Karen Akers

. New York
. Washington  DC

Saturday, September 18th, 2010 
by Alix Cohen  on playing around

Some performers sing with their voices. Karen Akers performs with her singing, with her acting, with her mind and heart. Seeming perfectly still but for the smallest graceful gestures, one imagines her vibrating at a speed invisible to the human eye. It’s as if the song fills her. At the best of moments, there’s a frisson in the air as she shares. And share she does.

Akers describes Dancing on the Ceiling: A Rodgers and Hart Songbook, her current show at The Oak Room of The Algonquin Hotel, as “the wishful thinking of a hopeful romantic.” It’s clear from the careful choice of material and artful storytelling of successive songs that the reference doesn’t stop with Larry Hart. Hart’s cynical, sentimental lyrics and Richard Rogers’ “insistent, sincere” (John Lahr) melodies resonate in a way only occasionally encountered during an evening of cabaret. Though she holds Rogers “equally responsible,” the essential nature of Hart’s lyrics are not only communicated, but personalized. You’ll feel the difference.

Devotees of The American Songbook will have much to recognize. I never realized “Blue Moon” was written by Rodgers and Hart. Aker’s rendition of “Dancing on the Ceiling” is positively effervescent. As one, the audience follows her gaze upwards. Years melt away. She has the ability to appear a young, ingenuous girl at one point and a jaded dame at another. I was unfamiliar with both the bittersweet, evocative “Can You Do a Friend a Favor” (“Can’t you do a friend a favor? Can’t you fall in love with me?”) now a favorite and “This Funny World”, a favorite of its lyricist. “Over and Over Again” and “Sing For Your Supper” achieve subtle poignance, instead of eliciting only the usual cheery swaying. A consummate version of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” seems sung by a woman who knows it can’t last and “I Wish I Were in Love Again” is completely original and credible as an anthem. Songs flow seamlessly with great sensitivity and musical underpinning. “It’s still just me fumbling a way to some deeper understanding of what makes my heart tick,” explains Akers.

“I left Hart’s house having acquired in one afternoon, a career, a artner, a best friend, and a source of permanent irritation.” Richard Rodgers was sixteen when a friend introduced him to Lorenz/Larry Hart. The composer was good with language, but music “flowed out of him like conversation.” (Stefan Kanfer) The lyricist was musical but delighted in clever, sophisticated rhymes and phrases. Neither man was easy or happy. Hart had the bad luck to fall in love with Rodgers. His predicament often makes itself known in the writing.

As always, Akers’ perfect articulation and acute vocal nuance add immeasurably to the pleasure of an evening spent in her company. She captivates an audience with a heady combination of flirtation and sincerity. Her love affair with performing is evident. Ardor emanates from this strong, slight, aristocratic chanteuse. Musical Director and Pianist, Don Rebic, and Bassist Dick Sarpola provide distinctive, sympathetic back-up. Rebic’s arrangements display a profound knowledge of the specific capacities of Akers’ remarkable contralto voice as well as interesting aesthetic choices. Eric Michael Gillett’s direction provides an entertaining, cohesive, polished, theatrical event.

If you’re unaware of the elegant, refined, dramatic Karen Akers, this is a particularly fine evening to discover her. If you’re a fan, don’t miss one of the most beautifully crafted evenings she’s ever presented.

Karen Akers  Dancing on the Ceiling: A Rodgers and Hart Songbook
The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel
Musical Director Don Rebic
Through October 23, 2010212-840-6800