. Cole Porter made art, and art is never about any one thing. That's why audiences love to hear great music over and over again and why musicians never tire of performing it. That's also one reason why Karen Akers' Cole Porter show is not just another Cole Porter show. There's never "just" another Cole Porter show.
Another reason is the engaging and gifted Ms. Akers herself. The essence of cabaret, as I have noted elsewhere, is the revelation of the individual performer's personality through music. Ms. Akers' unassuming, elegant and emotionally open personality, combined with her supple and appealing voice, did Porter's work up proud.
This is clearly material for which she has a great affinity. Porter once remarked the he liked "everything as long as it's different". Judging from Ms. Akers' multifaceted and highly successful career, I suspect the same might be true of her.
Yet another reason why Anything Goes was so appealing was the thoughtful and varied choice of songs. The classics were there, of course. Aside from the title tune, the evening included "It's All Right With Me", "Begin the Beguine", and "Don't Fence Me In" (which, in Ms. Akers' rendition, became more about emotional barriers than physical ones), along with celebrated list songs like "Can Can" and "Let's Do It" (including some of Noel Coward's brilliantly literary extra lyrics). But we also had "Come to the Supermarket" from the 1958 made-for-TV Aladdin (with a book by S. J. Perelman — a match made in heaven), "Thank You So Much Mrs. Loughsborough-Goodby" (like Coward's "Mrs. Worthington", a letter written to a "social dragon"), and "Where Have You Been?" (from the 1930 flop The New Yorkers).
That last one was completely new to me and while it covers the same territory as the Gershwins' more famous "How Long Has This Been Going On?", it does so in a classically Cole way, producing what Ms. Akers called "optimistic blues".
There was also the obligatory yet welcome set of Porter Paris songs. A self-confessed Francophile, Ms. Akers' performance of her "Paris Suite" ("I Love Paris", "You Don't Know Paree", and "Allez-Vous-En") struck me as loving and heartfelt — so much so that I was moved to plunk down money for her Under Paris Skies CD after the show.
The evening offered, in short, the comfort of the familiar coupled with the joy of the new. I've always regarded that as an unbeatable combination. But then I, too, like everything as long as it's different.
As is often the case, Ms. Akers was accompanied by the smart and beautifully tailored arrangements of pianist and music director Don Rebic. His Chopinesque arrangement of "It's All Right With Me" was a particular ear-opener, I thought, but none of his work was less than first rate. He and Ms. Akers clearly have great rapport — a sine qua non for quality cabaret.
The show was directed by Eric Michael Gillett — a much-praised performer in his own right — and while I can't really tease his contribution out from that of Ms. Akers and Mr. Rebic, it's clear that he was part of a winning team. In baseball terms (and
So, did I have any complaints at all? Yes, but after I wrote them down they seemed so trivial (not to say carping) that I deleted them. Let's just say that only God is perfect and let it go at that.